Nadal Survives Rain, Khachanov To Reach Toronto Final
It has been five years since Rafael Nadal last won an ATP World Tour Masters 1000 title on hard courts. The World No. 1 looks primed to end the streak right now in Toronto.
Following a two-hour rain delay on Saturday, Nadal did not waste any time in dismissing Karen Khachanov 7-6(3), 6-4 under the lights in Toronto. The Spaniard will next face Stefanos Tsitsipas, with a fourth Rogers Cup crown and an unprecedented 33rd at the Masters 1000 level on the line.
Nadal, whose last hard-court Masters 1000 title came in Cincinnati in 2013, is into his first Rogers Cup final since that impressive summer stretch five years ago, which saw him complete the Canada-Cincy double and win the US Open. He is 3-0 in finals in Canada, also prevailing in 2005 and 2008.
After enduring a slow start in his quarter-final win over Marin Cilic on Friday, Nadal experienced no early struggles on Saturday. Khachanov did well to disrupt his opponent's rhythm with potent strikes off his mammoth forehand, but Nadal never lost control. He overcame a 0/30 deficit at 4-all in the first set and later rallied from a mini-break down in the ensuing tie-break, snatching the opener by the slimmest of margins.
As strong as Khachanov's forehand is, it leaked 23 unforced errors during the one-hour and 49-minute affair. Nadal would grab a stranglehold on proceedings in the second set, with a quick break in the third game. And his serve did not come under pressure from there, eventually prevailing on his first match point with a leaping smash that soared over the Russian's head.
"He's a great server," Nadal said of Khachanov. "Hits big shots from the baseline. He has an especially great backhand and he can hit the forehand very strong too. It's true with the forehand sometimes he has mistakes too, but he plays very aggressive and he hits the ball very strong.
"I needed to resist and play aggressive. When I was able to move him, I think I was a little bit more in control. But it's difficult to make that happen because he hits the ball very strong."
Nadal's Most Successful Hard-Court Tournaments
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Khachanov concludes a dream week which has seen the 22-year-old Russian reach his first ATP World Tour Masters 1000 semi-final. He did not drop a set in four matches entering the semis, including his first Top 10 victory in more than a year (d. No. 9 Isner). The Moscow native will reap the rewards in the ATP Rankings, rising to a career-high No. 26 on Monday.
Nadal carries a 79-36 record in tour-level finals into Sunday's championship clash against Tsitsipas. He is hoping to cap a magical week, which has already seen him qualify for the Nitto ATP Finals in London, by becoming the fourth player in the Open Era with 80 titles.
It will be déjà vu for Nadal and Tsitsipas, following their final encounter at the Barcelona Open Banc Sabadell in April. The match, which was the Greek's first ATP World Tour final, resulted in a straight-set victory for the Spaniard. But, with a different surface and Tsitsipas in the form of his life, fans will be treated with an intriguing championship clash on Sunday.
"Tomorrow is a day to play a great match against a very tough opponent," Nadal added. "And I hope to be ready for it. It's another Masters 1000 final. But still a lot of work to do. If it happens, it's going to be great news of course. Canada is a tournament that I play well a lot of times in my career. And it's a very important result for me to be back here where I am."