In 2005, at the mere age of 19, Rafael Nadal triumphed at Uniprix Stadium in Montreal. While his win seems routine today, back then, the Spaniard took the tennis world by complete surprise. One year earlier, ranked world no. 62, Nadal had made his very first Rogers Cup appearance and the outcome was completely different: he fell to Lleyton Hewitt in the first round.
It was an opposite scenario the next time around. The man who would be crowned the King of Clay arrived in Montreal with eight titles in hand: Sao Paulo, Acapulco, Monte Carlo, Barcelona, Rome, Bastad, Stuttgart and his very first French Open. There was no doubt about it, Rafael Nadal was the game’s newest sensation. But he had yet to raise the trophy on a hard court. He had come close in Miami, but Roger Federer halted his run. In Montreal, Nadal was determined: “I want to win one on hard. I WILL win one on hard.”
Seeded first—a position left vacant by Federer’s absence—Rafa faced a tough three-set contest in the first round against his countryman Carlos Moya 6-3, 6-7(0), 6-3. He followed it up with convincing wins over Ricardo Mello, Sébastien Grosjean, Mariano Puerta and Paul-Henri Mathieu to secure a spot in the final against the tournament’s fourth seed, tennis legend Andre Agassi.
When Nadal said that he wanted to battle Agassi before the American retired, Agassi replied that he was the one who wanted to take on Nadal before Nadal retired! All jokes aside, the showdown between the icon and the phenom was a moment that would go down in Montreal’s tennis history.
By the end of the hard-fought match, Rafael Nadal had won in three sets 6-3, 4-6, 6-2 and lifted his very first Rogers Cup trophy.
This season, Rafa has been a dominant force on clay, much like he was in 2005. Stopped in his tracks once again by Roger Federer in Melbourne and Miami, will he seize the opportunity in Montreal to grab his first hard court title of year, just like he did in 2005?