Rafael Nadal has had a spectacular 2018 so far. After recovering from an early-season injury, he dropped just one match on clay this spring, winning titles in Monte Carlo, Barcelona, Rome and Paris to make history and further back his claim as one of the greatest players of all time.
This August, he’s back in Toronto for the first time since 2010 – and here’s why he will win his fourth Rogers Cup title:
Rogers Cup’s long list of champions sees Nadal feature three times before. He’s won the title in 2005 (his first ATP World Tour Masters 1000 title on hard courts), 2008 and 2013. His run five years ago in Montreal, specifically, was some of the best hard-court tennis the 32-year-old has ever played.
At that tournament, he defeating defending champion and then-World No.1 Novak Djokovic in the semifinals – one of the matches of the year – before steamrolling home hope Milos Raonic in the final. He would go on to win the Western & Southern Open and the US Open a few weeks later.
There’s no denying, Rafa has posted the best results over the past three months. He claimed countless (ok, we can count – it’s four) clay-court titles and managed a deep run at Wimbledon where he pushed eventual champion Djokovic to 9-7 in the fifth set on what is arguably the Spaniard’s trickiest surface.
— Rogers Cup (@rogerscup) July 23, 2018
It’s safe to say that Nadal’s confidence is high. He’s had the rest he needs following the grind of the European summer swing, and he’s already been practicing with the Rogers Cup balls. The court speeds in Toronto are traditionally quite quick, and the confident, attacking tennis he’s been playing – especially off his backhand – will pay dividends at the tournament.
The tale of the tape between Rafa and his famous rival Federer used to be quite clear: Nadal would bend the Federer backhand until it broke and grind the Swiss down until he could claim the win. This tactic saw him vault out to a 23-11 head-to-head lead… at least until last year.
Since the start of 2017, Federer has gone 4-0 against Nadal and has no doubt been the man from Mallorca’s greatest threat when it comes to completely dominating the ATP World Tour in the injury absences of Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic. With Federer out of Rogers Cup this year, a major roadblock for a healthy, in-form Nadal is clear…
Although Rogers Cup is packing an incredible line-up this year with some familiar names, a lot of players are back on the mend and won’t be safe from an early-round clash with Rafa. It’s certain that the likes of rivals Andy Murray, Milos Raonic and Kei Nishikori – who will all be unseeded – will want to face Nadal early in the tournament.
The 17-time Grand Slam champion plays each round with the same vicious intensity and will be keen to strike before these ‘comebacking’ big names of the game are able to play their way into form. Even Djokovic, one of the few players to own a winning head-to-head with Rafa and who will be seeded outside the Top 8, has a chance to play him in the third round – and you’d have to think he’d have the edge there.
(Feature photo: Peter Staples/ATP World Tour)