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Nishikori, Almagro, Gulbis, Giraldo Bid For Barcelona Final Spots Saturday

Barcelona, Spain

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• FINAL FOUR: Four different countries – Japan, Spain, Latvia and Colombia – are represented in today’s Barcelona Open Banc Sabadell semi-finals. Leading the way is the highest ranked player left in the draw – No. 4 seed Kei Nishikori. The world No. 17 will contest his fourth SF of the season when he opens proceedings on Pista Central against Ernests Gulbis, with the pair meeting for the first time on the ATP World Tour. The other SF sees Rafael Nadal’s conqueror Nicolas Almagro take on first-time Barcelona semi-finalist Santiago Giraldo. This is the sixth meeting between the Spaniard and Colombian, with Almagro winning all five of their previous contests.

• NEW CHAMPION: The Barcelona Open will have a new champion this week. Of the four semifinalists, just one has previously appeared in the final here: Almagro (l. to Nadal in 2013 F). The Spanish No. 4 is looking to end a near two-year title drought this week, with his last tournament win coming in Nice in May 2012. Last year, his streak of winning an ATP title for seven years in a row came to an end, losing two finals in Houston (l. to Isner) and Barcelona (l. to Nadal).

• CARRYING THE FLAG: Almagro carries the hopes of the host nation after seeing off eight-time champion Rafael Nadal in the QFs, his first win over his compatriot in 11 attempts. This marks the first year since 2002 – when Lleyton Hewitt, Gaston Gaudio, Guillermo Canas and Albert Costa reached the SF – that Spain have only had one representative in the final four. The last 11 Barcelona titles have been won by a Spanish player, with Nadal winning eight. The other winners in that time were Verdasco (2010), Robredo (2004) and Moya (2003). There have been 11 all-Spanish finals in the Open Era, including seven in the past nine years (all involving Nadal).

• COLOMBIAN HISTORY: This is the sixth time Giraldo has appeared in the SF of an ATP World Tour event – Houston (2014), Vina del Mar (2014), Acapulco (2012), Auckland (2011) and Santiago (2011) – putting him in first place for Open Era SF appearances made by a Colombian, one ahead of compatriot Ivan Molina. Giraldo is 1-4 in career SFs, registering his lone win in Santiago over three years ago (l. to Robredo in F). If the 26-year-old reaches the final he will become the third Colombian to reach multiple title games, after Molina (2) and Mauricio Hadad (2).

• DOUBLES WATCH: Daniel Nestor remains on course for a fifth Barcelona Open crown. The Canadian lifted the title here in 2004 and 2006 with Mark Knowles and in 2009 and 2010 alongside Nenad Zimonjic, his partner this week. Zimonjic is looking for his fourth crown here after teaming up with Leander Paes to lift the title in 2005 also. The Canadian/Serb duo take on No. 3 seeds Ivan Dodig and Marcelo Melo, who are still searching for their first title of the season having fallen in the Monte-Carlo final last week. The other SF sees Fabio Fognini and Jurgen Melzer take on lucky losers Jesse Huta Galung and Stephane Robert.

DAY 6 FEDEX ATP HEAD 2 HEADS

PISTA CENTRAL

[4] Kei Nishikori (JPN) vs [9] Ernests Gulbis (LAT)

FedEx Head 2 Head: First ATP World Tour meeting
Other Meetings:
2008 Bermuda CH (Bermuda) Clay QF Kei Nishikori 6-2 2-6 6-2

