Rafael Nadal thumped Canada’s Milos Raonic 6-2, 6-2 in the final of the men’s Rogers Cup on Sunday to capture his eighth ATP title this season and boost his confidence ahead of the US Open, starting later this month.
Playing in his first tournament since his shock opening-round loss at Wimbledon, Nadal showed he was back to near his best and his ailing body was ready for the grueling demands of the North American hardcourt season.
Less than 24 hours after his hard-fought semi-final win over Novak Djokovic on Saturday, Nadal easily beat the dangerous Raonic in just over an hour, playing with all the conviction and freedom of a man near the peak of his powers.
“To win here, I had to be playing my top level,” Nadal told reporters. “I’m very happy the way that I played almost every match in this tournament. It’s very important for me, this title.”
Sunday’s victory provided Nadal with his third win at the Rogers Cup and his 25th career Masters title and the Spaniard was to rise to three in the world rankings yesterday.
Raonic will move into the top 10 for the first time after becoming the first Canadian man in more than half a century to reach the Rogers Cup final.
“The breakthroughs I’ve had this week, with everything, from ranking to results, it’s all great things to have happen, especially here at home,” he said. “Even though I don’t have the time now, there will be a time when I can stop, reflect upon it, learn as much as I can from it.”
Nadal was ruthless from the outset and never allowed Raonic to settle his nerves in front of a partisan capacity crowd in Montreal.
The Canadian’s big first serve, normally one of his most reliable weapons, was nullified by Nadal’s aggressive returns, with the Spanish left-hander twice breaking Raonic’s serve in the opening set.
By contrast, Raonic was unable to make any inroads on Nadal’s serve, with the fourth seed giving up just one solitary point on serve in the entire first set, which lasted a mere 32 minutes.
Raonic fared better in the second set and earned three breaks points, but was unable to convert any of them, while Nadal capitalized on the two opportunities to get the double break and secure the title after 68 minutes.
“At some points, I wasn’t making him play enough,” said Raonic, who enjoyed a hard-fought win over in-form Argentine Juan Martin Del Potro on his way to the decider. “I think I was rushing a lot of the first set and a half. The top four guys, when they get ahead that much, it’s very hard to get back.”
While Nadal’s troublesome knees showed no signs of giving him problems this week, they remain under constant scrutiny, especially when he is preparing for the US Open, played on the most physically demanding surface of the four Grand Slam events.
However, Nadal also won the Indian Wells Masters on hardcourt earlier this year and said he was steadily growing in confidence on the surface.
“I am doing things very well ... on hard courts,” he said. “Today is an important example that I can play this way in the future. That’s given me confidence, that if I keep working this way, I can have a good results playing very aggressive.”
World No. 1 Serena Williams made it look easy on Sunday, routing Sorana Cirstea 6-2, 6-0 to win the WTA title in Toronto and signal her readiness for a US Open title bid.
Williams needed just 61 minutes to capture her eighth title of the year and the 54th of her career, which moved her past Monica Seles into sole possession of ninth on the WTA career list in the Open Era.
However, she said the lopsided win belied the difficulty of winning any title.
“No tournament is ever easy, especially being in the position I am in,” Williams said. “The tournament starts and they expect you to win. The tournament is like: ‘Well, you’re going to be in the final. After your semi-final, I want you to do this, and you have to do this and this... Who knows if I’ll even make it to the semi-finals? It’s a lot of pressure and it’s not easy.”
The 31-year-old American, stung by a fourth-round Wimbledon exit after grabbing her 16th Grand Slam crown at Roland Garros, claimed a third Canadian title to go with those she won in 2001 and 2011.
It was a perfect prep for her defense of the US Open title, with Williams hoping she can put her Australian Open and Wimbledon disappointments behind her when the last Grand Slam of the year begins on Aug. 26.
“I’m disappointed I didn’t win Wimbledon or Australia,” said Williams, who is slated for one more hardcourt tuneup at Cincinnati this week. “I’m always insatiable.”
Her formula for attacking Flushing Meadows, the venue of the US Open, is simple: “Stay positive ... stay hungry and just stay aggressive.”
Cirstea, who had beaten three top-10 players en route to the final in Caroline Wozniacki, Petra Kvitova and Li Na, as well as former world No. 1 Jelena Jankovic, could not pull off another upset, although Williams acknowledged the 23-year-old Romanian’s run had caught her attention.
“I know she’s so capable of winning big matches,” Williams said. “And she’s had so many big upsets this week. I didn’t want to be another casualty.”
However, in the end, it was never close as Williams handed Cirstea a third straight-sets defeat in as many meetings. Cirstea has never managed to take more than two games off Williams in a set.
Despite her growing confidence, Cirstea’s nerves betrayed her as she opened the match with a double fault, and delivered another double to surrender her serve in the first game.
On the verge of another break in the third game, she produced her best rally of the match to keep Williams at bay briefly, but the American gained the break on her third opportunity for a 3-0 lead.
“I actually think the start was not as bad as the score showed,” Cirstea said. “First three games, I actually had really good chances in all of them, so I could have been up 3-0.”
An on-court discussion with coach Darren Cahill at the changeover energized Cirstea. She broke Williams at love and held to narrow the gap to 3-2, but the magic did not last.
Williams won the last three games to pocket the set in 37 minutes.
Another pep-talk from Cahill at 3-0 in the second set could not help Cirstea, her only flash of resistance coming when she saved a first match point, only to smack a forehand wide on the second.
“She got better as the match went along,” Cirstea said. “I was not able to pick up my game as I was in the past few matches. I actually played probably the best game of the match at a set and 5-0 down, but all credit to her. There is a reason why we have a ranking and why she is on top of that ranking. She’s the No. 1 player and she’s proving that every single time she steps on the court.”