Rafael Nadal dominated birthday boy Stefanos Tsitsipas early, then had to hang on late for a 6-2, 7-6(4) victory to win his fourth Canadian Open title in Toronto this afternoon.
After the two traded love holds to start the match, Nadal broke Tsitipas then rolled to a quick 6-2 first set. The Greek, who was celebrating his 20th birthday Sunday, just couldn’t find the mark really on anything.
Meanwhile, Rafa was running him ragged with the forehand and was nearly untouchable on his serve, I think losing just one point on in the first set!
When Tsitipas was broken to start the second and Nadal raced out to a 3-1 lead, it looked like it would be over in minutes. (It should have been!)
But Tsitsipas settled down, and like he did against Alexander Zverev on Friday, began to slowly find form first through his serve which he began doing damage with. Then he groundstrokes got some pace, he looked more confident off the backhand wing which was leaky in the first.
Still, the problem was Nadal was holding either at love or at 15 every service game. And I mean every game!
Rafa as had issues closing out matches and it turned out to be no different today. Despite being so dominant, serving it out at 5-4 became a comedy of errors for Rafa. A couple mistakes, a double fault and just like that we were back on serve.
Tsitsipas was working the magic, again. Just like the Zverev match. He held than pushed Nadal again at 5-6, forcing the Spaniard to save a break/set point.
In the breaker though, Nadal’s experience showed. He fell an early mini-break but powered through winning 5 of the last 6 points to claim his first hardcourt Masters title since 2013 Cincinnati and win his 80th crown.
“It’s a great way to start the hard court season,” Nadal said. “Winning in Toronto is so important. You don’t win Masters 1000s very often. It’s a very important victory for me and I’m very happy.
“The 80th tournament win is of course a great number, an important one. I’m very happy. But it’s about another Masters 1000. Masters 1000s are tournaments that are so difficult to win, sometimes are even more difficult to win Masters 1000s than Grand Slams because you can’t avoid tough opponents. And that’s it.”
And he even admitted nerves got the best of him late in the second when serving it out.
“It was a very positive first set for me today,” Nadal said. “I think I played well. Probably the best first set or best set of the whole event for me. And then in the second, we were not winning a lot of points on the opponent’s serve. And then we arrived the moment that I had to close the match and I played a horrible game.
“So after that, he started to play better. I got a little bit tight and nervous and then he had a set point in that second set. I’m very happy to have this trophy with me again. It means a lot. It has been a fantastic week, a very positive one.”
And while it was a positive week for Rafa, it was even more so for the new star, Tsitsipas, who reached his first Masters final after winning four straight over Top 10 players.
“The patience that Rafa has is amazing,” said Tsitsipas. “He never cracks. He will always grab you like a bulldog and always will always make you suffer on the court. And it is amazing what he has built as a player. That’s how you feel when you play against him. So I need to work much more and hopefully I can reach his level one day.
“I’m really hungry for more. I believe I can achieve much more this year. My game is currently, although I lost today, I feel like I can still beat good players.”
And from where he’s come in just a year, there’s no doubt he’s going to achieve a lot more, and win many of these big titles in the future, perhaps the very near future.
The kid had a slow start, maybe he was a little sluggish from all the tennis the last two weeks, but he kept strong in the second and pounced once he got an opportunity. Credit though to Rafa, he showed again – unlike a Zverev or an Anderson – why he’s such a great champion. Understanding what was going on, finding solutions and trusting in his game.
What’s funny is in 10 years we’ll be saying the same thing about Tsitsipas who’ll be 30 and trying to deny a new breed of youngsters.
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