19-time Grand Slam champion, Rafael Nadal seems to be on a roll at the Mexican Open this year. He has stormed into his fourth semifinal at Acapulco, and second since the surface switched from clay to hard in 2014.
The Spaniard was dominant in his 6-2, 6-1 victory against Kwon Soon-woo, and will now take on a familiar opponent in Grigor Dimitrov in the semifinal.
After suffering early exits at the Australian Open, Montpellier and Rotterdam earlier this year, the talented Bulgarian seems to be getting back on track in Acapulco. He first survived a huge scare against Adrian Mannarino in the Round of 16, where he beat the Frenchman 6-7(8-10), 6-2, 7-6(7-2).
The 28-year-old then got past Stan Wawrinka in straight sets 6-4, 6-4, but perhaps the biggest test of his season so far awaits him on Saturday as he locks horns with Nadal.
In their lop-sided head-to-head rivalry, Nadal leads Dimitrov 12-1. The only time the Bulgarian was able to conquer Nadal was at the China Open in Beijing in 2016, when he upset the Spaniard 6-2, 6-4 in their quarter-final face-off.
After ending his 2019 season on a sensational note where he not only captured the year-ending No. 1 ranking but also helped team Spain win the Davis Cup, Nadal has appeared a bit off-color so far this season. He tasted straight-sets defeats at the hands of David Goffin and Novak Djokovic in the inaugural ATP Cup, before losing to Dominic Thiem in the quarter-final of the Australian Open.
But at Acapulco so far, the Spaniard has put his disappointments behind him and produced a run of good form. Against Kwon in the quarterfinal Nadal was at his relentless best, losing just three games and outlasting his Korean opponent in most of the long rallies.
Dimitrov, who enjoyed a tremendous run on the tour in 2017 - where he won his maiden Masters 1000 title at Cincinnati and the Nitto ATP Finals at London - seems long due for some success. The Bulgarian would look to strike early if Nadal's form reverts back to what it was at the ATP Cup, and would fancy his chances of recording an upset.
The two players have seen enough of each other over the years to know their respective strengths and weaknesses. It would be interesting to see how Dimitrov handles Nadal’s top-spin crosscourt forehand, even as he aims to employ his down-the-line single-handed backhand as a weapon.
Can Nadal overcome the Bulgarian to book a spot in the final, or will Dimitrov find a way to quell the Spaniard's challenge and reach his first final since Rotterdam 2018?
Prediction: Rafael Nadal to win in three sets.Published 29 Feb 2020, 02:59 IST