MONTREAL— Rafael Nadal served a 197-km/h heater down the middle of the court and took two more shots to produce an error and close out Sunday’s final to capture his fifth Rogers Cup title.
The 33-year-old Spaniard also served up a tennis masterclass to 23-year-old Muscovite Daniil Medvedev. It took Nadal just 70 minutes to win 6-3, 6-0. It took him half that amount of time to dispirit Medvedev—dominating every aspect of the match.
“I think I played my best match of the tournament, without a doubt,” Nadal said afterward in an on-court interview with TVA Sports.
Medvedev sat on the sidelines nodding in agreement. It wasn’t a fun afternoon for him, but it was a treat for the 11,700 fans who packed IGA Stadium.
So was the event as a whole for the thousands more in attendance this week. Tournament director Eugene Lapierre referred to them as the “big winners” during his afternoon press conference. He said they showed up in record numbers—223,016 people were officially on the premises at Jarry Park from Monday to Sunday—and they made this as memorable an event as any in the history of the Canadian Open.
There’s no denying it.
Earlier in the week, the fans did everything they could to lift up Denis Shapovalov, the 20-year-old Richmond Hill, Ont., native whose bid to best his semifinal appearance in Montreal two years ago fell short in a hard-fought 4-6, 6-3, 3-6 round-of-32 match against world No. 4 Dominic Thiem. They rallied behind 19-year-old hometown hero Felix Auger-Aliassime, who beat countrymen Vasek Pospisil and Milos Raonic before falling in a riveting 6-7 (7), 7-5, 3-6 round-of-16 match against world No. 8 Karen Kachanov. And they braved less than ideal weather conditions throughout the weekend to create an electric atmosphere for the matches of greater consequence.
On Sunday, the fans were rewarded with a breathtaking performance from one of the greatest players the sport has ever known. Nadal hit 33 of 46 first serves in, and he won 82 per cent of his first-serve points and 62 per cent of his second-serve points. The world No. 2 also converted on four-of-eight break-points, hit 12 winners, made only 13 unforced errors and won 11 of 13 points at the net—and he managed that quality of play despite having to deal with winds that swirled upwards of 35 km/h.
With that, Nadal defended a hard-court title for the very first time in his 18-year ATP Tour career. His third tournament win in Montreal was his 83rd singles title. It was also his tour-leading 35th Masters 1000 Series tournament win and his third win of the season after capturing a 12th French Open in Paris in April and a ninth Italian Open in Rome in May.
This one came against a player who put on a remarkable display on his way to the final this week, a player who led the tour with 38 hard-court wins a season ago and came into Sunday’s match leading with 25 wins on the surface.
Medvedev, whose four titles have all been earned on hard courts since he turned pro in 2014, destroyed Kyle Edmund 6-3, 6-0 in his opening match of the tournament. He cruised by Christian Garin 6-3, 6-3 in the round of 16, it took him less than an hour to dispose of Thiem by a score of 6-3, 6-1 in the quarterfinals, and he mostly dominated Khachanov in the 6-1, 7-6 (6) semifinals.
But the six-foot-six Russian was no match for Nadal on Sunday.
“Rafa was, I think, incredible today,” Medvedev said of the 18-time Grand Slam champion who improved his 2019 record to 41-6 with the win. “It was tough to play Rafa. My tactic was to not give him that much time, to try to play deep, to not give him easy shots. It was kind of working in the beginning of the match, but then I completely lost the momentum. It was only him controlling the play, controlling the game.”
When it was over, Nadal graciously commended Medvedev for his efforts, and then he addressed the crowd in French.
“I love the city and love the support I get here,” he said.
“I think they are very passionate about the sport,” Nadal added from his final press conference of the week. “They are very passionate about tennis. I always felt when I have been playing here, have been always an unbelievable atmosphere out here, full crowd. That’s so important for our sport and for me personally. Go around the world and see when I am playing, see the court full, it’s a big personal satisfaction.
“I hope to be back in 2021.”
Health will be the ultimate determinant in that equation. Nadal has dealt with his fair share of injuries over the years, and he struggled with ankle and knee issues through the first few months of the 2019 season.
The good news is, Nadal is approaching the U.S. Open—the year’s final Grand Slam, which will begin in New York in two weeks—feeling as healthy as he has in a long time.
“The body is feeling better,” he said. “That makes me play better, too, because my mind is focused on tennis, not thinking about if I can do this thing or another thing.”
Nadal had no issue doing anything this week.
He opened with a 7-6 (6), 6-4 win over Dan Evans. He beat Guido Pella 6-3, 6-4 before notching an impressive, come-from-behind 2-6, 6-1, 6-2 win over Fabio Fognini. And an injury to France’s Gael Monfils allowed Nadal to advance without having to play in the semifinals.
There were no signs of rust on the Spaniard when he took to centre court on Sunday. What he offered in the final was as good as anything we’ve seen from him this year.
“I can only say congratulations, Rafa,” said Medvedev. “He did everything he had to do to beat me easily.”