Re: Nico "Superstar" Almagro def Potito Starace 4-6 6-2 6-1 to defend his Valencia title
Well done Nico
Nicolas Almagro - Spain's forgotten tennis ace
He's a king on clay, but does the Valencia Open finalist have a chip on his shoulder as well?
The Valencia Open finalists have been determined – Nicolas Almagro and Potito Starace, who respectively beat Santiago Ventura and Ivan Navarro Pastor in Saturday's semis. “Who,” you may ask? Let’s just say that Valencia’s tournament director is going to need all of his marketing savvy to hawk the unsold tickets for Sunday's final.
Almagro is the defending champion at Valencia, and it was this time last year that the tennis world started to take notice of the Spaniard when he took the tournament as a qualifier. Really, before Novak Djokovic started getting the publicity, Almagro was the talk of the town – I even dedicated an article to him last year. In that piece, I spoke to the ability of Nicolas to possibly upend superior players on clay, due to his inherent natural abilities on the surface.
Since then, I’ve seen Almagro in action a few times – most notably against Roger Federer in Miami. But I do recall seeing highlights of Almagro in some of the clay Masters Series tournaments last year, and his shot selection and execution were splendid. He has power as well as precision. But does he also have a chip on his shoulder?
Almagro might think so, only because he’s been largely cast aside in favour of other new kids on the block that include Djokovic, Andy Murray, Sam Querrey and others. His play hasn’t garnered him the headlines or the hardware as consistently as the bigger young guns, but he has had some impressive results since his breakthrough performance in Valencia last year:
Barcelona ‘06: Semi-final (lost to Nadal - #1 seed)
AMS Rome ‘06: Quarter-final (lost to Federer - #1 seed)
Palmero ‘06: Semi-final (lost to Volandri - #2 seed)
Buenos Aires ‘07: Semi-final (lost to Juan Monaco - unranked)
Nobody is going to take Almagro as a serious all-court threat, as all of these results were on clay. But he shouldn’t be overlooked in the upcoming clay season when all the attention will be on Rafael Nadal, Federer, Guillermo Canas and the more notable names.
At the beginning of last year, Almagro was ranked at 114 in the world, but thanks to the above performances, he finished the year at #32, and has hovered along the top 30 since then (a career-highest was 28; currently he is ranked 31). During this span, Almagro disposed of household names such as Marat Safin (Valencia '06), Juan Carlos Ferrero (Valencia and Barcelona '06), Nikolay Davydenko (Rome '06), Tomas Berdych (Bastad '06), and Juan Ignacio Chela (Buenos Aires '07).
Almagro likely isn't held with the same esteem as phenoms like Murray and Djokovic because he hasn't been able to produce similarly outstanding results on all surfaces. But for the Spaniard, while becoming a better all-around player would of course be nice, I would be willing to wager that the French Open is his ultimate dream. A title defence in Valencia, which is his to lose at this point, would go a long way to making believers.
Almagro likely isn't held with the same esteem as phenoms like Murray and Djokovic because he hasn't been able to produce similarly outstanding results on all surfaces. But for Almagro, while becoming a better all-around player would of course be nice, I would be willing to wager the the French Open is his ultimate dream. A title defence in Valencia, which is his to lose at this point, would go a long way to making believers.