MONTREAL, Canada—Did this match feel familiar? To Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal fans, it should have. It was in Canada three years ago that Federer, fresh off his first Wimbledon final defeat, was stunned by Gilles Simon in the opening round of the Rogers Cup.
Nadal fans might recall a different match, this year's Indian Wells quarterfinal with Ivo Karlovic. The Croat pushed Nadal—who wasn't at his best that night—to a third-set tiebreaker with an onslaught of huge serves and attacking tennis. Ivan Dodig, another Croat, did the same thing tonight in Montreal, with one big difference: He won. The 26-year-old recovered from a slow start to shock the world No. 2 in the second round, 1-6, 7-6 (5), 7-6 (5).
Dodig is the type of player who used to consistenly trouble Nadal on hard courts. He serves big (he hit 19 aces this evening) and backs it up during rallies. There was no better example of that than match point, when Dodig saved his heaviest backhand of the contest for its most important moment. Nadal, who usually gets his racquet on anything, stood and watched as Dodig's cross-court winner whizzed by.
Dodig also was strong mentally. He could have folded at so many instances of this three hour, nine minute match—he once trailed 6-1, 3-1, and by scores of 3-0 and 5-3 in the third set. But Dodig never let Nadal completely pull away, even if he was always playing catch-up. For that reason, it didn't seem like Nadal would actually let this one slip away, not until, down 5-4 in the final overtime, Dodig quickly snagged two points, the latter with an ace, to reach match point. Now, it was actually happening. Slow and steady Dodig is not, but he was consistent enough with his aggressive shotmaking that he eventually won the race.
As I alluded to, we didn't see the finest from Nadal tonight, though it was enough to earn him a sizable head start. But it caught up with him by the end. Serving for the match, Nadal struck a horrible shank at 30-30, a critical point at the time and even more so in retrospect. Broken, Nadal still had 30-all and deuce in Dodig's final service game, but an ace came both times. It was Dodig at his finest, during what was unquestionably the match of his career.