Spain’s Rafael Nadal handed Novak Djokovic another semi-final defeat when he beat the world No. 1 at the Rogers Cup on Saturday to set up a title decider against local favorite Milos Raonic.
Nadal held off a surging Djokovic to win 6-4, 3-6, 7-6 (7/2) in a pulsating semi-final that resembled a heavyweight boxing showdown with the duo trading breathtaking winners.
The victory was Nadal’s second successive over Djokovic at this stage of a tournament, following his epic five-set triumph on clay at the French Open in June.
“To beat Novak on any surface is very important,” Nadal said in a courtside interview. “His level is always high and you have to play well ... almost perfect to beat him.”
Nadal made a flying start in front of a capacity crowd as Djokovic was unusually tentative and struggled on serve.
However, the lull did not last long as the Serb, two time defending champion, stormed back into the contest, unleashing some crunching forehand winners as he drew level.
With the audience roaring their approval at every thrilling rally, Djokovic looked to have the momentum in the match as he continued to find success in going for his shots, keeping his opponent pinned on the baseline.
All the while Nadal showed off some magic of his own and it became clear that this high-quality encounter, the 36th between the pair, would need a tiebreak to settle the issue.
Nadal went up another gear in racing to a 6-0 lead in the tiebreaker, but even in defeat Djokovic went down swinging.
He saved two match points with winners before a forehand drifted long to hand the Spaniard a first hard-court victory over his rival since 2010.
“It was a very close match,” Djokovic said. “There were very few points that decided the winner. I had my chances. He had his chances. At the end he played better.”
Raonic had earlier advanced to his first Masters series final when he recovered from a mid-match slump to win a third set tiebreak 6-4, 1-6, 7-6 (7/4) against wild card and fellow Canadian Vasek Pospisil.
“I’m very happy at this moment,” said world No. 13 Raonic, who will move into the world’s top 10 for the first time after reaching the final. “It’s [top-ten ranking] been a very important thing for me, a big objective.”
Raonic needed all his superior experience to win through, as Pospisil, ranked 71st, fought from a set down to nearly pull off an upset.
Raonic made the more assured start in front of a large and vocal crowd, basking in the knowledge that a Canadian winner was assured.
A solitary break of serve was all that separated the two in the opening set as Pospisil adopted an aggressive approach that produced mixed results.
He capitalized on some sloppy play from Raonic to win the second set and force a decider that went the distance.
Both players traded winners from all parts of the court before Raonic sealed victory as he became the first Canadian in more than 50 years to reach the final.