In a clash to decide the Canadian Open, world #1 Rafael Nadal, a 32-time champion at Masters 1000 level, takes on Stefanos Tsitsipas, the 19-year-old Greek enjoying the best run of his fledgling career. The difference in stature between them almost could not be larger. Nadal is unquestionably one of the greatest of all-time and is beloved by millions across the globe. Until this week, Tsitsipas was only known of by the more knowledgeable tennis fans. But can he make the ultimate mark with victory?
Nadal and Tsitsipas have met just once previously. That match came at the end of Tsitsipas’ last great run. In Barcelona in April, the Greek played the best tennis of his career to defeat four seeds in a row, including third seed Dominic Thiem and fifth seed and US Open semifinalist Pablo Carreno Busta. But in the final, he came up against Nadal and despite his best efforts he was destroyed. Tsitsipas won just three games in a 2-6 1-6 humbling.
Path to the final
Nadal, who enjoyed a first-round bye, began his tournament with a confident 6-2 6-3 victory over Benoit Paire, although the second set did feature seven straight breaks. He then battled past a resurgent Stan Wawrinka 7-5 7-6 to reach the quarterfinals where he faced Marin Cilic. The Croatian made a fast start, winning the first set 6-2, but Nadal dug in and rallied to win in three. The Spaniard then bested Russia’s Karen Khachanov 7-6 6-4 to reach the final.
The unseeded Tsitsipas opened his campaign with a 6-3 7-6 win over Damir Dzumhur of Bosnia. He then beat French Open finalist Dominic Thiem, who has won just three matches since Paris, by the same score. The Greek then scored an upset 6-3 6-7 6-3 win against an out-of-sorts Novak Djokovic. He backed that victory up by ousting defending champion Alexander Zverev 3-6 7-6 6-4 before again recovering from a set down to beat Wimbledon finalist Kevin Anderson 6-7 6-4 7-6.
How do they match up?
At the centre of this match will be the battle between Nadal’s defence and Tsitsipas’ offence. The Spaniard, though he does not lack offensive quality of his own, with his forehand a particularly useful weapon, is one of the two best defenders of his generation. His ability to keep the ball in play is arguably unrivalled and he will demand the very best from Tsitsipas if the Greek wishes to hit through him. Nadal’s backhand has been especially reliable defensively.
Tsitsipas does bring plenty of power to the court. His serve has been firing and he became the first man not to be broken by Djokovic in a completed match since Alexander Zverev last year in Rome. Off the ground Tsitsipas’ best shot is his forehand, with which he spreads the court excellently. His single-hander has also served him well so far in Toronto. Nadal broke it down in Barcelona, but Tsitsipas should find it easier to defend on the hard courts in Canada.
All week Tsitsipas has defied expectations, including ours at RealSport, and the similarities to his run in Barcelona are striking, although this has been the more impressive of the two. But just as that run in Catalonia was ended at the hands of Nadal, so too will this one be. Nadal has been playing excellent tennis all week and with 32 Masters titles to his name, will not be overawed by the occasion as Tsitsipas might be. Expect a straight sets Nadal victory.