Rafael Nadal‘s debut in Canada was a short-lived affair as he suffered an opening-round defeat to Lleyton Hewitt at the 2004 Rogers Cup. Little did the Spaniard know that the tournament would become his most successful hard-court ATP Masters 1000 event, with five titles in total (2005, 2008, 2013, 2018-19).
Twelve months later, the abiding memory in Montreal would be of a charismatic pair, at opposite ends of their career spectrum, coming together for an instant classic. Nadal, already a winner of eight trophies in 2005, full of power and creativity, and Andre Agassi, the three-time former champion, who stood firm on the baseline to strike half volleys and execute his own offensive assault. Nadal defeated Agassi 6-3, 4-6, 6-2 for his first hard-court Masters 1000 triumph, which reaffirmed a changing of the guard and set the tone for future success on Canadian soil.
In slower conditions in Toronto, three years on, Nadal extended his winning streak to 29 matches, by overwhelming Nicolas Kiefer 6-3, 6-2 in the 2008 final to become the third youngest player — behind Bjorn Borg and Jimmy Connors — to accumulate 30 tour-level titles. A second trophy in Montreal came in 2013, when he beat Milos Raonic, the first Canadian finalist since 1959, following on from a pulsating 6-4, 3-6, 7-6(2) semi-final victory over Novak Djokovic — Nadal’s first hard-court triumph over the Serbian in three years.
And over the past couple of years, Nadal has further extended his dominance with consecutive crowns to move to within one Canadian trophy of Ivan Lendl, a winner of six titles (1980-81, 1983, 1987-89) from nine finals.
The Spanish superstar wrestled his way past Stan Wawrinka and Marin Cilic in 2018, before straight sets wins over Karen Khachanov and Stefanos Tsitsipas. Twelve months later, and now aged 33, Nadal was forced to recover from a set down against Fabio Fognini in the quarter-finals, before producing a dominant final performance to defeat Daniil Medvedev 6-3, 6-0, helping him to a record 35th ATP Masters 1000 trophy. It was also the first time that Nadal had retained a non clay-court title.
“With the knowledge of tennis I have today and the chance to have the legs I had in 2005, I’d probably be a very, very good player,” said Nadal, in Montreal, last year. “I lost things along the road, so I just tried to add other things to keep being competitive during all these years. One of the most important things for me personally and one of the things that I’m most satisfied with is that I have always been able to find a solution to stay competitive at the highest level after a lot of problems, a lot of issues. My personality hasn’t changed that much. But, of course, I’m almost 15 years older.”
With a 38-8 record, including a perfect 5-0 mark in finals, across 13 appearances — eight visits to Montreal and five visits in Toronto — Nadal is clearly at home on Canadian soil.