An unlikely final took place in 2014 in Barcelona between Kei Nishikori and Santiago Giraldo.
From 2005 to 2009, Rafael Nadal dominated the Barcelona Open, winning the title for five straight years. After withdrawing from the 2010 event, the Spaniard picked up right where he left off, taking the title from 2011 to 2013.
In 2014, though, he suffered an unexpected defeat at the hands of his compatriot Nicolas Almagro in the quarterfinals. Almagro, though, couldn’t build upon that win as he lost to Santiago Giraldo, an unseeded player who was making waves through the tournament all week to reach his second career final.
In the championship match, he’d face the fourth seed Kei Nishikori, who had been playing some of the best clay-court tennis of his career. Coming off an injury, Nishikori nevertheless advanced to his second final of the year and first on clay since 2010.
At the beginning of the year, Nishikori—looking to take his game to the next level—added Hall of Famer Michael Chang to his coaching team. By the time of the Barcelona tournament, the two had already proven this decision was a good one as Nishikori won the title in Memphis and advanced to the semifinals at the Miami Open. Carrying a 4-1 lead over Giraldo in their head-to-head record, Nishikori raced through the opening set of the final, breaking the Colombian three times on his way to a 6-2 win.
If Giraldo had thoughts of gaining an early foothold in the second set, those hopes were quickly dashed. Continuing to show he was having no problems on the return, Nishikori gained another break in the first game. From there, Japan’s top male player continued to roll and just like in the first, he posted another 6-2 win to clinch the title—his first on clay and second of the year.
Nishikori won his third career 500-level title, all of them in different playing conditions: He won at home in Tokyo on outdoor hard courts in 2012 and on indoor hard courts in Memphis in 2013.
With his run to the final, Giraldo completed an 8-2 stretch over two tournaments: He advanced to the semifinals in Houston in his prior event.
The last time a player made Barcelona their first clay-court title was in 2002, when Gaston Gaudio of Argentina claimed his first career tournament victory.