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By Richard Pagliaro | Saturday, April 23, 2016

 
Rafael Nadal

Rafael Nadal powered past Philipp Kohlschreiber, 6-3, 6-3, into his ninth Barcelona final where he will face two-time defending champion Kei Nishikori.

Photo credit: Barcelona Open BancSabadell

A small crevice on court caused Rafael Nadal to tumble in his Barcelona opener.

That experience gave the nine-time Roland Garros champion a small glimpse of the slippery slope opponents encounter facing him on dirt.

Watch: Paire's Outrageous Tweener Saves Match Point

Even playing on level ground, Philipp Kohlschreiber felt that sinking feeling again.

Driving his twisting topspin forehand into the corners, Nadal sent Kohlschreiber into a gorge of trouble he couldn't escape powering into his ninth Barcelona final with a 6-3, 6-3 victory. Nadal posted his 12th win in 13 meetings against the 32-year-old German.

It is Nadal's ninth consecutive victory and puts him on the verge of another milestone. The King of Clay will contest his 101st career final, playing to equal Guillermo Vilas' Open Era record of 48 clay-court titles.

A week after Nadal captured his ninth Monte Carlo championship, he'll play for his ninth Barcelona title against two-time defending champion Kei Nishikori.

The second-seeded Nishikori carved up Benoit Paire, 6-3, 6-2, in today's 67-minute opening semifinal. Nishikori extended his Barcelona winning streak to 14 matches.

A marquee final pits two players who have combined to collect 10 of the last 11 Barcelona championships.

Nadal has won eight of their nine prior meetings, including a 2-0 mark on clay. Nadal dismissed Nishikori, 6-4, 6-3, in their last meeting at Indian Wells last month.

Despite his ignominious history against the King of Clay, Kohlschreiber showed signs of why he can be a threat on all surfaces.

The world No. 27 flashed his signature shot, the one-handed backhand, crosscourt building a 0-30 lead in Nadal's opening service game. The German, who serves bigger than his 5'10" size suggests, slid an ace out wide working through a deuce hold to level, 2-all.

Playing with relaxed aggression, Nadal thumped his first ace sealing a second love hold in the fifth game.

The cumulative pressure Nadal applied in extended baseline exchanges caused Kohlschreiber to crack. Nadal did a good job getting his body behind the ball and really driving through his backhand. He varied the high heavy forehand with the bolting strike down the line.




Kolschreiber's forehand catapulted off the tape beyond the baseline giving the top seed the first break and a 4-2 advantage.

Bullying Kohlschreiber into the corner with a flurry of forehands, Nadal unloaded another menacing uppercut forehand backing up the break with his third love hold.

Fighting off a set point in the eighth game, Kohlschreiber forced Nadal to serve for the set and applied pressure to the left-hander's serve. Down 15-30, Nadal curled the slider serve wide then finished the set with a jolting diagonal forehand.

During his recent winning streak, Nadal has been a sound situational server. Staring down his first break point of the day, Nadal flipped the serving pattern. Instead of sliding it wide as he had for much of the match, he slammed an ace down the T freezing Kohlschreiber. Nadal navigated that test for 2-all.

A dynamic point escalated slice backhand duel erupted in the fifth game. Nadal broke the point open with a forehand, closed the net and nudged a backhand volley for double break point.



A feisty Kohlschreiber answered with a terrific sharp-angled backhand winner to erase the second break point. He snapped a smash to save a third break point, eventually holding.

It wasn't a completely immaculate performance from Nadal, but even when he committed errors, he squeezed pressure on his opponent playing most every point with purpose.

Nadal slapped a routine smash into net to start the seventh game. The drain of playing grinding rallies takes a mental toll. Kohlschreiber, perhaps feeling strain in his legs, tried shortening points. Squandering a 40-15 lead, he double-faulted away a game point. Stepping inside the baseline, Nadal drilled a diagonal forehand breaking for 4-3.

Cracking a forehand down the line, Nadal finished in 92 minutes. Imposing his crosscourt forehand to Kohlschreiber's one-handed backhand helped Nadal dictate rallies on pivotal points. That's a pattern he'll need to control against Nishikori, whose two-handed backhand is one of the most compact and accurate in the game.

 

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