Forget the “King of Clay”, a nickname that doesn’t truly reflect Rafael Nadal’s mastery of all surfaces during his legendary ATP Tour career. How about “King of Masters”?
Nadal already owns the most ATP Masters 1000 wins in the series’ 30-year history, 380, two better than longtime rival Roger Federer. The Spaniard advanced to his 51st final at the elite level, one better than Federer’s 50, on Saturday when Gael Monfils withdrew (ankle) from their Coupe Rogers semi-final.
Should Nadal beat Russian Daniil Medvedev in the Montreal final on Sunday, the World No. 2 would win his 35th Masters 1000 crown, extending his all-time lead. Novak Djokovic has the second-most Masters 1000 tites, with 33.
King of Masters, indeed.
But a recounting of Nadal’s pedigree won’t tremble Medvedev, who’s into his first Masters 1000 final and has won eight of his past nine matches. “I won’t be intimidated. I want to win every match I play,” he said.
The World No. 9 has hardly been bothered all week in the French-speaking Canadian city. Medvedev, who trains in France, is sponsored by Lacoste, has a French coach (Gilles Cervara) and speaks French, has been playing as if he’s on home courts and has been embraced as one of Montreal’s own.
“After the match, everybody says, ‘Oh, you speak French, Daniil’. I think this brings the crowd to support me. It’s funny,” he said.
More From #CoupeRogers
Medvedev Makes Maiden Masters 1000 Final
Nadal Reaches Montreal Final After Monfils Withdraws
Magic Before Heartbreak For Monfils In Montreal
Medvedev’s Coach: Sometimes You Just Don’t Understand Him
The 23-year-old had reached only one Masters 1000 semi-final before this week, in April at the clay-court Rolex Monte-Carlo Masters (l. to Lajovic). But hard courts, where his flat backhand can do the most damage, have long been his favourite surface. Medvedev has won all four of his ATP Tour titles on hard court and owns his best winning percentage (66%) of the three surfaces on it.
The Russian, however, has never had a week like this at a Masters 1000 event. Following his run to the Citi Open final last week (l. to Kyrgios), Medvedev dropped only three games against Brit Kyle Edmund, swept two-time ATP Tour titlist Cristian Garin of Chile 6-3, 6-3 and delivered his best show yet against No. 4 Dominic Thiem, dropping only four games.
In the semi-finals against longtime friend Karen Khachanov, Medvedev tightened up serving for the match at 5-4, but he held on to win in straight sets and improve to 8-0 in sets this week.
“It just means that I’m playing better now, that I’m able to beat these top players in two sets. It’s a great achievement,” Medvedev said.
Nadal’s only blemish came in his quarter-final against Italy’s Fabio Fognini, but the top seed and defending champion quickly erased those memories, dropping only three games in the final two sets.
“In general terms [it was] an up-and-down match, but a positive match for me because I played better and better,” Nadal said.
He and Medvedev have never met, marking the second time this season a Masters 1000 final will be the first meeting between the two finalists (Monte-Carlo, Fognini v Lajovic). If Medvedev can get off to his customary fast start, give the Russian a chance, even against the all-time Masters 1000 titles leader.
Nadal, perhaps more so than others, really arrives at top gear after a break of serve, and if Medvedev can keep holding, make yourself comfortable, because the Russian is not lacking belief.
“I’m playing very well right now,” he said. “I believe if I am able to play like this, it’s not going to be easy for Rafa. It’s going to be a big battle.”