Rafael Nadal kicked off his summer hard-court campaign with a bang, dismissing talented Croatian Borna Coric 6-1, 6-2 to reach the third round in Montreal.
Playing for the first time since his Wimbledon fourth round exit to Gilles Muller, Nadal was in no-nonsense form as he swiftly set up a last-16 meeting with Canadian teenage wildcard Denis Shapovalov, who upset Juan Martin del Potro in straight sets on Wednesday.
Here’s what we learned from Nadal’s Rogers Cup opener…
HE’S NOT SLOWING DOWN
If there was any concern that Nadal’s fourth round exit at Wimbledon may have halted his momentum, such worries must have quickly dissipated following his 71-minute demolition of Coric – a player who owned a 2-1 head-to-head record against the Mallorcan prior to their Wednesday clash.
Coric was not an easy opener for Nadal on hard courts but the 31-year-old passed the test with flying colours.
Fitness and freshness are often tough to come by at this stage of the season but it seems Nadal is full of energy eight months into the year, and is looking to keep up his good form that has earned him four titles so far in 2017, including a 10th Roland Garros crown
SERVE AND AGGRESSION IS KEY
Nadal hit 20 winners in his straight-sets win over Coric, including seven aces. He saved the one break point he faced during the match, and dropped just six points on his first serve and seven on his second.
Remember his dream 2010 US Open, where he slightly altered his grip and was firing serves he never thought he had en route to the title? Nadal’s serve is proving to be more and more of a weapon this season, his career-high 23 aces during his five-setter against Muller at Wimbledon a real testament to that. If he keeps it up in this upcoming stretch, Nadal has a legitimate chance of claiming a third US Open and 16th Grand Slam title.
THE NO. 1 SPOT IS SO CLOSE
The people standing between Nadal and a return to the top of the rankings for the first time since July 2014 are Shapovalov and either Chung Hyeon or Adrian Mannarino. Nadal must reach the semis in order to leapfrog current No. 1 Andy Murray, and is two wins away from achieving that.
Shapovalov is ranked 143 in the world and at 18, is the youngest player to reach the last-16 at a Masters 1000 tournament since Nadal did so himself in Miami in 2004. The Canadian teen saved four match points in his opener against Rogerio Dutra Silva then outplayed Del Potro in straight sets.
It will be an all-lefty battle between him and Nadal, and with the crowd behind Shapovalov, who knows what’s going to happen.
Still, with Shapovalov taking out Del Potro, and Mannarino upsetting Milos Raonic, Nadal’s draw got softer all of a sudden and the top spot is well within his reach.
Nadal faces the Canadian around 4:00am Friday UAE time.