“Both players have shown us their C games today,” Chris Evert said at the end of the first set of Sunday’s final between Simona Halep and Madison Keys in Montreal. That may have sounded harsh, but most people watching probably thought that Evert was being kind.

Halep’s break-filled, error-filled 7-6 (2), 6-3 win was a match for the Romanian—and only the Romanian—to remember. Tired from a rare week of singles and doubles, Halep hit just four winners and was broken four times, but still won in straight sets. That’s because Keys, after taking a couple of big steps forward in her career over the last two months, took one back in this match. The American made 45 errors in 22 games, and was broken five times. After selecting and shaping her shots so well the past week, she struggled to get them to clear the net against Halep.

“Make your opponent hit one more ball” is an all-time tennis cliché, but that’s essentially all Halep had to do to win this final. You could see how important her defensive skills were going to be in the first game. For Keys, the revelation of the week had been her backhand; hitting it upwards of 80 m.p.h., she had found a crosscourt groove with it that none of her opponents had been able to counter. But on the fourth point of the match on Sunday, Halep did just that. Keys ripped her backhand crosscourt, Halep made it there in time to reflex it back and Keys missed the next forehand into the net.


“I felt I have no more power,” Halep said of her physical state by the end of the match. “I wanted to be aggressive, but I couldn’t. In the end, I just wanted to be solid.”

For Halep, the win extends her long-running love affair with U.S. hard courts. With victories this week over Keys and Angelique Kerber, and with no Rio in her future, she looks well-positioned for Cincinnati and the U.S. Open, where she is defending finalist and semifinalist points, respectively.

For Keys, the loss is a reminder—if she needed it—that more work remains to be done. In one of her press conferences this week, Keys talked about how she needs to learn to move forward better. That was clear against Halep on Sunday; too often she let the ball come to her, lost whatever advantage her height and reach gave her and pounded the ball into the tape. Once she started missing, she couldn’t find a way to stop. An 85-m.p.h. backhand doesn’t do you any good when it doesn’t clear the net.


Over in Toronto, Novak Djokovic had shown off his C game for much of the week. He had slogged through two close sets against Gilles Muller in his opener; been helped out by a Tomas Berdych implosion in the quarterfinals; struggled to find his serving rhythm in his semifinal win over Gael Monfils; and gave back an early break in the second set against Kei Nishikori in the final.

Yet despite all of that, Djokovic didn’t drop a set on his way to winning a record 30th Masters 1000 title.


This is often how Djokovic wins: not by being perfect, or awe-inspiring, or even clinical, but just by being better, overall, than the guy across the net. He’s an all-arounder with no exploitable weaknesses, and if one part of his game isn’t clicking, another will usually be there to pick up the slack.

In the quarters and semis, the weak link was his serve, but he was able to get around it with the superiority of his ground game. Then, on Sunday, it was his serve that came to the rescue. Djokovic hit four aces, didn't double fault and made 76 percent of his first serves. That last stat was key: When Djokovic got the first ball in, he won 82 percent of the points; when he didn’t, he won just 43. Nishikori was a match for him from the ground when he had the chance. But Djokovic didn’t give him the chance.

“I worked on it,” Djokovic said with a smile when asked about his improved serve. “I had to change something.

“I had to come up with accuracy, and that allowed me to be more aggressive on return games. Best performance of the week.”


It was Djokovic's serve that bailed him out of his only tight spot of the afternoon. Down a set and 1-3, Nishikori had loosened up and taken control of the baseline rallies. He broke Djokovic for 3-3, then played an impressive game to hold at love for 4-3. When Nishikori went up 0-15 in Djokovic’s next service game, the momentum appeared to have swung. On the next point, though, Djokovic sent a heater into Nishikori’s body that handcuffed him. Djokovic followed that with an ace and another service winner to hold. The wind had been taken out of Nishikori's sails almost as soon as it had filled them.

After the high of his French Open win and the subsequent letdown at Wimbledon, Djokovic looks to be back in his normal—i.e., unbeatable—groove as he heads to Rio to try to win his first Olympic gold medal. He’s so good that he won’t have to be perfect to make it happen.