By Charles David Mathieu-Poulin
(August 10, 2013) MONTREAL – The Montreal fans are particularly fond of two things, tennis-wise: big charismatic stars exuding passion and local players battling it out like there is no tomorrow. Therefore, no one could have set up a better scenario than the semifinals played in Montreal on Saturday. And the matches delivered, both ending in third set tie-breaks.
While the Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic showdown wasn’t a surprise and was actually expected and hoped for when the draw came out, the Milos Raonic-Vasek Pospisil match revived the patriotic flame of many: it was the first time since 1969 that a Canadian reached this stage and the winner would be the first Canadian finalist since 1958!
The two Davis Cup teammates were the first to hit the court in the afternoon, under perfect weather for tennis: sunny, breezy and a touch chilly. The atmosphere was just as perfect, with a packed crowd of over 12,000 anxious fans, hesitant about for whom to cheer for as if they were asked to choose between their (tennis) children.
Milos Raonic was the favorite on paper, but was also the one with all the pressure and it showed in his on-court manners: while he was stone-faced and focused, Pospisil was vocal and animated and clearly had nothing to lose in this encounter.
As it often happens when two players that know each other well face off, the level of play wasn’t spectacular. Both players seemed nervous from the get-go, and most points were decided either on unreturned serves or unforced errors. Raonic was the first one to draw blood and break, and he rode the way until finishing up the forgettable 6-4 set on an ace.
The second set followed a totally different route: Pospisil started receiving better and being more aggressive, and Raonic seemed lost in his defensive role. While the underdog was getting pumped up, the 11th seed seemed frustrated and about to give up the set. Breaking twice, Pospisil leveled things off, wining the second set 6-1.
Raonic then retreated to the locker rooms, in the hopes of breaking the rhythm and changing the momentum. He later admitted in his post-match interview that he ‘yelled at [himself] to let the anger out, but not too loud as there was someone else in the bathroom’.
The third set saw some better play and built up quite the drama. While Pospisil got closer in more of Raonic’s serve game, the favorite never got broken and led in the score all set, as he was serving first. Vasek was solid serving under pressure, bringing the set to a tiebreak. Raonic stormed to an early lead with two mini-breaks, but Pospisil immediately erased them with inspired play. Clearly nervous, the serve speeds started dropping, especially on Raonic’s side, but he remained more solid off the ground and closed out the set, reaching his first ever Masters 1000 final and entering the top 10 for the first time of his career. He becomes the first ever Canadian male player to achieve that feat, a fact that made him quite emotional after the match.
His final opponent was also decided in a nail-biter under the lights. Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic had played 35 times in the past, and their match-up always leads to spectacular rallies and intense battles. While Nadal was coming into this match undefeated on hardcourts in 2013, Djokovic had won all their encounters on this surface since 2010.
Nadal stormed off to a two break lead, as his consistency was too much for the Serb. Djokovic started finding his range late in the set, erasing one of the breaks, but it was too little too late as the 4th seed won the first 6-4.
The second set started with close games and intense rallies, and the drama peaked with an umpiring mistake. With Djokovic serving at 5-3, when Nadal challenged a call and was right, the score was announced wrong. While both players and the umpire agreed that it was 30-all, the scoreboard mentioned 40-15, and the crowd was raucous towards the mistake. The chair umpire, remaining silent, lost control over the crowd, which seemed to affect Djokovic who lost the following (very important) point. But when he saved it and then leveled off the match, we knew we would be treated to a dramatic third set.
Following a similar pattern than the first semifinal, both players, who had been broken two times each until then, managed to hold until a third set tiebreak. The stand-out moment happened in the middle of the set when Nadal hit a backhand pass directly at Novak in a heated net exchange: when the Spaniard tried to apologize, Novak looked away in frustration, adding to the already high tension.
The tiebreak proved to be quite an anticlimactic end to a fantastic match. Despite losing the last game to love, the Spaniard played inspired tennis, enjoyed a few loose points from the first seed, and rapidly built a huge 6-0 lead. While Djokovic saved the first two on impressive winners, he hit a ball just long on the third match point, handing Nadal his 21st win against the Serb.
Nadal will be looking to win his third Rogers Cup in Sunday’s final against Raonic. The crowd is expected to be strongly behind the Canadian, especially as, for the first time, fans will be able to get in the Uniprix Stadium grounds to watch the final on a big-screen, Henman Hill-style. It will be a fitting end to one of the best ever editions of the Rogers Cup in Montreal.
Charles David Mathieu-Poulin blogs for WtaQuebec www.wtaquebec.com, a website promoting local Quebec players. He is covering the Rogers Cup in Montreal for Tennis Panorama News. Follow him on twitter @earthstroke, follow his Montreal coverage on @TennnisNewsTPN.
RESULTS – SATURDAY, 10 AUGUST 2013
Singles – Semi-finals
 R Nadal (ESP) d  N Djokovic (SRB) 64 36 76(2)
 M Raonic (CAN) d [WC] V Pospisil (CAN) 64 16 76(4)
Doubles – Semi-finals
 A Peya (AUT) / B Soares (BRA) d M Fyrstenberg (POL) / M Matkowski (POL) 62 76(3)
C Fleming (GBR) / A Murray (GBR) d  R Lindstedt (SWE) / D Nestor (CAN) 63 60
SCHEDULE – SUNDAY, 11 AUGUST 2013
CENTRAL start 12:30
C Fleming (GBR) / A Murray (GBR) vs  A Peya (AUT) / B Soares (BRA)
Not Before 15:00
 R Nadal (ESP) vs  M Raonic (CAN)