In his first meeting against Rafael Nadal, Jan-Lennard Struff had the right game plan – serve and volley and hit every ball as hard as he could. But Nadal weathered Struff’s most aggressive best, and is now two wins away from a record-setting 12thBarcelona Open Banc Sabadell title.
The 32-year-old Spaniard made his 12th Barcelona semi-final on Friday, overcoming the big-hitting Struff 7-5, 7-5 on Pista Rafa Nadal. Nadal has never lost in a Barcelona semi-final (11-0), but will have a challenge on his hands when he faces fifth seed Dominic Thiem. The Austrian battled past Argentine Guido Pella 7-5, 6-2.
“It was a pressure match because he’s a very aggressive player, difficult to be on rhythm with him. I’m happy for the victory, happy to find a way to win that match and I hope to be ready for the semi-finals,” Nadal said. “I’m trying to be focused every single moment because one mistake, and you lose the set against this kind of player. I’m happy the way that I managed it.”
Nadal leads his FedEx ATP Head2Head series against Thiem 8-3, but the Austrian is the only player to have beaten Nadal on clay the past two seasons (2018 Madrid, 2017 Rome). Thiem also pushed Nadal to five sets during their epic US Open quarter-final last year.
“It’s always one of the biggest challenges possible in tennis to play Rafa on clay, to play him at the tournament which he won already 11 times, with his own crowd in the back, with his Spanish crowd. So it’s going to be unbelievably tough. But we had great matches in the past, and I think we are both playing quite well so I hope that’s the same case tomorrow, and I think we can expect a good match,” Thiem said.
Struff had made his second quarter-final of the season by crushing 31 winners, including 18 from his forehand, against last year’s finalist and No. 8 Stefanos Tsitsipas of Greece. The German knew his quarter-final against Nadal would be short-lived if he tried to hang with Nadal from the back of the court, so every opportunity the 6’5” German had – while serving or facing a short ball – he raced forward.
Nadal broke in the fourth game with a first-serve return winner that landed just inside the baseline, but Struff broke back in the seventh game with an aggressive return down the line. Nadal, however, with the crowd coming alive, cranked up his level to break to love in the 12th game and take the opener.
Struff wisely stuck to his strategy in the second, but he couldn’t find a way into any Nadal service games. The Spaniard landed 83 per cent of his first serves in the second set, winning 79 per cent of those points, and broke Struff once more in the 12th game.
Pella had beaten Thiem on clay before, in Rio de Janeiro two years ago. The Argentine also entered their quarter-final with the most ATP Tour wins on the surface this year, with 17. But Thiem won 45 per cent of his return points to triumph in one hour and 41 minutes.