Toronto Masters 2018: Rafael Nadal masters Tstisipas to win 80th title, but is out of Cincinnati
Rafael Nadal beats Stefanos Tsitsipas in the final to win the Toronto Masters title
The week in Toronto began with what looked like a truly challenging draw for the world No1 Rafael Nadal, but seven days later, he lifted his fourth Rogers Cup trophy to become only the fourth man in the Open era to win 80 career titles.
Nadal won the title in Toronto in 2008 and in Montreal in both 2005 and 2013. On the last occasion, he went on to join a very select group of players in adding the Cincinnati title and then the US Open title, a remarkable North American treble. But while he is the defending champion in New York this year, but he will not be attempting the treble this time around. Now age 32, he has pulled out of Cincinnati.
“I am sorry to announce that I won’t be playing in Cincinnati this year. No other reason than personally taking care of my body and trying to keep as healthy as I feel now.”
It is a sensible decision: The Toronto title was his 40th match-win of the year, with all but four of those wins coming since April.
After being forced to retire in the Australian Open quarter-finals with a hip injury, he was absent until the Davis Cup quarter-finals, where he won both his singles matches. They were immediately followed by title runs at the Monte-Carlo Masters, Barcelona, the Rome Masters and the French Open, plus a quarter-final finish in Madrid along the way.
He went on to conclude his Wimbledon campaign in the semis on the back of two intense five setters, first a four hour 48 minute win over Juan Martin del Potro, then a five and a quarter hour loss to Novak Djokovic.
In Toronto, he negotiated his potentially tricky draw with relative ease, with the exception of his three-set comeback over Marin Cilic in the quarters. It included wins over the often dangerous Benoit Paire, a three-time Major champion on the injury comeback trail, Stan Wawrinka, and the big, powerful 22-year-old Karen Khachanov. Finally, Nadal had to top the talk of the tournament, the charismatic Stefanos Tsitsipas.
The Greek, who less than a year ago had yet to win a main-tour match, and was ranked 192, began what has been a stunning rise up the ranks from No91 this January. By the time he reached his first final in Barcelona, had broken the top 50. By then, he had claimed five top-20 scalps, and added David Goffin to that count with his semi-final run in Washington.
Toronto, though, would bring out a whole new level of flair, attack, and sheer determination from the teenager who would turn 20 on the day of his first Masters final.
He beat four top-10 players, the youngest ever to do so in a single tournament, including Dominic Thiem, Djokovic, Alexander Zverev and Kevin Anderson. What is more, he did it the hard way. The last three of those matches required three sets, the last two from a set down, and each involved tie-breaks. How much did he have left for the biggest final of his career?
He began well enough, but Nadal had the look of a man on a mission, and his serving in particular was outstanding. He broke in the third game and again in the fifth, and while Tsitsipas would hold once, Nadal served out the set, 6-2, having dropped just one point on his serve.
The Greek could not find an opening to hit back, but was not helped by below-par serving and a slew of forced forehand errors. And by the time Nadal led 4-2 in the second set, the Spaniard had yet to drop a first-serve point, and only two overall.
It looked a foregone conclusion, then, that Nadal would serve out the victory at 5-4, but Tsitsipas, as he has so often this week, went for broke, swung freely, and helped by some unexpectedly tense serving—two double faults—from Nadal, broke to level. He then held comfortably, and threatened the Nadal serve, but could not convert his break chance for the set.
And so it went to another tie-break, with many in the Toronto arena fully expecting the magician from Greece to take this to a third set again. But Nadal did not waver, and the hour-long second set ended 7-6(4) in his favour.
This is now Nadal’s most successful hard-court event, and this his first Masters on the hard stuff since that famous treble run in North America in 2013.
He said of his victory:
“If you told me this two weeks ago I would not have believed it… It’s a very important victory for me and I’m very happy.
“Canada is a place that I feel comfortable. I play well. That’s it. And I played with the Canadian colours during the whole event.”
But aside from Nadal’s memorable achievement at the tournament, the Rogers Cup of 2018 will be remembered for bringing the personality and tennis of one of the new generation’s brightest prospects centre stage.
Tsitsipas, and his will to win, have charmed the crowds in Canada, but he will not be stopping here. He was ranked 27 at the start of the tournament, and has jumped to 15 this week. If he can hold that position until the US Open, it would be a helpful boost—he would not face a higher seed before the fourth round. However, Cincinnati will be a big physical test after his Washington and Toronto efforts, and he gets no first-round bye, either. He will be back on court come Tuesday against No11 seed Goffin in a draw at least as tough as the one in Toronto.
But his will is strong, as his assorted messages on cameras and Twitter testify.
“Fight like there is no tomorrow.”
“It never gets easier. You just get better.”
Talking to ATPWorldTour.com about his Nadal encounter, that fighting spirit was as intense as ever. He had learned, he said:
“How much I have to work. How much gap there is between him and me, and how much more I need to… Work more hours and become stronger and a more solid baseliner and withstand pressures, physical pressures on the court that to him it just seems like nothing special. That’s the big difference between my game and his. He never cracks. He will always grab you like a bulldog.”
“I’m really hungry for more. I believe I can achieve much more this year.”
Few will disagree with that. But the day, the week, and very possibly the year, belong to world No1 Nadal, who now has almost 4,000 points between himself and No2 Roger Federer, after the two men had exchanged the No1 ranking six times in the opening months of the year.
He has, it is fair to say, earned is rest during Cincinnati.