Rafael Nadal targets his fourth Abierto Mexicano Telcel appearance as he takes on Soonwoo Kwon in the Acapulco quarterfinals on Thursday.
Nadal vs Kwon is live from Acapulco on Thursday 27 February at 10pm local/4am GMT
Nadal twice won the Abierto Mexicano Telcel when it was held on clay courts, in 2005 and 2013, but has not been able to triumph in Acapulco since the event switched to hard courts in 2014. He finished runner-up to Sam Querrey in 2017 and was beaten by Nick Kyrgios in a third-set tie-break when he returned to the tournament in 2019, preventing him from reaching the quarterfinals.
Nadal had no such trouble in the round of 16 this year. Indeed he has yet to drop a set in Acapulco in wins over Pablo Andujar 6-3, 6-2 and Miomir Kecmanovic 6-2, 7-5. Nadal raced to a 5-0 lead in the opening set but Kecmanovic managed to make things more competitive thereafter, breaking the Spaniard twice (including when Nadal served for the match at 5-4) and keeping the second set close until the very end.
Kecmanovic has already made ATP Tour semifinals in Doha and New York this year and is a rising young talent, as Nadal recognized:
‘He’s a very dangerous player. Young, with a lot of power. I’m very pleased with the victory.
‘I played a very good first set and that’s important news for me. That gives me confidence. It’s true that I missed the opportunity to win the match with my serve at 5-4 [in the second set], but except for that, I think I played a very good match. I improved a lot compared to yesterday’s match. That is always positive. I am happy with the way I played and happy for the victory. I hope to be prepared for tomorrow.’
Nadal is now 10-3 in 2020 after leading Spain to the final of the ATP Cup alongside Roberto Bautista Agut, and reaching the quarterfinals of the Australian Open; his three defeats have come at the hands of David Goffin, Novak Djokovic and Dominic Thiem – an intimidating group to try to join.
That’s the task that faces Soonwoo Kwon on Thursday in Acapulco.
The 22-year-old Kwon, owner of the sunniest, friendliest player photo on the ATP Tour website, comes into Acapulco at a career-high world no. 76. He broke into the top 100 in 2019 after a good year on the Challenger Tour, which included titles in Yokohama, Seoul and Jinan; he also successfully qualified for Wimbledon, the US Open and several ATP Tour events, winning main-draw matches in Atlanta, Zhuhai and Antwerp and making his first ATP Tour quarterfinal in Los Cabos.
Kwon’s clear mission in 2020 is to play more ATP Tour events and fewer Challengers, although he did start out at the Bendigo Challenger where he made the quarterfinals before losing to Nikoloz Basilashvili in five sets in the first round of the Australian Open.
Since then however Kwon has made the quarterfinals of all four ATP Tour events he has played – Pune, New York, Delray Beach and now Acapulco. He got a win over Milos Raonic in New York and Adrian Mannarino in Delray Beach; in Acapulco, the first 500 event he has played the main draw of, he opened with a 6-2, 2-6, 6-3 victory over lucky loser Taro Daniel before defeating eighth seed Dusan Lajovic 7-6(2), 6-0.
Kwon is definitely on his way up the rankings – but he is nowhere near where a player needs to be to beat Nadal, not if the latter is playing reasonably well and feeling healthy (which he seems to be). It will be just the second time he faces a top-10 player, and taking on Karen Khachanov on grass doesn’t really compare to facing Nadal. This should be a resounding victory for the world no. 2.