MONTREAL — Rafael Nadal defeated two-time defending champion Novak Djokovic 6-4, 3-6, 7-6 (2) in a thrilling, two-and-a-half-hour match on Saturday to reach the final of the Rogers Cup.
The fourth-ranked Spaniard, who defeated Djokovic in the semifinals of the French Open this year on his way to winning the championship, will be aiming for his eighth title of the season but only his second on hard courts. The others have all come on clay.
“I said yesterday the only chance to win against Novak, the only tactic is to play very well,” Nadal said. “And I did. I played a very high level tonight, I think. I played with the right decisions in the important moments.”
In Sunday’s final, Nadal will play Milos Raonic, who beat fellow Canadian Vasek Pospisil 6-4, 1-6, 7-6 (4) in the other semifinal to ensure he’ll crack the top 10 in the world rankings for the first time in his career.
Nadal and Djokovic were playing for the 36th time, tying the record for matches contested by two players in the Open era set by John McEnroe and Ivan Lendl. Nadal leads the series 21-15, and with the win, narrowed Djokovic’s advantage on hard courts to 11-6.
“It was very close match,” Djokovic said. “Whenever we play against each other, it’s always a thrilling match for crowd to see. We are both competing at the high level. We both want to win these matches.”
Nadal, who is coming off a disappointing first-round loss at Wimbledon, opened up a 6-0 lead in the third-set tiebreaker before converting on his third match point when Djokovic hit a return long.
The Spaniard has an ATP-best 47-3 record this year and will rise to No. 3 in the rankings, regardless of whether he wins the final.
Raonic, currently ranked 13th, will be going for his second title of the season and fifth of his career. He’ll become the first Canadian to be ranked in the top 10 when the new rankings are released on Monday.
“They’re all very special, but I think the top-10 one stands out more just because it’s a goal that I set this year,” he said. “It looked a little bit difficult after how I played recently, but to do it here in Montreal is a relief and it’s a happy feeling.”