Fifteen years after winning his first Acapulco title, Rafael Nadal bids for a third as he takes on Taylor Fritz at the Abierto Mexicano Telcel on Saturday.
Nadal vs Fritz is live from Acapulco on Saturday 29 February at 9pm local/3am GMT
Nadal, who is looking for his first title of 2020 after being denied by Serbia when leading Spain to the ATP Cup final and defeated by Dominic Thiem in the quarterfinals of the Australian Open, won the Abierto Mexicano Telcel on his debut in 2005 (d. Albert Montanes) and returned eight years later to win it again (d. Albert Ferrer).
But the title has eluded Nadal since Acapulco switched to hard courts in 2014: He made it to the final in 2017, the first time he played it since the transition, only to be denied by Sam Querrey, and was defeated by Nick Kyrgios in a last-16 thriller last year.
Nadal has met with no such difficulties as the mercurial Australian posed him last year in his 2020 campaign. The world no. 2 has yet to drop a set this week in wins over Pablo Andujar, Miomir Kecmanovic, Soonwoo Kwon and seventh seed Grigor Dimitrov; indeed, he dropped just three games against Kwon and only five games against Dimitrov in the semifinals.
Dimitrov had beaten Stan Wawrinka in the previous round, but although the match took over 100 minutes, Nadal was never really threatened by the Bulgarian. Nadal broke serve five times, although he dropped serve twice himself; and while he only won nine of 24 points played on his second serve, Dimitrov was only able to win five of 13.
‘I’m very happy. A great victory against one of the best players in the world and a good friend. I think I’ve increased my level during the match, so it’s positive for me.’
Nadal will not be able to retake the world no. 1 ranking from Djokovic by winning the Abierto Mexicano Telcel – the Serb is only 325 points ahead, but has reached the final of the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships – but he can continue to put pressure on Djokovic coming into the Indian Wells-Miami swing as well as getting his first title of 2020 under his belt.
Should Nadal win Acapulco and be ritually crowned with the sombrero, it will mark the 85th title of his extraordinary career, but first he has to dispose of Taylor Fritz in the final.
World no. 35 Fritz is looking for just his second career ATP Tour title after having won Eastbourne last June, defeating Querrey in the final. It was the first of a trio of ATP finals reached by Fritz in June and July, as he went on to finish runner-up to Alex de Minaur at the BB&T Atlanta Open and Diego Schwartzman in Los Cabos.
The 22-year-old Fritz reached a career-high ranking of world no. 25 as a result and while he got off to a poor start in 2020, winning just one of his first four matches at the ATP Cup and Adelaide, he played well at the Australian Open to defeat Kevin Anderson in five sets and reach the third round before bowing out to eventual finalist Thiem in four.
I’m not sure why Fritz, whose avowed goal is to do better in big events this year, went on to play the Newport Challenger after that Australian Open exit, but he lost to a player ranked 130 places beneath him in the second round and went on to lose to Cameron Norrie in the first round in Delray Beach. But he has found some form in Acapulco, opening with a three-set win over John Millman and going on to beat a succession of power players and big servers – Auckland champion Ugo Humbert, Kyle Edmund and finally John Isner.
Against Isner, Fritz pulled off a spectacular comeback, trailing by a set and 2-4, 0-40 before saving three virtual match points, holding serve and coming back to win 2-6, 7-5, 6-3 in an hour and 41 minutes (actually less time than Nadal took to beat Dimitrov in straight sets).
‘It’s huge for me. One of my biggest goals this year was to do well in the bigger tournaments. I hope that I can keep the momentum going for the rest of the year.’
This will be the first meeting between Nadal and Fritz and although Nadal as usual claimed the match was going to be ‘tough’, I do struggle to see how Fritz will win it. The American has a good serve and solid enough groundstrokes, but I’m not sure how he can really hurt Nadal or make an impression on the Spaniard’s impenetrable defense – or stop Nadal from attacking at will. Fritz is obviously playing well and feeling confident, but it should still be a swift victory for Nadal in the Acapulco final.