Nadal vs. Tsitsipas: History Will Be Made
World No. 1 Rafael Nadal became the first player to guarantee his spot at the Nitto ATP Finals on Friday. And now, the Spaniard has a chance to lift his fifth trophy of the year on Sunday in the Rogers Cup final. But it will not be easy for the top seed, with red-hot #NextGenATP Greek Stefanos Tsitsipas trying to earn his maiden tour-level crown.
History will be made regardless of the outcome. The Spaniard will extend his record count of ATP World Tour Masters 1000 titles to 33, or Tsitsipas will claim his fifth consecutive victory against a Top 10 opponent. Since the inception of the ATP Rankings on 23 August 1973, no player has claimed an ATP World Tour title by beating five Top 10 opponents outside of the Nitto ATP Finals.
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Nadal vs Tsitsipas
It’s fitting that the pair’s first and only previous FedEx ATP Head2Head meeting came in a final earlier this year at the Barcelona Open Banc Sabadell, which was Tsitsipas’ first championship match at tour-level. Albeit on clay, Nadal asserted his authority, breaking five times in a 78-minute beatdown.
“Tsitsipas has an amazing future,” Nadal said after the match.
But even the Spaniard wouldn’t have expected the Greek, whose 20th birthday is today, to rise so quickly. The week he reached the final in Spain, Tsitsipas was No. 63 in the ATP Rankings. Less than four months later, he will climb to at least No. 15 on Monday, with only 16 points to defend through the US Open.
Tsitsipas can also become the youngest Masters 1000 champion since Novak Djokovic (19) triumphed at Miami in 2007 and the first player to claim his maiden tour-level trophy at this level since Albert Portas (2001 Hamburg). But the Greek is not overthinking the opportunity at hand. He’s maintaining the same approach that has helped him come to a simple conclusion after saving match point to beat South African Kevin Anderson in a third-set tie-break in the semi-finals: ‘I’m living the dream’.
“[It’s] just another day at the office. Doesn’t matter. It’s a final. I will not see it as a final. I will just think of it as just another match here in Toronto in a beautiful city,” Tsitsipas said. “I’m doing my routines every single day. So just one more day, the last day… [I’ll give it] my best shot, go for it 100 per cent and see what happens.”
It certainly won’t be an easy task against Nadal, who is trying to join Jimmy Connors, Roger Federer and Ivan Lendl as the only players in the Open Era with 80 titles (79-36 in finals). The 32-year-old can also win his fourth Rogers Cup, a feat he has never accomplished at any other hard-court event. Nadal has triumphed at the US Open, the Canadian Masters 1000 event and the BNP Paribas Open three times each.
But that’s not all that’s at stake for the left-hander. After exchanging World No. 1 with Roger Federer six times in the first six months of the season, Nadal has an opportunity to strengthen his lead, which was 2,230 points over the Swiss entering the week. Federer, who did not compete this week, was defending 600 points from his runner-up finish in Canada last year, while Nadal earned just 90 points in 2017 for reaching the third round (l. to Shapovalov).
It will be interesting to see how Nadal reacts to Tsitsipas’ powerful and accurate inside-in forehand, which has done the most damage for the Greek in wins against Dominic Thiem, Novak Djokovic, Alexander Zverev and Anderson. Nadal is as fleet of foot as they come, but this meeting is on a much quicker surface than the red dirt they played on earlier in the year.
“He’s a complex player. He has everything. He’s young, he has passion for the game. He has a great forehand, great backhand, good serve, so he’s not about one thing. He’s about everything,” Nadal said. “These kind of matches you need to play very well to win, and that’s what I’m going to try.”
After their last clash, in the Barcelona final, Tsitsipas said, “I knew the chances to win were small.”
It is clear the gap has narrowed since. But will it be enough for the #NextGenATP star to conquer one of tennis’ toughest tests?