Although he wasn’t facing the most difficult of opponents on Wednesday, Nadal looked to be in exquisite form. Playing his first match since that shocking loss to Steve Darcis in the opening round of Wimbledon, the Spaniard used his trademark heavy topspin to excellent effect against Jesse Levine.
Contending with heavy winds and vociferous crowd support for his 132nd-ranked rival, Nadal kept his unforced error count low and controlled the rallies masterfully. He also won an impressive 76% of his first serve points and converted all three break point opportunities. The 6-2, 6-0 routed lasted just over one hour, and provided an emphatic answer to questions regarding the King of Clay’s fitness.
Because even more encouraging than Nadal’s clinical performance was the absence of taping on his troublesome knees. When he exited Wimbledon, looking fatigued, listless and unable to cope with low-bouncing balls, many fans and pundits worried that his days of competing for non-clay court titles were over. Would the physically punishing nature of hard courts prove too much for the man who missed the entire second half of the 2012 season? Not on the evidence of his match with Levine – Nadal moved smoothly, played aggressively and appeared to be in peak physical condition.
Optimal fitness will be required if he is to get past Jerzy Janowicz on Thursday. Wimbledon was also a notable event for the big-serving Pole, who reached the semi-finals and gave Andy Murray an almighty scare. It was his highest profile moment since his famous run to the final of the Paris Masters last November.
The 22-year-old has begun his first hard court event of the summer the hard way, going three sets in his first two matches. Although he hit a combined 33 aces against Julien Benneteau and Frank Dancevic, Janowicz has also dropped serve a total of seven times. He looked rattled at points during his match with Canada’s Dancevic: whereas Nadal dealt with the blustery conditions and partisan crowd in textbook fashion, Janowicz scowled, sulked and berated himself as he laboured into the last 16.
Nadal and Janowicz have never played before (H2H), a fact that adds intrigue to what is already a mouthwatering third round match-up. Nadal, one of the best returners in the men’s game, won’t be too concerned about Janowicz’s lightning quick serve, but the 15th seed has much more than just one shot in his arsenal. At his best, he could frustrate the eight-time French Open champion with an array of slices, spins and drop shots, disrupting his rhythm and keeping him under pressure.
However, Janowicz does not look to have hit top form in Montreal, and the wind could wreak havoc on his timing. If both men play as they did yesterday, Nadal should win comfortably. Even if the match gets close, the fourth seed’s greater experience and superior mental strength should see him through.