• Nishikori registered his 20th win of the season with a 6-1, 6-3 victory over No. 12 seed Marin Cilic to reach his fourth SF of the season and first in Barcelona. The Japanese No. 1 posted wins over Andrey Golubev and Roberto Bautista Agut in his opening two matches.
• Nishikori leads the way in return games won this week with 62% (18 of 29).
• Nishikori is making his fourth appearance in Barcelona. His previous best showing came in 2012 when he advanced to the QF before falling to Verdasco.
• Nishikori’s highlight of the season came in Memphis in February when he won the fourth title of his career (d. Karlovic in F). His other standout performances came in the opening week of the season in Brisbane where he reached the SF (l. to eventual champ Hewitt) and in Indian Wells last month where he posted Top 10 wins over Ferrer and Federer en route to the final four before withdrawing ahead of his clash with Djokovic after picking up a left groin injury.
• Nishikori has finished inside the top 25 in the past three seasons while becoming the highest ranked player from his country in ATP history. He reached a career-high No. 11 on June 17, 2013.
• Nishikori is looking to reach his seventh Tour-level final (4-2 in finals) and first in Barcelona.
• Gulbis fended off all five BPs he faced as he advanced to his third SF of the season, defeating Teymuraz Gabashvili. The Russian fell to 0-12 in Tour-level QFs with the loss. Gulbis opened his account this week with straight set wins over Daniel Gimeno-Traver and Albert Montanes.
• Gulbis is making his sixth appearance in Barcelona. His previous best showing came in 2010 when he advanced to the QF (l. to Verdasco).
• Gulbis opened his season with a QF showing in Doha (l. to Nadal). At the ATP event in Rotterdam, he defeated Dimitrov and world No. 4 Juan Martin del Potro en route to the SF (l. to Berdych). He then moved to a career-high No. 18 in the Emirates ATP Rankings in February after winning the title in Marseille. He posted back-to-back top 10 wins over No. 9 Richard Gasquet in the SF and No. 10 Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in the final, improving his record to 5-0 in title games.
• In March, Gulbis reached the QF at Indian Wells (l. to Isner). The Latvian has since dropped back down to No. 23 in the rankings after falling in his opening match in both Miami and Monte-Carlo.
• The Latvian finished 2013 in the top 30 for the first time since 2010, jumping 115 spots from the previous year. He equaled his year-end best ranking (No. 24) and won a personal-best 37 matches.
• Gulbis won two titles in 2013 – Delray Beach and St. Petersburg. His win in Delray Beach marked the first time a qualifier captured an ATP title since Jarkko Nieminen won Sydney in 2012.
• Gulbis is bidding to reach his sixth Tour-level final (5-0 in finals) and first in Barcelona.

[6] Nicolas Almagro (ESP) vs Santiago Giraldo (COL)

FedEx Head 2 Head: Almagro leads 5-0
2010 Vienna (Austria) Hard R16 Nicolas Almagro 7-6(4) 6-7(3) 6-3
2011 Acapulco (Mexico) Clay QF Nicolas Almagro 7-6(0) 5-7 6-4
2012 Auckland (New Zealand) Hard R16 Nicolas Almagro 6-4 6-2
2012 ATP World Tour Masters 1000 Indian Wells Hard R32 Nicolas Almagro 4-6 6-2 7-6(2)
2012 ATP World Tour Masters 1000 Madrid Clay R64 Nicolas Almagro 6-7(5) 6-3 6-3

