Nadal One Win Away From Acapulco Hat Trick

Fifteen years after capturing his first title at the Abierto Mexicano Telcel presentado por HSBC, Rafael Nadal is in position to once again wear the winner’s sombrero in Acapulco. The top-seeded Spaniard booked his place in the final with a convincing 6-3, 6-2 victory on Friday against seventh-seeded Bulgarian Grigor Dimitrov.

“I’m very happy. A great victory against one of the best players in the world and a good friend,” Nadal said. “I think I’ve increased my level during the match, so it’s positive for me.”

The two-time champion (2005, 2013) improved to 18-2 at this event and remained flawless (4-0) in Acapulco semi-finals. He also continued his dominance over Dimitrov (13-1) in their ATP Head2Head series. Nadal has yet to lose a set this week and only dropped 20 games across his first four matches.

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Nadal’s return of serve has been particularly dangerous. The Spaniard leads the tournament in return games won (58%, 19 of 33) and converted 19 of 28 break points (68%).

Standing between him and an Acapulco hat trick is Taylor Fritz, who defeated fifth seed John Isner in an all-American semi-final. This will be the first ATP Head2Head meeting between Nadal and Fritz.

“He’s playing well. He has a great serve, fantastic shots from the baseline. It’s going to be a tough one,” Nadal said. “I know I’m going to have to be at my best and I hope to be ready for it.”

Dimitrov had overcome plenty of barriers to reach his semi-final showdown with Nadal. The Bulgarian saved two match points to defeat Frenchman Adrian Mannarino in the second round, then snapped a five-match losing streak against third-seeded Swiss Stan Wawrinka in the quarter-finals.

Breaking another five-match losing streak against Nadal would be an even taller order. The Spaniard successfully targeted Dimitrov’s backhand with depth and heavy topspin in their previous matches, breaking down that normally reliable wing before applying further pressure with his forehand.

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Both players traded early service holds to start their latest clash. But while Nadal got off to a slow start, he quickly rounded into form. From 1-2 in the opening set, Nadal went on a four-game run with a stream of blistering baseline winners. 

Although Dimitrov kept the games close, he didn’t have much to show for it on the scoreboard. He let slip two game points on his serve at 2-3 before handing Nadal a break with a forehand error, then squandered three break points in the next game. A big down-the-line forehand from the Spaniard on set point gave him the early advantage.

The second set progressed nearly identically to the first set, with Dimitrov breaking early for a 2-0 lead before Nadal found his footing. Standing on top of the baseline and pouncing with his forehand, Nadal finished out the night by going on a six-game run. The top seed crunched a final forehand winner to end play after one hour and 41 minutes.