Before last week, Rafael Nadal, the man with 35 ATP Masters 1000 titles and 18 Grand Slam crowns, had never successfully defended a hard court title. That was a remarkable record for a legend of the Spaniard’s stature, but he consigned it to the history books as a mere quirk by winning in Montreal, seeing off Daniil Medvedev in Sunday’s final.
This was the first tournament Nadal had played since losing to Roger Federer in the Wimbledon semi finals last month and so there was an element of uncertainty attached to the Spaniard’s chances in Canada. By the time he got his hands on the Montreal Masters trophy for the fifth time, he’d won four straight matches, only dropping one set in the process.
But just as Nadal seemed to have gained momentum ahead of the final Grand Slam of the season, he confirmed that he would miss the Cincinnati Masters, meaning the Spaniard will have played just four times between exiting Wimbledon and pitching up at the US Open. Nadal cited fatigue as the reason for his decision, but in truth he is resting.
This, of course, has become a common trend at the top of the men’s game. With The Big Three now into their 30s, we are now seeing more picking and choosing in terms of the schedule. Federer in particular has become more careful not to stretch him himself too thinly over the year, skipping the entire clay court season to be ready for the grass.
Nadal hasn’t quite been so selective, but his preparations ahead of this year’s US Open suggest he is thinking in the same way. At 33 years old, the Spaniard has had his struggles with injury and so this is designed to keep him in top condition for the majors. That is, after all, where players of Nadal’s standing are defined - at the Grand Slams.
Consider the way Nadal exited the US Open last year. The Spaniard entered the final Slam of the season on the back of another Montreal Masters win, but he was held together with tape. It wasn’t much of a surprise that he was forced to retire midway through his semi final match with Juan Martin del Potro through a knee injury.
After that, Nadal was also forced to withdraw from the Paris Masters with an abdominal problem. All this contributed to a feeble end to the season and so it seems that he has learned lessons from this, adjusting his schedule accordingly. For fans, it might be disappointing not to see Nadal on the big stage as often, but it could be the key to him sticking around for a lot longer.
In the immediate term, Nadal’s withdrawn from the Cincinnati Masters is surely good news for his US Open chances (he is +450 to win at Flushing Meadows). There was no sign of injury or fatigue, as he officially cited, in Montreal and so his withdrawal is just about ensuring peak condition for the last Slam of the season.