When Federer and Djokovic had withdrawn from this year’s Rogers Cup, four-time champion Rafael Nadal was the overwhelming favorite to lift his record-extending 35th Masters title. Nothing has changed since then, and the Spaniard is at the cusp of yet another title.
Standing between him and the trophy is a young Russian, ten years his junior, who will play the biggest final of his career. The two have never met and on the face of it, the 23-year-old Daniil Medvedev stands little chance of thwarting Nadal.
But a closer look at the way the Russian has played in this tournament shows that he is very likely to pose a much sterner challenge to Nadal than most people expect. In fact, it would not be wrong to say that it is he, and not Nadal, who has played the best and most consistent tennis in this tournament.
He has won all his matches in straight sets and has been taken to the tie-break only once, in his semi-final encounter against compatriot Karen Khachanov. There too, he could have won in straight sets had he been able to serve out the match while serving at 5-4. His lop-sided wins against strong players like Dominic Thiem and Kyle Edmund suggests that his game right now is in top gear. He has been serving bombs which have been often well-nigh impossible to return.
But his opponent in the final will pose a challenge like no other. Nadal may not have as big a serve as Medvedev but his serve, forehand, backhand, and other elements of the game are less prone to be dismantled under pressure, compared to those of the Russian. Unlike the flat hitting from Medvedev, Nadal gives more spin to his shots and hence has more chance of repeatability. Under pressure, that ensures he makes less unforced errors compared to his opponents.
The fact that he got a walk-over in the semi-final means Rafael Nadal enters into the final without much of a niggle. He will be raring to go at full tilt and it will be no surprise if he does what his opponent has done so far to his opponents in this tournament - break down his opponent in double-quick time.
Prediction: Rafael Nadal to win in straight sets