Barcelona 2019: Medvedev beats bold Jarry to set Nishikori semi-showdown
Rafael Nadal beats Jan-Lennard Struff to move within two wins of title No12
The opening match on a sunny Barcelona Friday featured two men who could not stop winning.
The No7 seed, Daniil Medvedev, was at a career-high No14 after a fine start to 2019. His title in Sofia was his fourth in the last 15 months, but he had also made the final in Brisbane, and the semis in Rotterdam and Monte-Carlo.
However, coming into this year, Medvedev only had two tour-level clay-court wins, but by the time he played his quarter-final in Barcelona, he had added another seven. More impressive still, he led the entire tour in total match-wins, 23-7, and had picked up victories over world No1 Novak Djokovic, plus David Goffin and Stefanos Tsitsipas along the way.
His opponent, Chilean Nicolas Jarry, had yet to build quite the profile of Medevedev, though he is the same age, 23, same height, and also turned pro in 2014. He made his first final last year, in Sao Paulo, and peaked at No39 in November. After a foot injury at the start of this year, though, he dipped back at 81, but Barcelona was proving what a talent he promises to be—and how fit.
Even before his quarter-final, Jarry had spent 12 and a half hours on court, after playing qualifying, picking up a lucky-loser spot in the main draw, and then playing three matches compared with Medvedev’s two—seeds enjoy a Round 1 bye. And all five of Jarry’s matches went to three sets. What is more, he had beaten No2 seed Alexander Zverev and No13 seed Grigor Dimitrov to get this far.
And his attacking all-court game certainly tested the fitness and tactics of Medvedev. The Russian retreated time and again well behind the baseline, and resisted coming forward, but his serving and forehand were almost flawless, and he proved to be unbreakable. Even so, Jarry’s drop shots were many and varied, and he came to the net effectively, ultimately winning 20 points there.
The Chilean showed great versatility and variety, making perhaps the shot of the match when he raced back to play a tweener from a Medvedev lob.
But it was the Russian, so fast and so strong at the extremes of the court, who got the one break in the first set, 6-3, and bided his time in the second set until a few errors came from Jarry. It would take a marathon seventh game, and six break-point chances, but Medvedev finally got the advantage, 4-3.
Not until the next game did the Russian make a single unforced error on his forehand, which compensated for a slip in level on his first serve. And Jarry was visibly flagging now, perhaps not surprising, and the errors followed. Medvedev served out the match, 6-4, to take his tally to 24 match-wins, and yet another semi-final.
He will next face two-time former champion and No4 seed Kei Nishikori, who beat Roberto Carballes Baena, 6-4, 7-5, in a testing and high-quality two-hour encounter. Nishikori has won two of his three previous matches against Medvedev, including their only match on clay last year in Monte-Carlo. However, the Russian won their biggest contest, in the final of Tokyo last season.
In the top half of the draw, Spain’s superstar son and top seed, Rafael Nadal, continued his campaign to claim a record 12th title in Barcelona.
After ending David Ferrer’s career at the tournament with his 60th match-win on the court that now bears his name, Nadal took on the big and big-hitting German Jan-Lennard Struff for the first time.
The defending champion got a quick break, but serving at 4-2, he conceded a break back and Stuff held in some style to love. Nadal was finding it hard to get purchase on the Struff serve, and the German was also firing up his forehand, but come the end of the set, and serving to take it to a tie-break, Struff blinked and Nadal pounced, showing the familiar intensity that had become somewhat dampened in the second half of the set.
Nadal had made just four unforced errors, but it was perhaps Struff’s dip in serving quality that determined the set. And it was enough to give some momentum to Nadal, and after his habitual ‘comfort break’, he came back firing on all cylinders.
Struff, though, remained up for the challenge, and continued to come forward to take the ball early, making serve-and-volley plays, and showing hugely improved touch at the net from his growing doubles successes.
The German’s serve, though, remained inconsistent, and love holds were punctuated by tougher games. He faced two break points in the eighth, but held, and then faced the same problem as in the first set—5-6 and serving to save the match.
And it was the same result: A double fault, a netted volley, and Struff faced 0-40. In classic Nadal style, a running forehand pass into the back corner sealed the break and the match, 7-5, after an hour and three-quarters.
This was Nadal’s 18 straight win in Barcelona—well off his own record but an indication that things are starting to come together for the formidable Spaniard on the beloved clay of home.
His next test will be against either No3 seed Dominic Thiem or Guido Pella.