In front of a sold-out Centre Court, the much-awaited return of Rafael Nadal to Rogers Cup in Toronto was everything his legions of fans might have hoped for. His 6-2, 6-3 win over Benoit Paire featured the vintage Nadal spirit, scintillating topspin forehands and otherworldly defense that the world has come to admire, but also included a competitive fight from the mercurial Paire, whose flashy shots and colourful temperament were on full display as well.
The result? A great evening of entertainment.
Nadal ripped through the opening set, starting the match with laser-like focus and picking on the more combustible forehand of his French opponent. Paire had little answers to the three-time Rogers Cup champion’s offense and defense, winning just seven of 25 points on the Nadal serve and relinquishing his own serve twice.
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The second set featured multiple breaks of serve, with neither player looking truly comfortable behind their delivery. After five straight breaks, it was Nadal who was able to register the first hold – and it was at the perfect time. He held to take the match after one hour and 14 minutes.
“I feel that of course I was not at my 100% today. But at the same time it’s true that it’s impossible, no?” said an ever-humble Nadal after the match. “After a while, you need matches. It’s true that I did good work here the last five days, but at the same time it’s true that I didn’t work very hard at home. I just did the basics to come back to the competition.”
In the night match, fans were treated to a three-set thriller featuring Canadian phenom Felix Auger-Aliassime and Russian qualifier Daniil Medvedev.
There was nothing separating the two young players, with 18-year-old Auger-Aliassime (who celebrated his birthday today) claiming the first set 6-3, and 22-year-old Medvedev rebounding to win the second set by a 6-4 score.
The final set was a topsy-turvy affair, with the Canadian running out to an early 4-1 lead but relinquishing control of the set after some tenacious play from Medvedev earned him the break back. In the tiebreak, the hard-hitting 18-year-old was unable to generate a match point of his own, and the Russian eventually sealed victory on his third with one final Auger-Aliassime error into the net.
He will play Alexander Zverev for a place in the quarterfinals.