It is the marquee quarterfinal in Estoril on Friday as top seed Pablo Carreno Busta battles defending Millenium Estoril Open champion Nicolas Almagro. The two tangle for the second straight year with Almagro winning in three sets in last year’s final.
(1) Pablo Carreno Busta vs Nicolas Almagro
Carreno Busta vanquished a demon in his opener this week as he beat Tommy Robredo for the first time in four tries. The top seed faced a stern test however, passing it 7-6 (5), 7-5. Carreno Busta did trail 4-1 in the second set, but Robredo imploded on serve as PCB took full advantage to rally and finish him off. It wa a bit of a shaky serving day for PCB as he was forced to fight off ten break chances, saving three. He would win just over 60 percent of the poiints off his serve. The top seeded Spaniard bludgeoned his Robredo’s second serve, taking 18 of 24 points. Carrenu Busta was precise in taking four of five break opportunities.
Almagro has been cruising through two rounds this week as the courts in Estoril again agree with his clay court game. Almagro dumped out 8th seed Benoit Paire in round one 6-3, 6-2 and then crushed Portugal’s Gastao Elias 6-1, 6-2 in round two. For the week, Nico has faced just two break chances off his serve and saved both of them. He has won 45 of 53 points played off a blistering first serve that has been in rhythm. His second has been effective too, winning right around 65 percent of the points. He has converted seven of 12 break chances through two rounds.
2016 Estoril Final: Turbulent Almagro Wins Title
Last year’s meeting between Carreno Busta and Almagro in the Estoril final was their first-ever clash. It was a fantastic match with Almagro besting PCB 6-7, (6), 7-6 (5), 6-3. The Almagro serve was a difference maker, as he won 80 percent of his first serve points. Carreno Busta would win just 64 percent in comparison and he was up against it in many of his service games. PCB was forced into 19 break chances, saving five. Almagro saved three of his six break points against in the match.
Almagro legitimately should have won the title in straight sets as he failed twice to serve out the opening set and also led 6-2 in the tiebreak before blowing that lead. Almagro also failed to close out set two at 5-4, before taking it in a tiebreak. He showed great determination through all of that to take home what was his first ATP title since 2012. The match was nearly three hours in length, testing both player’s fitness levels.
2017: A Little History Repeating?
A lot has changed since this time last year; Carreno Busta now has two ATP titles to his credit. He’s become a Top 20 player and has been fairly consistent on both clay and hard courts over the past 12 months. Almagro meanwhile has been unable to build on the momentum of that title. His ranking has slipped from the 40s after winning in Estoril to 86. He is now 6-6 this season after two wins this week, but has had trouble winning back-to-back matches until this week. Estoril marks the first tournament since Doha in January where he made the quarterfinals as well, that he has been able to win more than one match in a tournament.
That brings is full circle to Friday. PCB versus Almagro, part dos. The positive development for Almagro this week is that he’s found some great rhythm to his game, especially his serve where he can be dominant at times. That is an area he can exploit in this match-up with Carreno Busta not possessing the same pop that Nico brings. Off the ground, it’s a similar story. Almagro’s one handed backhand is still a thrill-ride when it’s working with pace and power. His forehand is usually the side that can let him down a bit more often. Carreno Busta doesn’t offer the same pop, but he’s crafty at building points off both wings and using that to put his opponent’s into poor positions.
Carreno Busta’s main job in this one has to be avoiding the holes that he digs himself on-serve far too often. Double digit break chances normally spell doom and PCB saw that last year against Almagro and was fortunate to not have that bite him against Robredo earlier in the week. PCB is likely going to face more breaks against his serve than Almagro, it’s a simple fact. The big points will be in those chances and whether PCB saves more or Almagro converts more. Right now, it seems more likely for Almagro to win that battle.
The Pig’s Bottom Line
Carreno Busta had a poor loss in Barcelona last week to Yuichi Sugita, so the Robredo win should have brought him some increased confidence. Clay has been his best surface this season with a pair of semifinals during the South American swing and a final in Rio already to his credit. Yet his opener here was a bit skittish and cause for concern. He won’t get away with digging those holes against Almagro if the 2016 champ continues to serve as well as he has so far this week.
PCB is a very good competitor on this surface and don’t forget, he’s now 8-2 in Estori for his career. I don’t expect he’s going to feel outmatched in this spot. In light of how last year’s match went, he’ll probably feel like he could have won last year if he served better. Whether he can do that in this spot is the question. Your pig pointed out prior to this tournament that the top seed has not made the semifinals in the brief two year history of this tournament. I would not be surprised to see that trend continue here. Unless Almagro’s serve disappears, the defending champion should take a step closer to successfully defending the title.
Prediction: Almagro wins in straight sets