Each week, Baseline will take a look at a player who has thrived at one of the stops on the ATP and WTA tours during their career.
Over the course of Rafael Nadal’s career, it’s been evident that once he gets used to winning at a particular venue, he’s hard to stop there: Just look at his double-digit triumphs at Roland Garros and Barcelona, for example.
His dominance extends past the game’s most prestigious clay-court events. Among his most successful hard-court tournaments is the Rogers Cup, where he’s won five times to become one of the all-time title leaders at the ATP Masters 1000 event.
The Spaniard made his Canadian debut as an 18-year-old in 2004, ranked No. 62 in the world, and fought former No. 1 Lleyton Hewitt to three sets before losing. It was a completely different Nadal that returned to the tournament a year later: Up to 2 in the world after a dominant clay-court run that earned him his first French Open title, Nadal battled to the final to face three-time champion Andre Agassi.
In the first-ever match between the two, it was the Spaniard that came out on top in three sets against the eight-time Grand Slam champion.
Attempting to defend the title a year later, Nadal was upset in the third round by world No. 14 Tomas Berdych. Novak Djokovic stopped him in the semifinals in 2007, but there was no denying Nadal a year later: Fresh off his first Wimbledon triumph, he added to his all-surface credentials with another title in Canada, topping Nicolas Kiefer in the final.
Andy Murray, Juan Martin del Potro and Ivan Dodig all posted wins against Nadal in Canada over the next few years. However, in 2013, the world No. 4 at the time was practically untouchable on the hard courts. After winning in Indian Wells earlier in the year, he kicked off his summer campaign with his third title at the Masters event in Canada, defeating home favorite Milos Raonic. It was the perfect preparation for the US Open, as he closed out the hard-court season with a win in New York.
After Nadal missed the attempt at a successful defense in 2014, Kei Nishikori stopped him the following year. And in a monumental upset, the young Canadian Denis Shapovalov stunned him in the third round in 2017.
Entering the 2018 tournament at the top of the standings, Nadal lived up to his place in the game, beating future top-tenners Karen Khachanov and Stefanos Tsitsipas in his last two matches to claim victory for the fourth time.
Having gotten off to a slow start in 2019 by his standards, Nadal didn’t win his first title of the year until May. That Italian Open victory came at the perfect time, as it launched him toward his 12th French Open crown. He followed that up with a semifinal showing at Wimbledon, then played in Canada. The top seed defeated Daniil Medvedev in the final, extended his Masters record to 35 titles and along the way, became the leader in match wins at that level.
Last year’s victory also marked the first time he defended a title on a surface other than clay. It makes sense that such a notable accomplishment would occur at a tournament where he’s had so much success.