They won’t do much for his knees, but two-a-days seem to suit Rafael Nadal. Due to rain on Thursday, Rafa and his fellow players were forced to get through two rounds in Barcelona today. Nadal started his first match, against Benoit Paire, slowly and out of sorts (that may not be too surprising for a Spaniard at 10:30 in the morning). But by late afternoon, as he was putting the finishing touches on his second victory, over countryman Albert Ramos, Nadal has reached something approaching his best.
The final score of this all-Spanish quarterfinal was 6-3, 6-0, and Rafa led it from wire to wire. He broke the 25-year-old, currently ranked No. 64, in his opening service game and quickly led 3-0. But while his serve was better than it had been in his first match, Nadal remained planted well behind the baseline in the early stages against Ramos. From a distance, as each lofted shots from well back in the court, it was hard to tell the two lefties in white shirts apart. Nadal began to change that static dynamic when he served for the set at 5-3. When he won the first point with a sharp cross-court forehand approach and a softly angled backhand volley, it wasn’t hard to figure out who was who.
Nadal wouldn’t lose another game in his first meeting with Ramos. After drilling a backhand winner to break in the opener of the second set, Rafa loosened up and made a sprint for the finish line. He played closer to the baseline and hit the ball flatter, and did a good job of short-hopping Ramos’ deep returns, something that can give him trouble against Novak Djokovic.
Nadal’s best shot of the afternoon was a curling, down the line forehand winner at 4-0. It was cracked with the confidence of a man who has put in the hard work and can finally throw a little caution to the chilly wind. Friday was a long one for Nadal, but it got better as it went. He shouldn’t be rusty for his semifinal, against Milos Raonic or Tommy Robredo.