TORONTO – Spanish world No. 1 Rafael Nadal got off to a slow start but rallied for a 2-6, 6-4, 6-4 victory over seventh-ranked Marin Cilic in the quarterfinals of the Rogers Cup in Toronto.
Cilic came out on fire at the start of Friday night’s match, hitting 17 winners en route to capturing the opening set.
The Spaniard finally got his nose in front with a break early in the second set, but Cilic fought his way back on serve before Nadal forced the decider by breaking the Croatian’s serve in the 10th game.
Little separated the two players in the decider until the final game, when Nadal clinched the victory by breaking Cilic’s serve for the third time in the match.
For Nadal, the key to his victory was his improved play on serve over the course of the contest.
The Spaniard, who had lost his serve five times over his first two matches, was broken twice in losing the first set.
Although the Spaniard also struggled on serve in the second set, he managed to stave off five of the six break points he faced and also break Cilic on two occasions.
In the decider, Nadal produced his cleanest performance of the tournament on serve, winning all five of his service games without facing a single break point.
“The way that he played in that first set was unstoppable,” Nadal was quoted as saying afterward on the ATP World Tour’s Web site. “So I resisted him. I play with the right tactics. I tried to find my solutions, but it was so difficult. The dynamic was very bad for me and unbelievable good for him. So I know that the beginning of the second set would be decisive.”
With the win, the world No. 1 clinched a spot in the elite, eight-man season-ending ATP Finals (played once again this year in London) for the 14th time.
Next up for Nadal in Saturday night’s semifinals of this hard-court event will be 22-year-old Russian Karen Khachanov, who routed the Netherlands’ Robin Haase 6-3, 6-1 in the quarterfinals.
Saturday’s first semifinal will pit South African 2018 Wimbledon runner-up Kevin Anderson against 19-year-old Greek rising star Stefanos Tsitsipas.
The Rogers Cup is one of the nine ATP World Tour Masters 1000 events and a key tune-up for the US Open, which gets under way on Aug. 27.