In this quarter final show-down at the 500 ATP event tournament in Beijing, China, Rafael Nadal of Spain and Grigor Dimitrov of Bulgaria are set to square off, in an encounter many fans anticipate as being a classic.
The crux of the match-up:
Ofcourse there’s a huge match-up hurdle for Dimitrov to overcome here in having to faceoff against Nadal’s heavy bouncing topspin. With only a mediocre single handed backhand (At this level) to work with at his disposal, it doesn’t really make for pretty reading. Other than Wawrinka, no guy with a single hander is really able to consistently withstand the pressure put-on by Rafa’s heavy, topspin forehand.
We all know it by now, Nadal’s entire game is primarily focused at breaking down the right handers’ backhand wing. Single handers are beaten by the bounce, forced to retreat in their court’s position and as a result find themselves having to hit shots from either feet dragged out-wide, or feet pushed back-deep. This court-position edge gives Nadal extra time to set-up with aggressive foot-work on his forehand and in-turn dictate the point.
Dimitrov like many is fully aware of the helplessness most single handers face in being trapped in their backhand corner against Nadal and so has in-the-past opted for knifing his backhand with heavy slice. His slice is probably the best on tour and it’s served him well enough in the match-up against Nadal to force deciding sets in their past meetings on surfaces outside clay. Basel, Cincinnati and Rotterdam were all close three setters. Even on the clay back in Monte Carlo in 2013, he had Nadal struggling to crawl over-the-line. So the match-up isn’t all written ‘helpless’ for Dimitrov. It just doesn’t read well for the duration of a match. Nadal is able to play within himself and knows he stands the better test of time here.
Nadal’s return of serve
Nadal’s return of serve is far from great and if Dimitrov is able to serve smartly and rush Nadal on the forehand side with it, he’ll be able to gain the easy edge in some points on serve.
Nadal’s psychological edge:
Having faced Rafa on a previous seven occasions and lost each time, Dimitrov’s unlikely to go into this one with an overwhelming level of belief he can win, however he does ‘know’ he is capable of taking a set, having done so on five of those seven occasions they’ve competed.
Nadal’s stronger base: (Efficient winning-pattern-of-play)
A strong-base to me is a serve/return or pattern-of-play you can depend upon, consistently, with a minimum of fuss, under pressure. This is a huge important aspect of the game Nadal has a major edge on 95% of the field with.
In this match-up, when either guy has court position control, in charge of the point and able to dictate proceedings, Nadal out of the two is the one who is able to deliver with the more efficient and reliable winning-pattern-of-play. This becomes even huger in the big moments. For example; facing break-points, having break-points, serving to stay in matches/sets etc etc.
Yes, this is much of the reason why Nadal has his critics, who say his style of play is boring and predictable. Never-the-less it’s served him well with 14 grandslams and 28 masters 1000 titles.
Dimitrov’s ability to lift his game against the elite superstars:
Dimitrov is one of these players who very much prefers being the underdog. Historically he lifts his game against them. He’s played inspired versus Nadal in-the-past and it’s likely he’ll do so again today.
He has more time to hit his shots, given Rafa likes to construct a winning point, rather than hit through opponents when the ball lands short for him. This can offer-up Dimitrov the time to shot-make and entertain the crowd.
Nadal’s strengths: Forehand, swinging away/in lefty serve on both AD and deuce side, movement. Winning pattern-of-reliable-play under pressure. (I know he’s choking more often lately)
Nadal’s weaknesses: Return of serve, dependency on one-pattern-of-play (Though I know he’s penetrating a lot more with his backhand since his return)
Dimitrov’s strengths: Forehand, first serve, shot-making ability.
Dimitrov’s weaknesses: Return of serve, single handed backhand (Drops it far too short, all far too often) Poor tactically, especially on big points where he often loses clarity of thought and matters become a blur.
The match-up goes Rafa’s way and you only need two seconds of glancing at the head to head sheet between the two to guess that, but for me it won’t be all plain sailing, as I don’t believe Nadal will be able to maintain a good enough level for two sets straight and I do feel Dimitrov will have his moments where he swings through his strokes and rolls with feel-good-momentum.
Note: This piece was extremely rushed and there is a lot of ground I was therefore unable to cover. Apologies if there are nuances in the match-up that have been missed.
Prediction: Rafal Nadal in 3 sets
(Trading perspective: Early value on Dimitrov pre match but I’d wait before going in. I’m unable to see Nadal win in straight sets, so there will be opportunity to back Dimitrov (Lay Nadal) and trade for profit)
(Straight betting perspective: Over 21.5 games is around 1.80 with most bookmakers & Betfair exchange)