Rafael Nadal raises his racket after winning his match against Leonardo Mayer at the Barcelona Open , Wednesday, April 24, 2019. (AP Photo/Manu Fernandez)
Rafael Nadal raises his racket after winning his match against Leonardo Mayer at the Barcelona Open , Wednesday, April 24, 2019. (AP Photo/Manu Fernandez)|Associated Press

Tennis: In Barcelona Open Round of 16, Abrams sees who’s left after day of upsets–Nadal, Thiem, FA2, Tsitsipas, Medvedev, Dimitrov, Pella 

Thursday matches start at 5 am EDT

Neal Abrams

Neal Abrams

Barcelona Open Banc Sabadell
Barcelona, Spain
Thursday, April 25, 2019
Round of 16

Yesterday was a truly exciting day at the Barcelona Open. We had upsets. We had a big withdrawal. And we had some inspiring tennis played in the windy, sunny, and temperate conditions, some of which came from several surprising players.

Cristian Garin, the 22-year-old from Santiago, Chile, took out 9th seeded Canadian Denis Shapovalov, 7-5, 6-2 with a very solid second set where he was clearly the better player of the two. Rafa Nadal struggled, lost the first set, but came out on top of Argentinean Leonardo Mayer 6-2 in the third. Nadal was definitely not at his best, and if he doesn’t pick his game up he will be pushed to the limit by his friend and compatriot, the resurgent David Ferrer. Ferrer literally had no problem taking out Frenchman Lucas Pouille 6-3, 6-1 in a match that was surprisingly lopsided. Pouille looked like a shadow of the guy we saw just three months ago, and appeared lethargic and unapologetic. The tough German Jan-Lennard Struff took out Belgian David Goffin in straight sets, another unusual result on the clay. And American Mackie McDonald had no problem whatsoever topping French clay courter Giles Simon 6-3, 6-2.

In a continuation of a resurgence of sorts, which began three weeks ago, the bearded Frenchman Benoit Paire let his racket speak while topping hometown favorite Pablo Carreno Busta 6-1 in the third. In a real tough one, Grigor Dimitrov beat longtime foe Fernando Verdasco, another Spaniard, 6-2, 6-7, 6-3. And in a bit of a surprise, homeboy Jaume Munar had no trouble at all with American Frances Tiafoe, whom he beat in straight sets. Karen Khachanov, the tall, talented Russian, reverted to the enigma I have found him to be by dropping a straight set match to Argentinean Guido Pella 6-2, 7-6. And after last week’s champion in Monte Carlo, Fabio Fognini, withdrew and was replaced with lucky loser Roberto Carballes Baena, the Spaniard took out wild card countryman Nicola Kuhn 6-7, 6-4, 6-2.

So Wednesday’s action set up some interesting Round of 16 matches, some of which will be played today. Here’s how I see some of that action unfolding:

Felix Auger-Aliassime over Kei Nishikori
About eight weeks ago if I had seen this matchup on clay I would have predicted a straight set win for the talented Japanese player. Today, there’s something inside me that says FA2 is ready for this one and is going to pull off a big upset. Part of it is that the young Canadian is playing some beautiful tennis, but the other part of it is that he’s also competing so well. I have nothing against Nishikori, but I think the stars are aligned for FA2.

Dominic Thiem over Jaume Munar
Just four weeks ago Dominic Thiem won the prestigious Masters 1000 tournament at Indian Wells, Calif., by beating Roger Federer in the finals. Here he is now, playing on his favorite surface, and looking like the guy who got to the finals of last year’s French Open. Hometown favorite Jaume Munar will push this match to the limit, but I like the Austrian in a close encounter.

Rafa Nadal over David Ferrer
I was incredibly impressed with Ferrer’s easy win over Pouille and I was just as equally disturbed by Rafa’s win over Mayer yesterday. Rafa is clearly not at his best, and Ferrer is playing some good tennis in his swan song. But Nadal has shown such total domination over his friend Ferrer, that I have a hard time seeing the 37-year-old beating the 32-year-old. Just for the record, Nadal holds a 25-6 lifetime advantage over Ferrer, and that’s just too big a roadblock for Ferrer to climb.

Stefanos Tsitsipas over Jan-Lennard Struff
I was surprised how easily Struff beat Goffin yesterday, but Goffin can be streaky, as most players are. Tsitsipas, however, is showing his entire arsenal here, is hitting the ball squarely, is moving like a ballet dancer, and is attacking and defending superbly. I like the Greek God to move on.

Daniil Medvedev over Mackie McDonald
McDonald should feel awfully proud for demolishing Simon yesterday, but I think he’ll meet his match in the tough Russian. They both play the same game, but Medvedev plays it better at this point in their careers, and I’d be surprised if the American can take another high-ranked scalp home with him.

Grigor Dimitrov over Nicolas Jarry
Nicolas Jarry, the grandson of former Touring pro Jamie Fillol, has a shot here. He did everything right in his win over Sascha Zverev, although truth be told, Zverev helped him along in that surprising second-round win. Zverev had many chances, and they were both just two points away from victory at 5-5 in the third set tiebreaker, when Zverev threw in a double fault and an unforced error to end the match on a particularly sour note. Nonetheless, Jarry did what he had to do, and will face a tough test with Dimitrov, the Bulgarian who lives in Monaco and trains in Florida. Based on form and history, Dimitrov should win this match, but I wouldn’t be shocked if Jarry made it close or pulled this one out. Dimitrov does not look dominant at all.

Guido Pella over Benoit Paire
Guido Pella is one of those guys we in the U.S. hear very little about. But he’s playing fine tennis, is ranked No. 28 in the world, and sports a 2019 record of 17-8, which is pretty good for someone no one knows much about. Although Paire is playing well and is in a particularly sweet spot, having just won the event in Marrakech two weeks ago, I find his game strong but uninspired. I always get the feeling that if someone truly presses the tall Frenchman, he’ll fold. And that’s what I think is going to happen here.

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