Let us get the facts out of the way: World No. 1 Rafael Nadal withstood some of the best tennis Stan Wawrinka has played in months to reach the Rogers Cup quarter-finals 7-5, 7-6(4) on Thursday evening in Toronto.
The Spaniard advanced to his fourth ATP World Tour Masters 1000 quarter-final of the season, and his first on hard courts. He will next face sixth seed Marin Cilic, who beat Argentina’s Diego Schwartzman 6-3, 6-2 earlier Wednesday. Nadal leads their FedEx ATP Head2Head series 5-2, but Cilic won their last contest in the Australian Open quarter-finals.
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But what the Nadal-Wawrinka scoreline only alludes to is that former World No. 3 Wawrinka played the best match of his comeback, the type of tennis, in spurts on Thursday night, that saw the Swiss win an ATP World Tour Masters 1000 title and three Grand Slams before he required two knee surgeries a year ago.
Wawrinka was striking dazzling one-handed backhands, the type that look as if his opponent will have a chance at them until they gradually fade farther right and farther right, away from the opponent, who can only gaze at the bouncing ball. He brought the power, too, rejecting Nadal’s attempts to pick on his one-handed backhand with missiles up the line.
The World No. 1, however, the all-time Masters 1000 titles leader (32), was in one those opportune moods where he finds every angle and tracks down every ball, leaving the crowd – and the guy across the net – gasping.
“It was a good match. Of course, a very positive victory for me against a very tough opponent. Happy to see Stan playing that well again,” Nadal said. “So I am very pleased. That’s what I needed, a match like this to be a little bit more confident and I did it.”
Nadal escaped a 0/40 deficit at 4-4 when Wawrinka dumped a backhand into the net on his final opportunity. The two were delayed 46 minutes at 6-5, and after the wait, Nadal broke for the set.
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To start the second, Wawrinka fell behind 0-2 and looked in danger of fading away. The Swiss reached the third round in Canada by winning back-to-back matches for only the second time this season.
But his trademark one-hander – the logo on his practice shirts – brought him back into it as he broke with a laser up the line, the start of four straight games that carried him to 5-4 in the second set.
Nadal, though, as he has nearly every time they’ve played, had a response – this time it was a mix of defence and power, finished off with a forehand pass that left the World No. 1 jumping and pumping his fists in celebration.
Nadal had broken for 5-5, and two games and a tie-break later, his 17th FedEx ATP Head2Head victory against Wawrinka (17-3), and another Masters 1000 quarter-final, would be his. Rafa advanced, but Stan made his return.
Did You Know?
Nadal doubled as a “court cleaner” during his third-round match against Wawrinka as well.