Long lauded for his claycourt exploits, Rafael Nadal took some time to fine-tune his game on grass and hardcourt. In fact, the first nine of Nadal's ATP titles all came on clay, between 2004 and 2005. But he has improved by leaps and bounds on the other two surfaces in recent years, as attested by his remarkable record at a few important hardcourt stops on the tour.
In 2019, Rafael Nadal won his fourth US Open title, to go with his two Wimbledon trophies and one Australian Open win. And his improvement outside clay has been even more striking at the ATP Masters 1000 level - especially at the Canada Masters.
How does Rafael Nadal compare with his contemporaries on hardcourt?
Although Nadal has a whopping 468 career hardcourt wins to his name, he has won only 22 hardcourt titles - which is much less than Novak Djokovic's tally of 59 and Roger Federer's 71. He even trails Andy Murray, who has won a total of 34 hardcourt titles till date.
If one were to look at the top players with the most hardcourt titles, Nadal sits in the 10th spot whereas Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic occupy the first and second place respectively.
In terms of the overall match win-percentage on hardcourts, Rafael Nadal again trails the other members of the Big 4. Nadal's win percentage on the surface is 78.14%, putting him at 11th in the all-time list.
Murray at 78.16% is one place ahead at 10th. Federer, with a win percentage of 83.33% is at No. 3, and as expected Djokovic tops the chart with a win rate of 84.45%.
But despite his apparent shortcomings on hardcourt compared to his peers, Rafael Nadal has shown that he knows how to come to the party at the biggest stages. He has won 10 hardcourt Masters titles in addition to his five Slams on the surface, with more US Open trophies in his cabinet than Djokovic.
Canada Masters: The big hardcourt event where Nadal has outperformed both Federer and Djokovic
Of the nine ATP Masters 1000 events, six are played on hardcourt. And in all but one of these events, Federer and Djokovic are ahead of Nadal in terms of titles won and matches won.
The one aberration, however, is the Canada Masters (also known as the Rogers Cup).
Since winning the Rogers Cup for the first time in 2005 - where he beat Andre Agassi in the final - Rafael Nadal has won the tournament four more times. By beating Daniil Medvedev in the 2019 final, Nadal achieved a new milestone in his storied career - of successfully defending a hardcourt title for the first time.
Both Novak Djokovic (with four Canada Masters titles) and Roger Federer (with two) trail the Spaniard at this all-important tournament. As a matter of fact, the Rogers Cup is also the only hardcourt event where Rafael Nadal has logged more wins that his famed rivals; he has 38 wins as opposed to Djokovic's tally of 37 and Federer's 35.
Rafael Nadal's improved hardcourt performances under Carlos Moya as coach
Data suggests that Nadal's hardcourt performance has seen considerable improvement ever since he hired former World Number 1 Carlos Moya as his coach back in 2017. Since then, Nadal has won two US Open titles, finished as a runner-up at the Australian Open twice, and successfully defended a hardcourt title for the very first time in his career.
An ATP analysis shows that Rafael Nadal leads the ATP tour over the past 52 weeks with a 90.5% win percentage on hardcourts - ahead of his rivals Djokovic (86%) and Federer (81.1%). And for every year since 2017 till date, Nadal has a hardcourt win percentage of at least 80% or above.
A lot of people believe Rafael Nadal is not a great hardcourt player, and it is true that some of his stats pale in comparison to those of Federer and Djokovic. But what is also true is that the Spaniard is the only tennis player in history to have recorded 400+ wins on both clay and hardcourt.
Maybe his superior record at the Canada Masters is not a big aberration after all.