Rafa Still The Master
Rafael Nadal was at his ruthless best on Sunday at the Rogers Cup, overcoming a late charge from Stefanos Tsitsipas to seize his 33rd ATP World Tour Masters 1000 title. The Spanish legend, who saved a set point in the second set, also claimed his 80th career title, with 50 of those coming at either the elite Maters 1000 level or at the Grand Slams. The left-hander also boosted his already strong chance of finishing year-end World No. 1 for the fifth time in his career.
With a trophy on the line, Nadal stepped up his aggression, turning in a clinical performance to oust Tsitsipas 6-2, 7-6(4) on a sun-kissed late afternoon in Toronto. Five years removed from his most recent hard-court Masters 1000 title, victory was well worth the wait for the World No. 1.
"If you told me this two weeks ago I would not have believed it," Nadal told ESPN in his on-court post-match interview. "It’s a great way to start the hard-court season. Winning in Toronto is so important. You don’t win Masters 1000s very often. It’s a very important victory for me and I’m very happy."
Nadal would have to wait slightly longer than expected to lift the trophy. Having won just three points on return through Nadal's opening eight service games, Tsitsipas suddenly broke the Spaniard when he stepped to the line to serve for the championship. And just minutes later, the top seed would have to fight off a set point and rally from a mini-break deficit in the ensuing tie-break, before crossing the finish line after one hour and 42 minutes.
Nadal is now 4-0 in Rogers Cup finals, also prevailing in Toronto in 2008 and in Montreal in both 2005 and 2013. His fourth title makes the Canadian Masters 1000 event his most successful hard-court tournament. Also the first singles player to qualify for the Nitto ATP Finals, Nadal booked his spot at The O2 in London with his quarter-final win on Friday.
ATP World Tour Masters 1000 Title Leaders
|Player||Masters 1000 Titles||Rogers Cup Titles|
|(1) Rafael Nadal||33||4|
|(2) Novak Djokovic||30
|(3) Roger Federer||27||2|
|(4) Andre Agassi||17||3|
|(5) Andy Murray||14||3|
"It's great news. It's a tournament that I won four times," said Nadal. "Canada is a place that I feel comfortable. I play well. That's it. And I played with the Canadian colors during the whole event.
"The 80th tournament win is of course a great number, an important one. I'm very happy. But it's about another Masters 1000. Masters 1000s are tournaments that are so difficult to win, sometimes are even more difficult to win Masters 1000s than Grand Slams because you can't avoid tough opponents. And that's it."
Tsitsipas capitalised on a dominant display off the ground to reach the final, unleashing his inside-out forehand often. After falling to Nadal in the Barcelona Open Banc Sabadell final in April, he was hoping to flip the script with a powerful punch.
The adrenaline was flowing early for the #NextGenATP star. Perhaps too much. Nadal snatched a quick break in the third game with precision strikes from the baseline, and Tsitsipas rocketed a pair of forehands long to contribute to the Spaniard's cause. A running backhand pass punctuated a second break for Nadal, who raced to a 4-1 lead.
On Sunday, it was Nadal whose forehand was flowing freely, striking nine such winners in grabbing the first set in just 34 minutes. It was a clinical opener for the Mallorca native, who had his Greek opponent on the back foot and unable to find his rhythm.
The second set was on course to be much of the same, as Nadal snatched an immediate break in the first game. After finishing his semi-final victory over Karen Khachanov past midnight, fatigue was never a factor on Sunday. He turned in one of his best serving performances, reeling off a stretch of 20 straight points won on his delivery.
Nadal's Most Successful Hard-Court Tournaments
|No. of Titles||Tournament|
Tsitsipas had won just three points on return when Nadal toed the line to serve for the title at 5-4. But he refused to go down without a fight, capturing a stunning break to stay alive and add a sudden plot twist. The drama was palpable as Tsitsipas suddenly found his rhythm on return, earning a set point on Nadal's serve at 6-5.
But Nadal had a plot twist of his own up his sleeve, denying the opportunity and rallying from a mini-break down in the ensuing tie-break. The Mallorca native lifted his 33rd ATP World Tour Masters 1000 trophy after one hour and 42 minutes, seizing his first match point with a cross-court forehand winner.
"It was a very positive first set for me today," Nadal added. "I think I played well. Probably the best first set or best set of the whole event for me. And then in the second, we were not winning a lot of points on the opponent's serve. And then we arrived the moment that I had to close the match and I played a horrible game.
"So after that, he started to play better. I got a little bit tight and nervous and then he had a set point in that second set. I'm very happy to have this trophy with me again. It means a lot. It has been a fantastic week, a very positive one."
Nadal's fifth title of the year was his first on hard. He also prevailed in his clay-court stomping grounds of Roland Garros, Monte-Carlo, Rome and Barcelona. In addition, it was his 80th tour-level crown, joining only Jimmy Connors, Roger Federer and Ivan Lendl in the exclusive '80 Titles Club'.
Meanwhile, Tsitsipas, who celebrated his 20th birthday on Sunday, was appearing in his second ATP World Tour final and first at the Masters 1000 stage. He previously fell to Nadal in the Barcelona Open Banc Sabadell title match in April.
"The patience that Rafa has is amazing," said Tsitsipas. "He never cracks. He will always grab you like a bulldog and always will always make you suffer on the court. And it is amazing what he has built as a player. That's how you feel when you play against him. So I need to work much more and hopefully I can reach his level one day."
The #NextGenATP Greek will climb to a career-high No. 15 in the ATP Rankings on Monday. He caps a stunning week in Toronto, which saw him reel off a record four Top 10 wins, becoming the youngest to do so in a single tournament. Upsets of Dominic Thiem, Novak Djokovic, Alexander Zverev and Kevin Anderson have Tsitsipas' confidence and momentum surging through the North American hard-court season.
"I'm really hungry for more. I believe I can achieve much more this year. My game is currently, although I lost today, I feel like I can still beat good players."