Another edition of 3 Little Pigs as we look at what could be the Good, Bad & Ugly in Barcelona on Wednesday.
STRAW HOUSE: Ernests Gulbis
Gulbis might as well hang a sign around his neck that says “No Shelter Here” because his game has given him no shelter from losses in 2015. He’s now just 1-8 on the season. Is there reason for optimism? You can make a case for a slight uptick in hope. He’s now had a few weeks of tutilage under Thomas Enqvist. The Swede was brought in early in April after Gulbis decided to split with then-coach Gunter Bresnik. Bresnik had been with Gulbis for about three years. Gulbis also has seen his fair share of good times in Barcelona. He made the semifinals last year and had a quarterfinal run there in 2010. He’ll get a chance to get win #2 on the season against Benoit Paire. Paire knows all about despair as the Frenchman has been trying to recapture some of the magic that had him ranked inside the Top 30 just 14 months ago. Paire got a little confidence by dropping down to the Challenger level more this season as he tried to work his way back from injury, but his ATP level results remain poor. He is just 3-3 in main draws. This is the perfect storm of suck. Someone has to win. Gulbis’ ranking is set to further plummet in the coming weeks with a ton of points to defend, so he will need every win he can get. Is this a chance? Perhaps, but nothing has been remotely close to a lock with Gulbis this year.
STICKS HOUSE: Fabio Fognini
Fognini has gone winless in Barcelona with a 0-5 mark. He caught a break seemingly when Fernando Verdasco was shocked by qualifier Andrey Rublev in the opening round; 7-6 (3), 6-3. It continued a decent pattern of results at the ATP level for the Russian teen. Rublev has now won a main draw match in 2015 at Delray Beach, Miami and Barcelona. While Fognini is likely happier to see him across the net, he may prove to be anything but an easy out. Rublev looks hungry, while Fognini often looks as though he’d rather be brushing his hair or flattening his goatee. Desire can go a long way even if the skill level is different between two players. Fognini has never been that steady during this portion of the season and with Finals points to defend in Munich next week, there’s a real shot that Rublev could toss a grenade into the House of Fognini and blow it apart with another upset.
BRICK HOUSE: Rafael Nadal
Nadal likely will have a little more pep in his step after Verdasco was removed from his part of the draw. Verdasco was likely the toughest thing standing in Rafa’s way until the semifinals. Now, his road looks even better as he opens with Nicolas Almagro on Wednesday. Rafa is 11-1 against his fellow-Spaniard. He drilled Almagro in Miami a few weeks back 6-4, 6-2. Almagro will have on his mind that he beat Nadal in Barcelona in 2014 to break a ten match losing skid to Nadal and will be meeting him on these courts for the 4th time. Rafa will have on his mind that Almagro has only taken three sets from him all-time and has not looked quite up to snuff so far in working back from injury. Almagro is a respectable 8-7 this season, but has been fairly average outside of a nice run in Buenos Aires. Perhaps playing one of the greats on home soil propels Almagro to pull out his A game. Perhaps Nadal does the same. Even with Nadal still not in his best vein of form just yet, the feeling here is that this is a comfortable match-up for him and he will likely be amped up because of the loss last year.