In arguably the pick of the third round action at the Canadian Open, reigning French and US Open champion and world #1 Rafael Nadal takes on three-time Grand Slam champion and former world #3 Stan Wawrinka. For Nadal, this has been another season to remember: he dominated the clay court swing and reached his first Wimbledon semifinal since 2011. Wawrinka, on the other hand, has struggled badly as he seeks to come back from a serious knee injury. But who will come out on top?
Nadal and Wawrinka have met 19 times in a head-to-head the Spaniard has dominated, with three notable exceptions. After a run spanning 12 matches between 2007 and 2013 in which the Spaniard did not drop a set, Wawrinka stunned him in the final in Melbourne. He beat him again twice in 2015, Rome and Bercy, with Nadal winning in Shanghai and at the O2 that same year. Nadal then crushed him in 2016 in Monte Carlo and in the French Open final last year where he lost only six games.
Path to the third round
Nadal, for whom Toronto is a first tournament since Wimbledon, took to the court for the first time in the Great White North against Frenchman Benoit Paire. Nadal has dominated their head-to-head and began well, racing to a 3-0 lead and breaking again to take the first set 6-2. The second was perhaps the strangest set of tennis on the ATP Tour this year, featuring seven consecutive breaks of serve, including a run of 13 points against the server. But Nadal book ended it with holds to win 6-2 6-3.
Wawrinka, currently outside the top 200, had to make do without the first-round bye enjoyed by Nadal. That saw him begin his tournament against the talented Nick Kyrgios, who hit him off the court en route to taking the first set 6-1. But Wawrinka dug in as Kyrgios’ troublesome hip problem flared up and ground out a 1-6 7-5 7-5 win. He again fell behind swiftly in the second round where he faced Marton Fucsovics, but again fought back, saving four match points before winning 1-6 7-6 7-6.
How do they match up?
Nadal’s unparalleled intensity and powerful groundstrokes are what have led him to the undisputed status of all-time great. His forehand is the deadliest of all his weapons, with the world #1 hitting it with venomous whip and spin, but his backhand has also been firing of late. His court coverage is second to none, with Nadal’s ability to keep the ball in play having earned him countless points throughout his career that most would have abandoned.
But at his best, Wawrinka has the power to hit through even Nadal. His backhand is the biggest in the game, a thunderbolt of a shot, and his forehand is not far behind. His serve is also huge and has twice frustrated even the great returner Novak Djokovic in Grand Slam finals. But Wawrinka has not found his best tennis in some time. He is hitting the ball hard, but not with his usual accuracy. But he is a man for the big occasion and will hope that his game comes together against Nadal.
One can only hope it does. There are few sights on a tennis court more spectacular than Wawrinka in full flow, particularly when he is against a player good enough to stay with him, as Nadal of course is. But Nadal is playing what is probably his best tennis away from a clay court since 2013 and Wawrinka has given precious little indication that he is ready for the sort of challenge that poses. At the moment, alas, Wawrinka is a paper tiger. The Spaniard is the real thing. Nadal in straight sets.