An in-form Argentinian Guido Pella is closing on the 20th ATP win in 2019 following another impressive triumph on clay, this time against the struggling 6th seed Karen Khachanov. Facing each other for the first time, Guido scored a 6-2, 7-6 victory in an hour and 46 minutes, serving at 71% and repelling five out of eight break points.
This was already the ninth loss of the season for Paris Masters champion, delivering another poor performance and dropping half of the points behind the initial shot to face ten break chances and get broken five times to push Pella through in straight sets.
The opening set saw six breaks of serve in eight games, with Pella claiming four in a row for a 6-2, dominating without even playing the best tennis against the rival who struggled to find the range and impose his strokes.
Returning at 5-2, Guido fired a forehand down the line winner for a break at love, building the momentum and breaking Karen again at 2-1 in set number two to force an angry reaction from the Russian who had no idea who to change the course of the encounter.
Fending off a couple of break points in game six, Khachanov stayed within one break deficit and broke back with a smash winner in the next game to get back on the positive side of the scoreboard. The youngster saved a set point at 4-5 with a service winner, landing two more direct points to level the score at 5-5 and extend his chances before Pella grabbed the tie break 7-4 thanks to a perfect lob winner that propelled him into the third round.
Entering Marrakech with a 4-9 score and no high expectations, Benoit Paire survived a tough opening round match to go all the way and win the title, skipping the last week after the organizers of Monte Carlo Masters failed to reserve a wild card for him.
Paire is now back in action and is through to the third round with a 6-4, 6-7, 6-1 victory over Pablo Carreno Busta in two hours and 12 minutes. This was the first match for Pablo in two and a half months, picking up an injury in Cordoba and missing all the action before Barcelona to stay on just four wins in 2019.
That hasn't changed, with Paire saving eight out of ten break points and keeping focus in the decider after losing the second set, which wasn't always the case with him. Just like Karen Khachanov, Grigor Dimitrov was off to a very slow start of the season and asked for a wild card to chase much-needed wins and points here in Barcelona, defeating Fernando Verdasco 6-2, 6-7, 6-3 in two hours and 19 minutes for the ninth triumph of the season.
They had the same number of winners and it was Verdasco who hit more unforced errors, counting to almost 50 and losing serve six times from 15 chances given to Grigor. The Bulgarian repelled seven out of nine break points and wrapped up the win with three breaks in the deciding set, finding new momentum after a tight second set and setting the third-round clash with Nicolas Jarry who ousted Alexander Zverev on Tuesday.
In the last match of the day, Christian Garin toppled the 9th seed Denis Shapovalov 7-5, 6-2 in an hour and 16 minutes, giving serve away only once and keeping the Canadian under pressure on the return all the time. Shapovalov counted to 16 winners and 31 unforced errors, spraying them from both wings and hitting the exit door after the opening match for the second week in a row, still seeking that form on clay from Madrid last year.
Denis forged a 3-1 lead in the opener with a smash winner in game four, suffering a break in the very next game when Christian placed a forehand winner. The Chilean obtained another break at 5-5 after a forehand mistake from Shapovalov and closed the opener with a booming ace on the T line a few minutes later for a 7-5.
Showing all the flaws of his return, Denis won just three points on Christian's serve in set number two, suffering breaks in games three and five and allowing Garin to cross the finish line with a lucky net cord winner at 5-2.