Rafael Nadal won the Rogers Cup on Sunday with a 6-2, 7-6(4) victory over Stefanos Tsitsipas of Greece – but long before the match he had won over tennis fans in Toronto and probably a lot of its other city folk as well.
When he entered the Aviva Centre tournament site from his chauffeured car, he could usually be seen slapping hands with whichever security personnel happened to be along his path.
On Friday night after an exhausting 2-6, 6-4, 6-4 victory over Marin Cilic that finished late, he dutifully gave thoughtful, thorough answers to every question in his post-match, on-court interview – even though he surely was eager to get to the locker room to rehab and refresh.
One of his daily routines was booking practice courts and the volunteers there could not have been more impressed. One said that whenever anyone offered “good match” to him following his wins, he would always politely acknowledge their compliments.
And when it came to booking courts and the arrangements involved, he was a gentleman. “He’s very gracious,” said one of the more senior volunteers who has worked at the event for several years. She admitted that not every player, male or female, is always that way. Or as she put it, “a little gracias goes a long way.”
All this is nothing new. Whenever Nadal walks into a media conference – or just a scrum as was the situation he was in on the first Sunday of the event (pictured above) – he always says ‘hello’ to the assembled media members.
On the court on Sunday, it looked like he would easily dispatch the red-hot Tsitsipas when he led 6-2, and 3-1. Serving and dominating at 6-2, 3-2, 40-15, a voice in the crowd called out “have mercy.”
At that point the match might have been over in less than an hour but the 32-year-old from Majorca got a little nervous when he served for it at 5-4 and the 20-year-old from Athens, celebrating his birthday on Sunday, was opportunistic enough to capitalize, raise his game and send the set to a tiebreak.
Before that, leading 6-5 and having a set point, Tsitsipas could only watch helplessly as a Nadal forehand drop shot attempt tipped the top of the net and dribbled over. For the Spaniard, maybe it was just the Karma from being a good guy all week.
In the end – it took an hour and 42 minutes – Nadal won the Rogers Cup for the fourth time. He has divided those titles evenly between Toronto (2008 and 2018) and Montreal (2005 and 2013).
As it usually seems with victories by Nadal (passionate as ever in the moment of victory above) and his co-superstar Roger Federer, there were records set and new milestones achieved on Sunday. He has now won 80 titles dating back to his first in Sopot, Poland, in 2004 and he leads all ATP Masters 1000 champions with a total of 33 titles.
“It’s been 10 years without coming back to Toronto (he played once – in 2010 reaching the semi-finals) and I missed this tournament a lot,” he said during the trophy presentation. “I had too many injuries in my career to come here more often, but this week has been fantastic.”
His final words, mindful of the fact that the tournament rotates to Montreal next year, will please his fans in Toronto and all around the word. “I can just goodbye and I really hope to see you in two years.”
The 20-year-old Tsitsipas, who had amazing support from the crowds at the Rogers Cup, particularly a large number of passionate members of the Toronto Greek community, at the post-match ceremony, he expressed his gratitude, saying, “thank you so much for the vibe…and everything.”
The new rising star of men’s tennis, who will be No. 15 in Monday’s weekly ATP rankings, said the following as his final words to his supporters, “next year Montreal isn’t it? I’m going to miss you guys – thank you so much, thank you.”
Or as Nadal would say, “gracias.”
Denis Shapovalov: Some people expressed concern about his poor performance in a 7-5, 6-2 loss to No. 39-ranked Robin Haase in the third round – even if that came after wins over No. 48 Jeremy Chardy and No. 14 Fabio Fognini. First and foremost, it must be remembered that Shapovalov is 19 years old and will experience the same growing pains everyone does at that age.
Just for the record – here’s a comparison with Roger Federer in 2000, the year he turned 19 as Shapovalov did this past April. The great Swiss began 2000 ranked No. 64 and ended it No. 29. Shapovalov started 2018 at No. 57 and is now No. 32, with a decent chance to improve on that before season’s end in November.
Federer’s match record in 2000 was 36-30 compared with Shapovalov’s current 23-19. All this is not to say he will be another Federer but, in an era where players are maturing later, all the signs are positive for him.
Milos Raonic: Injuries have been the main obstacle in his career over the past few years and so his winning a round – 6-4, 6-4 over David Goffin – and then losing 7-6(4), 4-6, 6-1 to Frances Tiafoe, is not a real surprise. Raonic was playing in competition for the first time since having a quadriceps tear and losing in the Wimbledon quarter-finals. That was 25 days ago and he was not as match tough as he would have liked. In decent form in beating No. 11 Goffin in the first round, Raonic was still missing a competitive edge and, after putting things together to win the second set against Tiafoe, quickly dropped serve twice in falling behind 5-0 in the third. If he can stay fit, as he said he was after the match with Tiafoe, he
should be able to move up significantly from his current No. 29 by the end of 2018.
Vasek Pospisil: The 28-year-old from Vancouver was beaten 6-4, 6-3 by No. 20-ranked Borna Coric in the opening round. With a lacklustre 2-7 record since the French Open, Pospisil, at No. 94, has stagnated since starting 2018 at No. 108. But he only has 87 points to defend between now and season’s end, so there are opportunities ahead at a time when players are thinking about consolidating their position in the top 104 – or thereabouts – so they can go to Australia in the new year certain of a spot in the main draw at Melbourne Park. Kudos to Pospisil for taking a wild card into this week’s $100,000 (US) Challenger event at the Odlum Brown VanOpen in his hometown. The top seed, his first-round opponent is fellow Vancouverite Ben Sigouin, a 19-year-old wild card who plays on the University of North Carolina tennis team.
Félix Auger-Aliassime: With a 6-3, 6-4 opening-round victory over No. 18-ranked Lucas Pouille before losing a thriller 3-6, 6-4, 7-6(7) to No. 68 Daniil Medvedev, the now 18-year-old has a 4-7 record at ATP events this year and a career-best ranking of No. 120. He impressed everyone with his composure and powerful tennis at the Rogers Cup. With 136 (of his 480) points to defend at 10 events before the end of 2018, Auger-Aliassime will at least want to close in on No. 100 to guarantee a main draw place for the 2019 Australian Open. He starts out this week at the Odlum Brown VanOpen in Vancouver and will face 30-year-old Belgian lefthander Ruben Bemelmens, No. 130, in the first round.
Peter Polansky: Now the fifth-ranked Canadian at No. 123, Polansky reached the second round at the Rogers Cup for the sixth time in 11 appearances – beating No. 52-ranked Matthew Ebden 7-6(3), 6-4 in the first round before going out 6-3, 6-4 to Novak Djokovic. Polansky, at age 30, has a career best ranking of No. 110 (June, 2018) and would need to improve on that to put himself in the main draw sweepstakes for the Australian Open. Like Pospisil and Auger-Aliassime,
he’s in Vancouver this week at the Odlum Brown VanOpen. His opening round is against Colombian veteran Santiago Giraldo.