Is Rafael Nadal Suddenly the 2013 US Open Favorite After Rogers Cup Title?
Eight years ago at the Rogers Cup Masters in Montreal, a 19-year-old Rafael Nadal won the first hard-court title of his career.
This weekend, on the same courts, Nadal took out No. 1 Novak Djokovic in the semifinals and steamrolled hometown hero Milos Raonic in the final to win the eighth title of his year and the 58th title of his already legendary career.
That’s right, the King of Clay has not lost a hard-court match all year, winning both hard-court events he’s played—Indian Wells and Montreal—and taking out Roger Federer, Juan Martin del Potro and Djokovic along the way.
Remember that cloud of uncertainty that hung over Nadal’s head after his shocking first-round loss at Wimbledon to 135th-ranked Steve Darcis? That front certainly cleared up quickly.
With all due respect to Andy Murray and Djokovic, the last two U.S. Open winners, right now Nadal looks like the guy to beat.
This week, the Spaniard came off a seven-week layoff and marched through Montreal like a guy who has been there before. Of course, that’s because he has. Nadal is at home at the Masters 1000 events—this was the fourth Masters win of the year and the 25th of his career.
Nadal in 2013: W W W L W W W W W W W W W W W W W W W W W W L W W W W W W W W W W W W W W W W W W W W W W L W W W W W. What a beast.— Álvaro Rama (@alvarorama) August 11, 2013
After easily dismissing overmatched Jesse Levine in the second round, Nadal faced an extremely tricky third-round opponent in Wimbledon semifinalist Jerzy Janowicz. Nadal trailed in the first set, the first-set tiebreak and the second set, and still managed to win the match 7-6 (6), 6-4.
But it was the semifinals, in his 36th meeting against Djokovic, where he really made a statement. Though Nadal went in leading the head-to-head 20-15—including a win in their last epic encounter in the semifinals of this year's French Open—Djokovic had won their last four matches on hard courts.
It was a back-and-forth, high-quality, two-hour-and-twenty-eight-minute match that Nadal ended up taking in a third-set tiebreak, 6-4, 3-6, 7-6(2). He played aggressive, in-your-face tennis, in the most literal sense of the phrase.
After taking out his biggest rival, Nadal had no problems in the final against the first-time Masters 1000 finalist Raonic. He defeated the Canadian 6-2, 6-2 in just one hour and eight minutes. His serve was lethal, reminiscent of the weapon that won him the U.S. Open title back in 2010.
It’s easy to forget after such displays how much doubt surrounded Nadal’s future just a few months ago. This time last year he was at home, just beginning his seven-month absence from the sport due to chronic knee troubles. There was certainly reason to wonder if he’d ever be a threat again on any surface, let alone hard courts.
That question has been emphatically answered. He’s back...and there’s a chance that he’s better than ever. Of course, going into the U.S. Open, it's not just about Nadal.
Right now, Andy Murray is riding high off of his Wimbledon win, and it is safe to say that his third-round loss in Montreal to Ernests Gulbis was a fluke due to rust. Novak Djokovic is still the No. 1 player in the world and has displayed his own ability to bounce back time and time again. Juan Martin del Potro is playing as good as he was during his run to the 2009 U.S. Open title, and if he stays healthy, he will be a threat to anyone.
And, of course, despite his recent struggles, it would be foolish to count out Roger Federer completely.
However, Nadal has earned more points than any of those guys in 2013, and he also has a winning head-to-head against all of them.
In tennis, it’s easy to get carried away by the week-to-week happenings, and the Cincinnati Masters 1000 this week will certainly provide a clearer picture of where the top men stand. And, as Wimbledon so brazenly reminded us, nothing is guaranteed.
But while he might not be an outright favorite to take the title in Flushing next month, Nadal’s “For Your Consideration” performance in Montreal was pretty convincing.
If Rafa Nadal's taught us anything in the eight years since winning his first hard-court tournament in Montreal, it's that we should never count him out.
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