The Rogers Cup presented by National Bank final features a breakthrough star versus the World No. 1. This scenario might feel familiar to Rafael Nadal.
Back in 2005, just a teenager himself, an inexperienced yet much-hyped Spaniard reached the final at the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells, where he played World No. 1 Roger Federer in the final. The five-set thriller would be a turning point for Nadal, who would go on to win his first Grand Slam and end the year ranked No. 2 in the world.
Today, that script is flipped.
Fast forward to 2018: Nadal is the World No. 1 and faces fast-rising star Stefanos Tsitsipas who, although he’s no longer a teenager as of today (it’s his 20th birthday!), many have tipped for greatness after his spectacular run here in Toronto.
Yesterday afternoon, the Greek phenom rallied from a set down to defeat Kevin Anderson 6-7(4), 6-4, 7-6(7), saving one match point en route to a thrilling victory in the semifinals.
After splitting the first two sets, Tsitsipas and Anderson wrestled for control in the decider, with the South African generating more chances but unable to capitalize on the 20 return points won in the set, compared to just 11 from Tsitsipas. In the final-set tiebreak, both players managed to get within a point away from victory – but it was the then-19-year-old who upped his level in the important moments with steely baseline play to eventually close out the match in two hours, 48 minutes.
With wins this week over Dominic Thiem, Novak Djokovic, Alexander Zverev, and now Anderson, Tsitsipas becomes the first player to defeat four Top 10 players at an ATP World Tour Masters 1000 event since Jo-Wilfied Tsonga right here in Toronto four years ago. A win in today’s final would launch him up to a career-high ranking World No. 12, but is already guaranteed to reach No. 15 in the ATP Rankings thanks to his Toronto efforts.
In the second semifinal, Nadal overcame a tricky challenge in the form of Karen Khachanov, defeating the rising Russian 7-6(3), 6-4. The World No. 1 lead by an early break in the first set before Khachanov stormed back to even the score, matching his opponent’s ruthlessness from the baseline with his own blistering shotmaking off both wings.
Nadal’s greater experience ultimately was the difference maker in the match, as he masterfully raised his level in the tiebreak and maintained his momentum to finish off Khachanov, a first-time Masters 1000 semifinalist, just past midnight. The win puts him into his 116th tour-level final, where he’ll look to increase his Masters 1000 trophy count to 33, the most in Open Era history.
The final is sure to be not only a clash of generations, but a clash of styles as well. It will feature Nadal’s signature ferocious baseline grinding against the stylish all-court game of Tsitsipas, a brand of tennis he modeled off his idol growing up.
That idol? Federer.
You couldn’t write a better script.