There are a few top-tier names remaining heading into Saturday's semifinal matches at the 2013 Barcelona Open, but this won't be the most well-rested group in tournament history.
Rain washed away much of Thursday's action in Barcelona, putting some of the four remaining stars in the untenable position of playing two matches on Friday. Both Milos Raonic and Rafael Nadal had to double up on matches, capturing victories in their third round and quarterfinal matches to advance.
Fellow semifinalist Philipp Kohlschreiber lucked out of playing two Friday matches after his opponent retired.
As luck would have it, though, at least the Barcelona Open bracket has stayed fair. Raonic and Nadal, two pre-tournament favorites, will battle on their side having both been through gauntlets, while Kohlschreiber and Nicolas Almagro have had normal rest.
A yearly gathering of the top clay court players in Spain and elsewhere, the Barcelona Open is one of the preeminent French Open tune-up tournaments. Nadal and David Ferrer have both become yearly stalwarts at the event—at least until the latter’s shocking upset to qualifier Dmitry Tursunov this time around.
With his biggest competition out of the way, the Barcelona Open may simply be a coronation for Nadal. Still, there are matches to play and anything can happen on clay surfaces.
Here is a complete breakdown of both semifinal matchups along with predictions for each outcome.
(All scheduling information is via the ATP's official website.)
(8) Philipp Kohlschreiber vs. (4) Nicolas Almagro
Start Time: 8:30 a.m. ET
Though they're both semifinalists, Kohlschreiber and Almagro got to their impending match in far different ways.
Heading into what was sure to be an entertaining quarterfinal against Thomaz Bellucci, Kohlschreiber got a lucky break; Bellucci retired before the match could really get underway. The two did not even play a point before the 16th-seeded Bellucci, an up-and-coming Brazilian who could make waves this year, decided to pull out.
As a result, Kohlschreiber should be well-rested heading into Saturday's match. A 29-year-old German, Kohlschreiber has made waves in Barcelona—if only for his down-to-the-wire matchups. His thrilling matches with Martin Klizan and Alex Kuznetsov both went into final-set tiebreakers, ones that Kohlschreiber pulled out in tantalizing fashion.
Those wins have continued a solid start to Kohlschreiber's 2013 season. He reached the final at the Heineken Open in January before falling in straight sets to four-time champ David Ferrer. That being said, Kohlschreiber is a solid but unspectacular clay court player, making finals in mostly minor tournaments throughout his career on the surface.
The Spaniard Almagro, on the other hand, is a wizard on the clay. Each of his 19 career finals appearances on the ATP Tour have come on the surface, including this month's U.S. Clay Court Championship. Though Almagro ultimately lost to John Isner in straight sets, he's one of the most respected players on tour and has been cementing his legacy on clay for years.
Having not even sweated his way through any matches prior to Saturday's semifinal, it's hard to see Almagro coming up short. This is a battle between a solid clay court pro and a connoisseur of all things clay.
Almagro wins in straight sets.
Prediction: Almagro def. Kohlschreiber (6-3, 6-4)
(5) Milos Raonic vs. (2) Rafael Nadal
Start Time: Not before 1 p.m. ET
After his performance in Friday's quarterfinal against Spaniard Tommy Robredo, Raonic might have the type of momentum necessary to take down Nadal on clay.
Robredo had been one of the hottest players in Barcelona. The 30-year-old clay court pro dispatched Tomas Berdych and Grigor Dimitrov, upsetting two seeded players expected to be Nadal's toughest competition this week. Winning the first set 7-6 (7-5), it looked like Robredo was about to take down his third top competitor of the week.
But Raonic mounted a thrilling comeback. The 22-year-old Canadian broke Robredo early in the second set, cruising his way to a 6-3 victory to move the match to a deciding third set. Neither side refused to budge an inch before an enthralled crowd, and Raonic and Robredo battled to a thrilling tiebreak.
What transpired next was something you often see in tennis; Raonic simply out-talented Robredo. It was thrilling to watch, the ascending youngster putting it all together when he needs it most. His top-notch serve left Robredo without an answer, Raonic finishing off his opponent 7-2 in the tiebreaker.
Raonic will have to look a lot more like the man who showed up for the tiebreaker than the one from the first three sets against Nadal.
One of the greatest (if not the greatest) clay court players in tennis history, Nadal may have a mantle in his home built specifically for Barcelona Open trophies. He has won seven of the past eight years at Barcelona, including finals victories over David Ferrer four different times. The Barcelona Open championship Nadal has not won since 2005 came in 2010—the year he withdrew from the tournament, citing fatigue.
Like many of the clay court stops on tour, Nadal is a monolith in Barcelona. And his dominance has only continued this year, dominating in straight-set yawners that make some wonder if Nadal is simply unstoppable.
That remains to be seen, but one has a hard time picking against Nadal in any clay court situation—even if he's not quite back to his prime-level performance quite yet.
Prediction: Nadal def. Raonic (6-4, 6-4)