A postcard from - Barcelona Open 2021

The Rafa Nadal show

This week, we’re flying into Barcelona for the Rafa Nadal Show—an annual competition celebrating the Spaniard’s love affair with the dirt.

Barcelona Open is an event steeped in tradition and history. Every year, a dazzling list of performers play a series of exhibition matches, to the entertainment of the gathered masses, culminating in the selection of a NextGen alumnus to be sacrificed at the altar of the God of Clay. Are you not entertained?

While there were no bulls running through the city, you could still hear an occasional Olé reverberating around the stadium.

Meanwhile in Belgrade, Novak Djokovic hosted his own celebration of Novak Djokovic, held at the Novak Tennis Centre where seed number one Novak Djokovic attempted to conquer the home trophy under the watchful eye of the tournament director Djordje Djokovic.

Football belongs to the fans

While we’re on the subject of Barcelona, shed a tear for a local resident, Gerard Piqué, whose beloved sport came under threat of being bought out by soulless corporations who prioritise profit over the good of the game.

However, after the plans to form the European Super Football League were derailed by outraged fans, triumphant Piqué allowed himself a self-gratifying tweet.

So far, so good. But let’s take a moment to hear what Florentino Pérez, the Real Madrid president and the mastermind behind the Superleague, had to say in defence of his creation. “Football needs to change and to be more attractive globally. One of the reasons we are doing this is to save football,” Pérez cooed to anyone who would listen.

Sounds familiar? Compare it to quotes made by Piqué in February 2019, when he defended his company, Kosmos, splashing $3bn on the rights to, and upending, the 100-years-old format of the Davis Cup.

“What we are trying to do is helping the ITF create a much better event,” straight-faced Piqué announced to BBC.

Shame, shame, I know your name.

Barcelona Open round up 🇪🇸

As much as we love the twists and turns of a tennis tournament, it’s nice when, every now and then, the stars align, and everything that is supposed to happen, happens.

At this year’s edition of the Barcelona Open, the final pitted seed number one Rafael Nadal against the seed number two Stefanos Tsitsipas, in a repeat of the 2018 final.

In a match with more ups and downs than Sascha Zverev’s service game, Nadal had to save match points in order to lift his 12th Barcelona trophy.

Following a disappointing and uncharacteristically listless showing at the Monte Carlo Masters, the Spaniard was still not at his best, but glimpses of the old quality came through when most needed, and proved enough for Nadal to see off a spirited challenge from Tsitsipas. With 3h38min, it was the longest match of the 2021 season so far and suited more a Slam 5-setter than a Masters final.

Nadal’s slow start to the tournament gave his fans reasons to worry when he dropped the first set of his first Barcelona match 3:6 to ranked 111 Ilya Ivashka. The Spaniard recovered well and took the remaining two sets (6:2 6:4). Next up he faced a stern test from Kei Nishikori (6:0 2:6 6:2), followed by Cameron Norrie (6:1 6:4), Pablo Carreño Busta (6:3 6:2), and Stefanos Tsitsipas in the final.

Stefanos Tsitsipas, for his part, had an arguably harder route to the final, meeting four NextGen colleagues in four consecutive matches. After dealing with Jaume Munar (6:0 6:2), he then dispatched Alex de Minaur (7:5 6:3), Félix Auger-Aliassime (6:3 6:3), and Jannik Sinner (6:3 6:3).

Tsitsipas will rue the chances he missed in the final against Nadal, but he came up against an opponent who played not only in front of the home crowd but also one who is near-eponymous with the surface the two met on. As the old saying goes, “Federer on grass, Jesus on water, Nadal on clay.” Try as you may, it always ends with Nadal doing snow-angels on clay.

Despite the loss, Stefanos will reflect on the last two weeks with satisfaction. The Greek continues to impress on the dirt, and should his performances continue, he may be the bookies’ favourite for the second-best at Roland Garros, usurping the Prince of Clay, Dominic Thiem.

🇪🇸 Rafa Nadal d. 🇬🇷 Stefanos Tsitsipas - 6:4 6:7[6] 7:5

Serbia Open round up 🇷🇸

While Matteo Berrettini’s return to form after his disappointing loss in the second round of the Monte Carlo Masters is undoubtedly newsworthy, the award for the story of the tournament goes to Aslan Karatsev.

If there are still any nay-sayers left after his Australian Open showing and the Dubai win, they will struggle to come up with any real criticism after the Russian sensation took down the world number one, Novak Djokovic.

Karatsev went toe to toe with Djokovic and soaked up the pressure with ease while showcasing a masterclass in aggressive shot-making to put his opponent on the back foot. The encounter lasted 3h26min, and with Karatsev saving 23 out of 28 breakpoints, it made for a scintillating match—arguably the best one of the season.

After the loss, Novak Djokovic was gracious in defeat, if not a little frustrated with his own game. "Hats off to Karatsev, he was bold and deserved to win," Djokovic said in a press conference. "I put up a fight, but he delivered great shots every time he needed to.”

On his way to the final, Karatsev had to navigate a number of tricky encounters scoring victories against Aljaž Bedene (6:3 4:6 7:6[5]), Gianluca Mager (6:3 6:4), and Novak Djokovic (7:5 4:6 6:4) before falling in the final to a high-flying Matteo Berrettini.

Matteo Berrettini’s route to the championship involved wins against Marco Cecchinato (6:4 6:3), Filip Krajinović (6:3 6:3), and Taro Daniel (6:1 6:7[5] 6:0), and a clearly fatigued Aslan Karatsev in the final.

After a two-month hiatus, Matteo Berrettini returns to the Tour playing at a level of tennis that got him to the position of the eighth racquet in the world. The sky is the limit for the young Italian.

🇮🇹 Matteo Berrettini d. 🇷🇺 Aslan Karatsev - 6:1 3:6 7:6[0]

Deep Dive

This week we look at the distribution of tournaments by surface type for the 2021 ATP calendar. 

  • It comes as no surprise that hard courts are the most popular tournament surface - a total of 39 ATP tournaments (out of 73).

  • The USA hosts the most hard court tournaments, a total of nine, and the highest number of tournaments per country (11). France is the next most popular country with almost half as many total ATP tournaments (2 clay, 4 hard), followed by Italy (3 clay, 2 hard).

  • Clay accounts for 25 tournaments while grass only 9 - a Grand Slam, two ATP 500 and six ATP 250 tournaments. 

Munich 250 draw 🇩🇪

Potential quarter-finals

Around the net

Biggest movers

⬆️  2 (+1) Rafael Nadal - the King of Clay reclaims the second spot
⬆️  12 (+1) Pablo Carreno Busta - Barcelona SF
⬆️  18 (+1) Jannik Sinner - Barcelona SF
⬆️  27 (+1) Aslan Karatsev - Belgrade Finals, career-high

👆 50 (+8) Cameron Norrie - Barcelona QF
👆 91 (+7) Gianluca Mager

🔥 112 (+14) Taro Daniel - Belgrade SF
🔥 122 (+14) Bernabe Zapata Miralles - Barcelona R16
🔥 147 (+11) Hugo Gaston - Lost in Rome 1 F (new career-high)