As I get older I find myself less inclined to get up in the middle of the night to watch Rafa's matches. The first 4 matches didn't get going until stupid o'clock in the UK so I didn't watch them live. For this reason (and my woeful inability to come up with insightful comments) I am shamelessly using the impressions of our man on the ground in Toronto - The Italian.
Round of 32 - Benoit Paire - 6-2, 6-3
I thought Rafa played great tonight!
2 and 3 is a great result against a talented player like Paire (who should be in the top 20 if he worked harder and was better mentally).
Rafa played excellent in the first set (6-2, 2 breaks) and played very good in the second set (6-3, won by 1 break of serve).
He served well, with a lot of pace, on both the first and second serve. He returned very well! At times (and more than usual), he stepped up to the baseline and took the serve early, especially on second serves. He had a lot of very good second serve returns.
The only thing I can fault him for is he had 2 bad service games in the second set where he made too many unforced errors (he was broken three times, but one service game Paire raised his level of play).
But each time he was broken he broke right back which is encouraging.
His movement and weight of shot looked very good.
The shot clock wonít be a problem for Rafa. Now it is consistent and everyone will be called. This benefits Rafa.
We have to remember that it was his first match after Wimbledon and he hasn't played here since 2010.
A great start to the tournament, I was very happy.
Round of 16 - Stan Wawrinka - 7-5,7-6(4)
Thatís a great win for Rafa!
I love what he is doing on the ROSó most of the time he is coming up to the baseline to take it early on the first and second serves. He didnít do it all of the time, but probably did it 75% of the time. And heís had more success with it than in the past.
It really paid dividends in the tiebreakeró he hit a great return at 3-3 that got an UE from Stan, and then he hit a return winner to win the match.
Itíll be interesting to see what he does against Cilic. I expect heíll go back to old habits more. I think we'll see a lot more variation.
Great fight to break back in the second set when Stan was serving for it! And in the first set, those break points saved at 4-4, 0-40. Great serving throughout the match, but especially there. Only one bad service game the whole match (and that had more to do with baseline play).
Quarter final - Marin Cilic - 2-6, 6-4, 6-4
What a win!
I have to be honest though ó and say that in general, I didnít like what I saw from Rafa tonight.
He was especially poor in the first set (and yes Cilic played well in the first set and that was part of it). He got better and better as the match went on.
Overall, I think he let Cilic dictate too much ó Rafa left him the initiative too often and played more defensively than in other matches. It didnít happen every point but more often than I would have liked.
I think it might have been because he felt he didnít have his best tennis, so maybe he felt he shouldn't be so aggressive or perhaps it was partly a deliberate strategy because if you make Cilic play, sooner or later he will make errors (especially in key moments).
Anyways ó the positives are the win, as well as the fight that he showed ó what a fighter Rafa is.
And to beat a Top 5 player like Cilic on hardcourt (I know he is technically 7 in the world but was top 5 for most of this season) without your best tennis showing up ........ wow
Semi final - Karen Khachanov - 7-6(3), 6-4
Rafa is through to the final!
I thought he served well and returned well (even though he was way behind the Toronto sign to receive). Iím really liking the way heís been returning the whole tournament!
I would have liked to have seen fewer short balls, fewer unforced errors, and more aggressive court positioning.
Again to some extent, there is an element of strategy ó regardless of what Rafa might have said about Khachanov in the pre-match interview ó the truth is that Rafa believes that Khachanov eventually will make (a rash of) errors more often than not. So, just keep putting the ball in play ó even if it is short, too high bouncing, etc - and KK will make enough errors.
It proved correct - playing too aggressively against this sort of opponent can be tricky ó if you miss too many shots, you could be turning a win into a loss. The tactics of tennis can be so interesting and Rafa Always seems to know what to do.
He played better in the second set than the first set.
Yay, another final!
Final - Stefanos Tsitsipas - 6-2, 7-6(4)
What a win! What a week!
Judging from his reaction, this title meant a lot to him. He even said so in the trophy ceremony!
Rafa played brilliantly until 5-4 in the second set. He was aggressive, served and returned well, and hit a ton of winners. He was in complete control.
Then he had that one bad service game, and he got very, very, very nervous. But, he found a way. Tennis is like life ó things can change in an instant.
So that's his 80th tournament win and 33rd ATP Masters 1000 title.