Rafael Nadal vs Stefanos Tsitsipas (6-2, 7-6 [7-4])
It’s been a month since Rafael Nadal last played, but that doesn’t mean he’s all rusty and out of shape as he proved in the Rogers Cup.
In his first tournament back since his Wimbledon semi-final exit, Nadal fended off a stiff challenge from Greek upstart Stefanos Tsitsipas to win his fourth Rogers Cup title—which is also his 33rd Masters 1000 crown and 80th ATP tour title.
Tsisipas, who was celebrating his 20th birthday, was the first unseeded player to reach the Canada final in over a decade. And after becoming the youngest player to beat four straight top-10 players in a single tournament, he appeared poised to get another upset in Toronto.
However, Nadal showed the Greek teenager the difference in their experience, holding his nerve despite a second-set fightback that saw Tsitsipas almost pull off a real “birthday surprise.”
Highlights of the game
Nadal was just too good for Tsitsipas, plain and simple.
Tsitsipas, in his maiden ATP Masters 1000 final appearance, threw everything he had at Nadal and even impressed with his brilliant shot-making. Nonetheless, Rafa proved his dominance and schooled the Greek in the first set as he raced to a 4-1 lead.
Nadal was clearly at his best right from the off, hitting from the baseline with great accuracy and moving freely as he dictated the tempo of the game. He relied heavily on his forehand to dominate and hit nine such winners before closing the opener in 34 minutes.
The second set appeared to be heading on the same course as the first, with Nadal leading for the most part. Nevertheless, Tsitsipas refused to back down and found his rhythm just in time when the Spanish maestro was serving for the title at 5-4 and everything looking all but over.
In a move worthy to be featured in the Rogers Cup 2018 highlights, Tsitsipas pulled off a stunning service break to shift the momentum. The Greek youngster then buckled up defensively and was solid with his return game as he turned the game around to lead at 6-5.
Nadal, however, forced a tiebreak after a net-cord volley and regained his composure to close the game. The 32-year-old World no.1 was the aggressor in the tiebreak, but he still hit safely and confidently as he ended the game with a cross-court forehand winner.
Nadal expressed his delight after the win and admitted that he didn’t expect to win the title at all after his month-long rest.
“If you told me this two weeks ago, I would not have believed it,” Nadal said. “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.”
He also has nothing but praise for the 20-year-old Tsitsipas, who he described as a player with a “great future.”
“Yeah, he’s a great player,” Nadal said when asked if the Greek reminds him of his younger self. “He has all the shots—a good serve and he’s good on the baseline both back and forehand. He’s brave, he’s young and he’s got the right energy so he has a great future.”
Weird enough, Nadal committed two double faults in the second set, though he still dominated the game in almost every aspect.
Nadal finished with 27 winners and 20 unforced errors. Meanwhile, Tsitsipas finished with 15 winners and 25 mistakes, which proved costly particularly in his spectacular second-set fightback.
The Rogers Cup 2018 betting odds had Nadal as the clear favourite to win the tournament, alongside Novak Djokovic, but his victory is still a little bit surprising given that it was his first win on a hard court this season. His four previous titles this year all came from clay court, having won the French Open, Monte Carlo, Barcelona and Rome titles.
As mentioned, Tsitsipas is the youngest player to record four top-10 wins en route to the Canadian Open finals, upsetting the likes of Dominic Thiem, Novak Djokovic, Alexander Zverev and Kevin Anderson. With that record, he climbed to no.15 in the rankings from 27th in the world.
Tsitsipas is set to face David Goffin in the Round of 64 in the Cincinnati Masters. Meanwhile, Nadal has announced that he will be skipping the said tournament to rest for the upcoming US Open.
The Cincinnati Masters has generated plenty of buzz here at us as it would have been the first time that the “Big Four” of Nadal, Roger Federer, Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic would appear in the same tournament after more than a year.
However, fans have to wait a few more weeks for that highly anticipated appearance of tennis greats due to Nadal’s withdrawal.
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