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Rafael Nadal wins men’s Rogers Cup, defeating surprising Greek finalist Stefanos Tsitsipas

World No. 1 Rafael Nadal hoisted the Rogers Cup trophy for the fourth time on Sunday, ending a career-changing week for one of the ATP Tour’s most intriguing young luminaries, Stefanos Tsitsipas.

It was ATP title No. 80 for the 32-year-old Spanish star and a Tour-leading 33rd at a Masters 1000 event. It was a display of master versus rising star as Nadal prevailed 6-2, 7-6 (4) over the Greek, who was celebrating his 20th birthday and looking for his first ATP Tour title.

Nadal, the tournament’s top seed, finished a week that had included big wins over Stan Wawrinka and Marin Cilic. On Sunday, the 17-time Grand Slam winner had to stop a young gun on the greatest run of his career – a kid who had just barnstormed through four top-10 players. The title came despite the Spaniard not being at his finest.

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“Without playing sometimes the best tennis, I managed to win a very important title, no? So that’s very, very important for me,” Nadal said. “Win when you are playing fantastic of course is great and is so important. But it’s easier. So being able to manage to win a lot of matches when you were not playing that well, and especially in big events, that makes a big difference. So this victory has a bigger value for me than others.”

The likable young Greek had provided exhilarating theatre every day, with three-set wins over world No. 8 Dominic Thiem, then No. 10 Novak Djokovic, No. 3 Alexander Zverev and No. 6 Kevin Anderson – each one more astonishing than the last. Tsitsipas was aiming to make it five wins in a row over top-10 players and earn his first ATP Tour title, a feat no player has accomplished since the inception of the ATP rankings in 1973.

Tsitsipas said he had been inspired by watching last year’s Montreal Rogers Cup on TV and seeing then 18-year-old Canadian Denis Shapovalov making a run to the semis, including a defeat over Nadal. He said he daydreamed of being in Shapovalov’s place.

It was hot and sunny inside a packed centre court at York University’s Aviva Centre on Sunday. There were many Greek flags and Greek cheers for Tsitsipas, mixed in with the usual Vamos Rafa! heard from the stands of every court the megastar plays, slugging shots while his signature luxury wristwatch glistens.

Nadal began poised, playing what he called his best set of this event, tiring out Tsitsipas by running him around the court. The weary kid was plagued by errors – soft shots hit too tenderly, over-zealous shots sprayed wide, and poor serves.

The older player steamrolled the rookie 6-2 in the first set. It appeared this match would be like the only other meeting they’d had – a breezy 6-2, 6-1 win for the Spaniard this past spring at the final in Barcelona.

But as he did many times this week, the precocious upstart would not go quietly.

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The two remained close in the second set, until Tsitsipas finally broke Nadal to go up 6-5 and brought great uncertainty to the set. They eventually played a tiebreaker, where Nadal prevailed. It showed Tsitsipas the gap between his emerging game and that of one of the all-time greats.

“The patience that Rafa has is amazing. He never cracks. He will always grab you like a bulldog, he will always make you suffer on the court,” Tsitsipas said. “He was normal like all of us and he managed to become this beast, this monster that he is today. That’s how you feel when you play against him. So I need to work much more, and hopefully I can reach his level one day.”

Tsitsipas’s ranking will jump to 15th in the world from 27th on Monday.

Nadal – who won the Rogers Cup in 2005, 2008 and 2013 – has never lost a final in Canada. The Spaniard earned just over US$1-million of the US$5.3-million purse in Toronto. Sunday night, he pulled out of this week’s Cincinnati Masters 1000 tournament.

Tournament director Karl Hale said the Toronto event drew 150,597 people over the week. A new subway station on York’s campus serviced the venue for the first time.

Hale said the idea of installing a roof over centre court on the grounds is being explored, and the project, funded collaboratively by private and public money may cost some $70-million to $80-million.

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The Toronto event had 19 of the top 20 ATP players this year, missing Roger Federer. To enhance the player experience in Toronto, there were several improvements: expanded medical zones with ice baths, new private massage and physio rooms, enhanced locker rooms and a new champions-only locker room. For the first time this year, all singles and doubles finalists in Toronto were offered private jet service to the next tournament.

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