• Almagro clinched his first win over Rafael Nadal in 11 meetings with a 2-6, 7-6(5), 6-4 victory over his compatriot in the QF. Almagro won just 102 points to Nadal’s 110 during the near three hour encounter.
• Almagro avenged his Houston final loss to Verdasco in the 3R, posting a 6-3, 6-3 win over his countryman in the 3R. The 28-year-old defeated Martin Klizan 7-5, 7-6(4) in his opening match.
• Almagro is making his 11th appearance in Barcelona. His best showing came last year when he reached the final for the first time (l. to Nadal). He has advanced to the SF on two other occasions, in 2006 (l. to Nadal) and 2011 (l. to Ferrer).
• Almagro contested his first tournament in more than three months in Vina del Mar in February (l. to Fognini 7-6 in 3rd set in SF). He followed on with another SF appearance in Buenos Aires where he lost to David Ferrer for the 15th time in succession. He withdrew from Indian Wells with a right shoulder injury after 1R exits in Rio de Janeiro (l. to Dolgoplov) and Sao Paulo (l. to Debonis) before reaching the 3R in Miami (l. to Isner).
• Almagro’s best showing this season came in Houston two weeks ago when he reached the final (l. to Verdasco). He advanced to the 3R a week later in Monte-Carlo (l. to Wawrinka).
• Almagro finished 2013 inside the top 20 for the fourth year in a row (fifth in six years) and reached the QF or better 11 times (7-4). His streak of winning an ATP title for seven years in a row came to an end, however, with two final appearances in Houston (l. to Isner) and Barcelona (l. to Nadal).
• Almagro is bidding to reach his 22nd career final (12-9 in finals) and second at the Barcelona Open (1-2 in SFs here).
• Giraldo booked his place in his third SF of the season when Philipp Kohlschreiber retired with a leg injury while trailing 6-4, 4-3 in the QF. The Colombian saved MPs en route to a 4-6, 6-4, 7-5 victory over Dominic Thiem, the youngest player ranked in the top 100, in the 3R. He opened with victories over Sijsling and Fognini, who retired while trailing 6-0, 4-0, in his opening two matches.
• Giraldo is making his third appearance in Barcelona. He reached the 3R in both his previous outings – 2011 (l. to Nadal) and 2012 (l. to Murray).
• Giraldo’s best performances of the season came in Vina del Mar – where he collected his 100th match-win on the ATP World Tour en route to the SF (l. to L Mayer) – and two weeks ago in Houston (l. to eventual champ Verdasco in SF).
• Giraldo finished 2013 inside the top 75 for the fourth straight year, highlighted by three ATP World Tour QF appearances – Acapulco, Bogota and Atlanta.
• Giraldo is bidding to reach his second Tour-level final (0-1 in finals) and his first in Barcelona. His only other final run came in 2011 when he reached the title game in Santiago (l. to Robredo).

POTENTIAL FINAL FEDEX ATP HEAD 2 HEADS

[6] Nicolas Almagro (ESP) vs [4] Kei Nishikori (JPN)

FedEx Head 2 Head: Series tied 1-1
2011 Kuala Lumpur (Malaysia) Hard QF Kei Nishikori 6-7(5) 6-4 6-4
2013 Tokyo (Japan) Hard QF Nicolas Almagro 7-6(2) 5-7 6-3

[6] Nicolas Almagro (ESP) vs [9] Ernests Gulbis (LAT)

FedEx Head 2 Head: Series tied 1-1
2009 ATP World Tour Masters 1000 Rome (Italy) Clay R64 Ernests Gulbis 3-6 7-6(5) 6-2
2009 Roland Garros (France) Clay R64 Nicolas Almagro 6-7(4) 7-6(5) 6-3 6-2

Santiago Giraldo (COL) vs [4] Kei Nishikori (JPN)

FedEx Head 2 Head: Nishikori leads 4-1
2010 Roland Garros (France) Clay R128 Kei Nishikori 2-6 4-6 7-6(3) 6-2 6-4
2011 ATP World Tour Masters 1000 Shanghai Hard R16 Kei Nishikori 7-6(6) 4-6 6-3
2012 ATP World Tour Masters 1000 Indian Wells Hard R64 Santiago Giraldo 7-5 6-2
2013 JPN vs. COL WG Play-Off (Japan) Hard RR Kei Nishikori 6-1 6-2 6-4
2014 ATP World Tour Masters 1000 Indian Wells Hard R64 Kei Nishikori 6-1 6-3

Santiago Giraldo (COL) vs [9] Ernests Gulbis (LAT)

FedEx Head 2 Head: First ATP World Tour meeting
Other Meetings:
2012 ATP World Tour Masters 1000 Rome Q Clay — Santiago Giraldo 4-6 6-3 7-6(4)

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