Top seed and 11-time champion Rafael Nadal brushed aside his compatriot Pablo Carreno Busta 6-3, 6-2 in the semifinals of the Barcelona Open on Saturday. Nadal is now into his 12th final here, where he will face Stefanos Tsitsipas, and he will be looking to win a record-extending 12th title on Sunday.
It took the World No. 3 just around 90 minutes to win the match and improve his head-to-head against Carreno Busta to 8-0. It was a vintage Rafael Nadal performance on his favorite surface, studded with several highlight-reel points.
We would now take a look at three things that stood out the most in this match:
1. Rafael Nadal was able to shake off a strange first-set let-down to keep Carreno Busta at bay
Rafael Nadal started the match in a lively manner, and quickly ran up a 5-1 after breaking his opponent twice. Pablo Carreno Busta seemed to have no answer to his older compatriot's solidity from the baseline, and was on the verge of tamely surrendering the first set.
But with Nadal serving for the set, Carreno Busta broke back out of nowhere. He then started to be more assertive with his shot-making, while Nadal started making uncharacteristic errors.
Nadal faced multiple break points again while serving for the set a second time; it took him 10 minutes to finally get the hold and wrap it up. Carreno Busta finished with 11 winners in the set, but Nadal managed to get just enough balls back in play to assert his supremacy in the end.
2. Pablo Carreno Busta's serving numbers were eye-popping, but they didn't have too big an impact
Pablo Carreno Busta’s first serve ratio was a whopping 96% in the first set, but he still got broken twice. His first serve was accurate, but lacked venom and hardly troubled Rafael Nadal.
The 34-year-old got in some solid returns and dominated the proceedings during the first six games. That said, Carreno Busta did show some improvement in the last three games, and finished the set with four aces.
Carreno Busta’s serving numbers dipped in the second set, but he was still able to finish the match with an 83% first serve ratio. In contrast, Nadal’s first serve ratio was a shade above the 60% mark, but he was broken only once in the match.
3. Rafael Nadal seems to have rediscovered his vicious topspin forehand
The prodigious top-spin generated by Rafael Nadal’s forehand usually proves to be a handful for most opponents. And although the shot had lacked some of its sting in his last few matches, on Saturday it was back to its best.
Nadal frequently used his heavy forehand to direct the ball to Carreno Busta’s backhand, and the latter struggled to stay in those rallies. Carreno Busta also committed a lot of unforced errors off his backhand throughout the match.
Nadal often pushed Carreno Busta to his backhand side with his forehand, before unleashing an inside-out bullet into the open court. Nadal finished the match with 13 forehand winners, which would be a source of concern for his opponent in the final on Sunday.