Fourteen years ago, Rafael Nadal made his way to Montréal for the very first time, carried by his booming young career and eight shiny new titles, including the first of his 12 French Open crowns.
Between the kick-off to the 2005 season and Rogers Cup in August, he shot up 48 spots in the ATP rankings and was promoted to first seed here when Roger Federer was a no-show.
Lleyton Hewitt (2) and Andy Roddick (3) were ousted in the first round, making way for Rafa in the top half of the draw and tennis legend Andre Agassi at the bottom.
In their hotly contested final, Nadal defeated his American rival (6-3, 4-6, 6-2) and claimed the first of his four Rogers Cup titles (Montréal in 2005 and 2013, Toronto in 2008 and 2018).
“That year, there was Roddick and there was Federer,” recalled Eugène Lapierre, Rogers Cup tournament director, on Saturday. “Roddick lost early and Federer skipped. So, for fans, rising star Nadal and Agassi, of course, were left. It really was a clash of generations.”
What the King of Clay evokes with a little nostalgia is the state of mind he was in when he arrived in Montréal and the feeling of winning his very first title on a hard court.
“Well, 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, no?” joked Rafa. “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.”
And that’s a good thing, since, above and beyond his 18 Grand Slam titles, his personality is what makes him so unique and such a welcome guest at Rogers Cup year after year.
“I’d say he’s maybe the nicest player on the Tour,” affirmed Eugène Lapierre. “And he’s like that everywhere he goes, not just in Montréal. He’s aware of the people around him, which can’t be said of everyone. Most tennis players are nice, but Nadal is different. How many players do you know who applaud their opponent when he leaves the court? He always says hello; he’ll hold the door for you. He was given a good upbringing and it shows.”
In 14 years, he has gained wisdom and experience but still remains Spain’s Raging Bull. “Back when he was 18 or 19, his energy was just so impressive,” explained Lapierre. “He ran down every ball. His firepower was just wow! He has this great quality—and every player will tell you—he’ll never give up a point. He’s just as intense on every ball. He may be down 5-0, 40-0 but he’s never out. He’ll always want to win every one. It’s exhausting for his opponents, and it’s his trademark. When you play against him, you know you have a mountain to climb.”