>> Monday, April 23, 2012
At the Miami tennis tournament last month, world #2 Rafael Nadal failed to capture a single title after the season's first quarter is done. More worrying for the Nadal fans is his withdrawal prior to his semifinal with Andy Murray due to a left knee injury. But those worries are gone and with the start of clay court season, Nadal announced himself ready for another onslaught by winning his 8th Monte-Carlo crown dominating world #1 Novak Djokovic in the finals last Sunday.
And now, the Spaniard is back in his home tournament in Barcelona aiming for his seventh title at the 2012 Barcelona Open Banc Sabadell. The Spaniard makes a killing in terms of ranking points during the clay court season. Of his almost 10,000 ranking points, half of these has come in the five clay court tournaments he plays from April to June. If he fails to duplicate his 2011 season clay court success, he is in danger of being replaced as world #2 by Roger Federer who is lurking behind Nadal in the rankings. However, Nadal is still considered as the best clay court tennis player ever and though he is vulnerable in other surfaces, he is almost impossible to beat on clay court tennis tournaments.
At the 2012 Barcelona Open Banc Sabadell, Nadal is the top seed and will be challenged by a number of clay court specialists and three other players in the top 10. After a first round bye, he opens up against the winner between Guillermo GARCIA-LOPEZ of Spain and Olivier ROCHUS of Belgium. His round of 16 opponent is most likely Pablo Andujar, a clay court winner earlier this month at Casablanca. His potential seeded opponents in the quarterfinals will be the winner in the area of the draw having world #8 Janko TIPSAREVIC and Nadal's doubles partner and 12th-seed Marcel GRANOLLERS. Quadrant Favorite: NADAL. Darkhorse: GRANOLLERS.
In Nadal's top half of the draw, the other quadrant was supposed to be led by world #7 Tomas Berdych. Berdych withdrew due to a right shoulder injury and is replaced in the draw by 2010 champion and 9th-seed Fernando Verdasco. Verdasco will be challenged in this section of the draw by 8th-seed Kei Nishikori, 13th-seed Kevin Anderson and 17th-seed Albert Ramos. This is certainly the most unpredictable section of the draw with Verdasco the favorite based on his previous clay court success. Quadrant Favorite: VERDASCO. Darkhorse: RAMOS.
At the bottom half of the draw is second-seed and world #4 Andy Murray. Murray has won only one match in four matches in this tournament but has improved as a clay court player over the years. His section of the draw includes 6th-seed Nicolas Almagro who leads the ATP tour this year with most matches won. Other seeds in this quadrant include #11 Milos Raonic of Canada and #18 Denis Istomin of Uzbekistan. The semifinalist from this section of the draw is most likely the winner of the potential quarterfinal between Murray and Almagro. Quadrant Favorite: MURRAY. Darkhorse: HAASE.
In Murray's bottom of the draw, Spanish players are expected to emerge. World #6 and third-seed David Ferrer is Nadal's most likely challenger in the final with Ferrer being a three-time finalist in this event, each time losing to Nadal. Ferrer's potential quarterfinal opponent is countryman and seventh-seed Feliciano Lopez. Other seeds in this area of the draw are former semifinalist and 10th-seed Radek Stepanek and 15th-seed Bernard Tomic of Australia. Look for Ferrer to bounce back from an early round elimination at Monte-Carlo and to challenge for his fourth title of this season in the finals. Quadrant Favorite: FERRER. Darkhorse: NIEMINEN.
Final Prediction: While challengers abound, look for Nadal to win the 2012 Barcelona tennis tournament.