Reversing expectations, and changing the conversation about the upcoming US Open, Rafael Nadal beat Novak Djokovic tonight in their semifinal at the Rogers Cup: 6-4, 3-6, 7-6(2). It was their first meeting on hard-courts since their epic final at the Australian Open, won by Djokovic, who was hugely favored to win here. It was also their 36th meeting, tying the Open Era record set by John McEnroe and Ivan Lendl. Nadal leads the head-to-head 21-15, which matches Lendl’s record over McEnroe.
Djokovic started sluggishly, the wind possibly a factor, and Nadal broke in the first game. Djokovic had break points in the second, which possibly set the tone for a long slog, though Nadal prevailed in that game. Nadal was the dominant player through the first set, but Djokovic broke back with Rafa serving for the set at 5-2, to make things interesting. On the second time of asking, however, on his serve, Nadal closed it out.
By the 2nd set, the wind had died down, and Djokovic seemed dialed in, his serve clicking. From there, it became a dog-fight, and a minor classic. They fought each other tooth and nail, with many thrilling exchanges until the seemingly inevitable tiebreak in the 3rd. Surprisingly, Nadal went up 6-0 before Djokovic countered with two points of his own. Too little, too late, though, and Nadal walked away the better man on the day.
In the earlier semifinal, Milos Raonic defeated fellow Canadian Vasek Pospisil 6-4, 1-6, 7-6(4) to get to the final of the Rogers Cup today. He will face Nadal in the final. In three encounters, Raonic has never beaten Nadal. Win or lose tomorrow, though, he will still break into the top 10 for the first time when the ATP rankings come out on Monday.
Oddly, the only time that Nadal and Djokovic have played as a doubles team they played here, at the Rogers Cup, in 2010. They lost to a Canadian wild card team: Milos Raonic and Vasek Pospisil, all four being the last standing in this year’s Rogers Cup.