Almost all great champions in tennis share something in common: the ability to create ‘houses’ for themselves outside their actual homes. And I don’t mean this in the way Alexander Zverev says “This is my fucking house,” after winning a single match in Hamburg, merely because he is from Germany. I am talking, instead, about the ability of champions to achieve so much success at a single venue that they may as well be given ownership rights to the land.
Rafael Nadal has a lot of houses on clay, the most prominent of which is Roland Garros. But he now has one on hardcourt too: Canada.
By defeating Daniil Medvedev in the Montreal final on Sunday, the Spaniard clinched a staggering fifth Canada Masters trophy – second only to Ivan Lendl (six titles) in the 138-year history of the event.
Nadal’s dominance over the Great White North is clear as day; you don’t win five titles at a tournament unless you are totally and irrefutably comfortable playing there. But why exactly Nadal is so successful here is not quite as clear.
The event is held on hardcourt, which nobody will ever mistake for Nadal’s favorite surface. Moreover, the Canada courts usually play pretty quick; this year the court pace index (CPI) was reported to be 43.6, making it the fastest Masters 1000 tournament since Shanghai 2016.
These are factors that are supposed to put Nadal at a disadvantage. For context, he has won just five other hardcourt Masters at the five other venues combined. At the three relatively quick hardcourt Masters apart from Canada (Cincinnati, Shanghai and Paris), Nadal has won a grand total of one title – Cincinnati 2013.
So what makes Canada different? The answer lies in the timing of the event. The Rogers Cup is held two weeks after Wimbledon, and two weeks is usually the exact amount of rest that Nadal needs to get into rip-roaring form.
We’ve known for a while now that Nadal’s knees, and body overall, are not meant to withstand the rigors of continuous play. On hardcourt in particular he has often broken down after a couple of good weeks, as the abrasive surface starts causing his chronic injuries to flare up.
At the same time, Nadal is a rhythm player if ever there was one. He generally takes a fair bit of time to get his groundstrokes (especially his forehand) in good working order. The more he plays, the better he gets – at least until his knees give way.
Playing week-to-week gives Nadal too little rest, and taking four weeks or more off makes him too rusty. What’s halfway between zero and four? Yes, sometimes tennis can be as simple as elementary math.
His run to the title this year could be described as elementary too. After saving set points against Dan Evans in his first match, Nadal kicked into high gear and won seven of his next eight sets without dropping more than four games. He did suffer a hiccup against Fabio Fognini in the quarterfinals, going a set down to his occasional nemesis, but he rebounded quickly to win the next two sets 6-1, 6-2.
Gael Monfils’ withdrawal from the semifinal was a stroke of luck that Nadal didn’t really need; he has an imperious 14-2 head-to-head record against the Frenchman. As for the final – and I am speaking from hindsight here – Daniil Medvedev was perhaps the best possible matchup Nadal could have hoped for.
Nadal and Medvedev had never played each other before Sunday, which is probably why it came as such a surprise how well the Russian’s game works in Nadal’s favor.
Medvedev had put together an excellent run in the tournament; he had defeated a string of quality opponents – Christian Garin, Kyle Edmund, Dominic Thiem and Karen Khachanov – without dropping a set. But there was a catch: he had notched up his wins on the back of his trademark defense and machine-like consistency. Medvedev’s point-ending inefficiency never caused him too much trouble, because on most occasions he didn’t have to end points at all; his opponents did that for him.
Nadal, of course, is a different beast. He will not cough up errors out of frustration, like Khachanov or Thiem. He will not leave the ball too short and feed your counterpunching strikes, like Garin. And he will not allow you to expose a distinct weakness (the backhand), like Edmund.
In short, he will not let you win by coasting along in your comfort zone. To defeat Nadal, you have to take matters in your own hands, and win points on your own terms.
Medvedev is probably the last person in the world who would relish such an idea.
That showed in his play during the final. Despite frequently getting into the ascendancy in the long rallies, he kept failing to land the killer blow. And Nadal was only too happy to take advantage.
The Russian has had some success against Novak Djokovic in the past by taking pace off the ball, but he couldn’t dare try that against Nadal either. We all know the Spaniard eats up soft slices like they are an especially enticing dessert; greater names (like Roger Federer) have faced the brunt of that particular play.
So left to his usual point-elongating game, Medvedev came spectacularly unstuck. He realised to his horror that you can’t trouble Nadal even a smidgen by forcing him to hit an extra ball, and also that there’s nobody better than the Spaniard at stepping into the court and punishing a short ball. By the end of the match Medvedev was so unsettled that he was making kamikaze net approaches and going for broke on rally backhands.
A second set bagel was the natural conclusion, and after just over an hour Nadal had his arms up in the air, celebrating his record-extending 35th career Masters title. Was this one in Montreal the easiest of those 35? Probably, but that in itself is a telling sign of his powers.
Nadal didn’t have to do anything special this week to win the trophy, which shows us just how comfortable he is at this tournament. Armed with a fresh body, and a fair bit of match play from just a couple of weeks earlier, the Spaniard’s meat-and-potatoes game is enough to get the job done in Canada. It doesn’t matter that the surface is unfavorable to his knees, or that the speed of the court blunts his strengths; at the Rogers Cup, everything falls into place for Nadal.
Zverev should take note: this is what playing in your fucking house looks like.
Find latest and upcoming tech gadgets online on Tech2 Gadgets. Get technology news, gadgets reviews & ratings. Popular gadgets including laptop, tablet and mobile specifications, features, prices, comparison.
Updated Date: Aug 12, 2019 10:39:36 IST