The Barcelona Open this week has seen some shock exits and surprising comebacks from players. One such player is the tall German Jan-Lennard Struff who defeated Stefanos Tsitsipas in the 3rd round to set up his first ever meeting against the defending champion Rafael Nadal on Friday.
Struff had to work hard to beat last year's finalist Tsitsipas. After getting an early break in the first set he played solidly from the baseline and wrapped it up 6-4.
There were very few unforced errors from either player and even the duration of each game was low as both held serve comfortably except for that one game where Tsitsipas got broken.
Even the second set started on the same note but it was Tsitsipas's turn to break Struff as the German started making a few unforced errors. Tsitsipas was quick to take advantage and won the set 6-3.
In the third set the errors started leaking from the forehand of Tsitsipas; he was mistiming many shots and that proved costly as Struff broke right off the bat. He then held to consolidate for a healthy 3-0 lead before Tsitsipas broke back and took the score to 3-2.
But the Greek lost his serve yet again and this time Struff didn't let up. He remained dogged with his baseline attack and closed out the match 6-2.
It was a fantastic birthday for Struff as he turned 29 today. The victory will certainly boost his morale for the upcoming quarterfinals.
Earlier, Nadal played against his compatriot David Ferrer, for whom this was the last ever appearance in Barcelona. Nadal was in his usual sublime touch and was looking completely confident, seemingly having shaken off the Monte Carlo loss to Fabio Fognini.
Nadal broke Ferrer in the sixth game of the first set and eventually took it 6-3. He looked even better in the second set as he broke in the very first game and got a quick 2-0 lead.
But Ferrer was not going to end his run in Barcelona without a fight, as giving up is simply not in his DNA. He came back strongly and leveled the second set 2-2, but then lost the next four games and eventually the match, 6-3, 6-3.
Here's a clip of one of the most entertaining rallies in the match:
After the match Ferrer was given a standing ovation by Nadal and the entire crowd was chanting his name as he left the court for the last time in his career. The veteran will retire from tennis after playing in next month's Madrid Masters.
The next challenge for Nadal comes in the form of Struff, who is probably playing the best tennis of his life. Nadal on his part didn't play his best claycourt tennis is his opening match against Leonardo Mayer, so he'll have to guard against another dip in form tomorrow.
Struff has been very good with his baseline offense this week and has also combined that with some crisp volleys, so that could put a bit of pressure on Nadal.
That said, the German did lose serve a couple of times against Tsitsipas through careless errors, and that kind of inconsistency could spell doom for him against Nadal. Even one service game lost could be curtains for Struff in the quarterfinal, so he would need to be very cautious with his play tomorrow.
Match prediction: Rafael Nadal to win in straight sets.