While most people dream of going to watch their favourite players at a Grand Slam, the keenest fans take in some of the smaller tournaments in cities where you can enjoy the location as well as easy access to watch some great tennis. This year Jan McIntyre checked out the Barcelona Open Banc Sabadell, where Rafa Nadal has been racking up lots of wins in recent years.
Barcelona is a beautiful and vibrant city on the Mediterranean. Think of Paris, then spread it out, increase the sunshine, intensify the colours and architecture then place it by the seaside and you begin to get an idea of Barcelona. This proud capital of Cataluña has many examples of the fanciful buildings by Barcelona’s favourite architect Antoni Gaudi. They are really magnificent, colourful, flowing and intricate. Gaudi buildings work well in vibrant Barcelona but would look out of place in Toronto or elsewhere in Canada.
This year’s Barcelona Open had a special vibe from the moment that the first qualifiers were announced. The impressive qualifying draw included four Top 150 players in the field of 24 - #80 Brazilian Thiago Monteiro, #91 Japanese Yuichi Sugita, #94 Korean Hyeon Chung, #99 Colombian Santiago Giraldo.
Steven Diez, ATP No. 176, was born in Canada to Spanish parents and moved to Spain when he was 6-years old. He trained in Spain before returning to Canada after being recruited by Tennis Canada in 2012. He had a good run, beating the 12th seed Belarusian (#149) Uladzimir Ignatik and 2nd seed Japanese (#91) Yuichi Sugita on his way to qualify for the main draw for the first time in five attempts. Nicholas Almagro’s coach, Mariano Monachesi, was watching with interest from the stand to check out the competition for Nicholas in the 1st round of the main draw. Diez came out fighting but lost to the former No. 9 in straight sets (3-6, 4-6).
Yuichi Sugita received a lucky loser entry, due to the withdrawal of Kei Nishikori and his ranking. He became Japan’s great hope for the tournament. Yuichi made the most of the entry, with impressive wins over Spanish veteran Tommy Robredo, 9th seeded Frenchman Richard Gasquet and No. 7 seeded Spaniard Pablo Carreno-Busta before losing to Austrian Domenic Thiem in the quarterfinals.
The doubles’ draw was impressive including several previous winners. Canada’s Daniel Nestor was described as a super veteran. At 44-years old, he looked happy and ready to play. This time he teamed up with new partner, Marcin Matkowski. They prevailed over wildcard Spanish team Pablo Carreno-Busta and former No. 1 Juan-Carlos Ferrero, returning from retirement to play his first tour level match since 2012. After a strong start, Nestor and Matkowski struggled in the 2nd set and managed to barely edge out the Spaniards 6-2 5-7 10-7 in the super tie-break. After rain delayed play, they lost to French team of Fabrice Martin and Edouard Roger-Vasselin in straight sets 6-3 7-6(4).
The top players often pass over the tournament as they take this week after the Monte-Carlo ATP1000 to prepare for the Madrid Open ATP1000. But this year, there were four Top 10 players in the main draw - #1 Andy Murray accepted a wildcard entry after his loss to Albert Ramos-Vinola in Monte Carlo. Defending champion #5 Spaniard Rafael Nadal, #9 Austrian rising star Domenic Thiem and #10 Belgian David Goffin rounded out the top players.
Rafa Nadal fresh off his 10th championship at the ATP1000 in Monte-Carlo came to Barcelona with the aim of capturing a 10th title here as well. Centre Court had been renamed in his honour to “Pista Rafa Nadal” before he arrived and it was consecrated after his quarterfinal win. How intimidating it must be for other players in Barcelona with Rafa’s picture looming large in advertising and now with the main court bearing his name!
Andy Murray did not arrive in the best form after his wrist injury and came to Barcelona with the aim of getting in some match play. As the top seed, he had a bye in the first round, then Bernard Tomic withdrew just before the 2nd round match. He struggled against Feliciano Lopez before prevailing to make the quarterfinal where he would meet his vanquisher and finalist from Monte Carlo, Albert Ramos-Vinola. Andy managed to overcome lackluster tennis after wrong footing Albert Ramos-Vinola in the 2nd game of the 3rd set, which helped him to turn the match around. Murray’s luck ran out in the semifinal against an impressive Domenic Thiem who served well and managed to return the type of drop shots that had helped Murray in his previous matches. Murray failed to find the rhythm he needed to serve well, and he made a lot of mistakes and grumbled his way to the loss. Thiem made it to his 13th career final without dropping a set.
But the star of the show was Rafa Nadal, who arrived in great form and playing his best tennis in a couple of years. He easily advanced over – Brazilian Dutra Silva, South African Kevin Anderson, Korean qualifier Hyeon Chung, and Argentine Horacio Zeballos (who took a selfie with Rafa after the match) on the way to his 10th final in Barcelona. It was an exciting match to watch – the King of Clay, Rafael Nadal versus NextGen Domenic Thiem. Rafa won in straight sets ending Thiem’s chance for a 2nd career title. The spectators stood to watch as Rafa lifted the Trofeo de Conde for the 10th time. He then made his way to the swimming pool for the traditional champion’s celebration with the ball kids.
Barcelona was a great city to visit and the tournament provided some excellent entertainment – a good opportunity to see the Spaniards in their home environment!