Admittedly I am a little bit excited about Rafael Nadal’s appearance at the Rogers Cup this week in the ATP World Tour Masters 1000 event. It’s excitement tempered with a bit of realism that he’s probably not going to win the title, though.
It’s been a season of a lack of shine from Nadal, but he returns this week to a tournament which he has won three times before in the past. He is one of the all-time greats who is suffering a huge slump, and it is a slump which has been severe enough to knock him back heavily in the world rankings as well as in the intimidation levels when another player sees their name up against his in a tournament draw.
Whether or not Nadal ever gets back to the peak of the game to land more Grand Slam titles remains to be seen. But a victory at an ATP World Tour Masters 1000 event would be a step in the right direction. Nadal has won three titles this season, victories coming in Buenos Aires, Stuttgart and Hamburg (clay, grass and clay respectively) and while neither of those fields can stand up to what he could face in Toronto in terms of quality, it may be a big week in which to see him briefly shine again.
A new Nadal has to step up, step out of the slump and setbacks and in his quarter of the draw for the Rogers Cup, he has only ever lost three matches in his career against the other seven players who are going off in the third quarter (and only one since 2008). The big opposer in his quarter is Kei Nishikori who landed the Citi Open title on the weekend and if the seeds follow through on favouritism, it would set up a big quarter final clash between Nadal and Nishikori. However, Nadal has won all seven previous clashes against the Japanese player.
So that automatically projects the Spaniard into the semifinal of Montreal. He could face up to former Rogers Cup winner Andy Murray there, and the Brit would probably take heavy favouritism. However, you never quite know with Murray as to whether he will actually get there. He hits the highs and then sinks to the lows as in his first round exit from Washington last week against Teymuraz Gabashvili. Certainties with Murray only seem to come around at Grand Slams.
A new Nadal has to emerge out of all of this and maybe we will see a ramped-up hard court player. Nadal’s coaching staff seem pretty confident that he will be better on the North American hardcourt swing of the season than he’s been anywhere else this season. Let’s hope that’s true because of flash of swagger from Nadal would break the mundane monotony of Novak Djokovic sweeping all ATP World Tour Masters 1000 events before him.
I don’t believe that winning the Rogers Cup is actually on the radar of Rafael Nadal right now. He’s not back at the kind of level to find a way to grind out a win over Novak Djokovic. Simply reaching the final of the event would be a huge recapture of status and form from Nadal, because in doing so he will have probably come through a much tougher half of the draw than Djokovic is likely to face in getting to the showcase match.