Watch out ATP World Tour, Rafael Nadal is coming in hot. The world number one won his fourth Rogers Cup title on Sunday, his first Masters 1000 on hard court since 2013, to extend his record for Masters 1000 titles to 33. To do so, he put an end to Stefanos’ Tsitsipas’ magical run in Toronto, holding off the Greek in straight sets.
It looked as though Nadal would cruise to the title, as he had last time he won the Rogers Cup back in 2013, also against a first-time Masters 1000 finalist, as he took the opening set in a hurry and served for the match in the second. But Tsitsipas, celebrating his 20th birthday, showed some of the guts that helped him beat four straight top-ten opponents to reach his first Masters 1000 final, breaking and forcing a tiebreak, but could not close it out as Nadal claimed victory 6-2, 7-6(4).
Nadal imposing early
Both men opened the match with a hold to love. Tsitsipas gave a brief glimmer of hope in his hold, but Nadal was setting the tone for the next hour. At 1-all, some shaky forehands proved costly for Tsitsipas. He committed two in a row to go down 30-40, but Nadal missed his return. Twice at deuce, the Greek hit the exact same forehand into the net to go down break point. He saved the first with a smash but drove another forehand into the net on the second to surrender the break.
Nadal had struggled to find consistency in the opening sets of his earlier matches but had no trouble in the final. He was at his grinding best, using his massive forehand to run Tsitsipas all over the court, seemingly striking winners at will. This was best exemplified when he looked to consolidate the break, striking four forehand winners in the game to hold.
He would add to his lead in the following game when Tsitsipas netted a drop shot to go down 15-40. After saving the first break point, the newly-aged 20-year-old sent a forehand into the net to go down a double break. With the way Nadal was defending his serve, it was a death sentence. The world number one only dropped one point on serve in the opening set, taking it 6-2 with a hold to love.
Tsitsipas comeback falls short
The match looked over when Nadal ripped a forehand winner up the line to take a 15-40 lead in the first game of the second set. The Greek sent a forehand long to go down an immediate break. As if to emphasize his dominance, Nadal consolidated to love for a 2-0 lead. At that point, he had held four of his five service games at love.
While Nadal was serving up 3-2, a fan shouted out to him as he prepared to serve “have mercy,” drawing laughter from the crowd. The top seed would oblige, double faulting at 40-love to give Tsitsipas only his second return point of the match and first of the set.
The fans were rowdy in this match, simultaneously trying to cheer Nadal over the finish line and will Tsitsipas back into the match. As Tsitsipas tossed up a serve at 3-5, a fan shouted, causing him to miss the serve. The umpire refused to give him a re-serve despite the clear fan interference. It wasn’t until Nadal stepped in and insisted on a let that Tsitsipas was allowed another first serve. He won the point and held to force Nadal to serve out the match.
That act of good sportsmanship may have worked against the top seed. After dominating his serve all match, only dropping three points up to that point, the Spaniard choked as he served for the match. He committed back-to-back backhand unforced errors before double-faulting to go down 15-40. He would send another backhand into the net to surrender the break and level the set at 5-all.
The collapse was nearly completed in the following game when Nadal missed an easy forehand that would have sent the set to a tiebreak at 40-30. He would then push a forehand long to go down 40-AD, set point for Tsitsipas. On break point, the world number one unleashed a massive series of forehands before going for a drop shot which clipped the net cord but made it over the net. With the bullet dodged, he held to force a tiebreak.
Tsitsipas got the first minibreak for a 2-1 lead, only to give it right back on the next point with another forehand long. Nadal would seize control of the tiebreak when the Greek sent a forehand into the net on his own serve to go down 3-5. With the match on his racquet at 5-4 in the breaker, the world number one held his nerve. He went up double match point when Tsitsipas sent what felt like his 1000th forehand into the net before closing out the match with an inside-out forehand winner.
By the numbers
Despite his late jitters, Nadal was still outstanding on his serve, only losing two points on his first serve in the whole match (94 percent of total first serve points). Even though he only put 56 percent of his first serves in play, he still won a solid 60 percent of his second serve points. Tsitsipas wasn’t as strong, winning 71 percent of his first serve points and 52 percent of his seconds.
The title marked several milestones for Nadal. It is his record-extending 33rd Masters 1000 title. It is also his 80th title overall. His fourth title in Canada is his most at any hard court event. It is his first Masters 1000 event on hard court since Cincinnati in 2013, the same year he last won the Rogers Cup. That year, he swept the summer hard courts winning Canada and Cincinnati before going on to win the US Open.