Rafa's summer of sizzle

Rafael Nadal celebrates his win against Nicolas Kiefer at the Rogers Cup in Toronto on Sunday. SUN...

Rafael Nadal celebrates his win against Nicolas Kiefer at the Rogers Cup in Toronto on Sunday. SUN MEDIA/Mark O'Neill

STEVE SIMMONS -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 9:37 AM ET

The sign was held up by a woman in the stands at a most appropriate instance. It read: "Where is Federer?"

The answer yesterday was: It didn't really matter.

The changing of the guard is upon us in men's tennis. It hasn't happened, for real, but perception often strikes before reality. And the perception is that Rafael Nadal is now the best tennis player in the world.

He beat Roger Federer on clay at the French Open. He beat Federer on grass at Wimbledon. Yesterday, he won the Rogers Cup on hardcourt, without Roger being the opponent.

Everyone knows Nadal is now the No. 1 player in the world, except an ATP computer and Nadal, himself.

"I am No. 2 now," he said. "I am very happy to be No. 2. "Every player wants to be No. 1. I want to be No. 1."

He is, without the official status. For now, for today, Nadal is the reigning champion of the three most important tournaments in recent memory, heading towards Cincinnati, the Beijing Olympics and the U.S. Open.

"I have five titles in a row," said Nadal, "three different surfaces ... I am doing the best season of my career."

CLINIC, OF SORTS

Nadal put on a technical clinic, of sorts, all week long at the Rexall Centre, winning the points he had to win, whenever he needed them, and reducing unseeded finalist Nicolas Kiefer to bytstander status in a 6-3, 6-2 drubbing that had few memorable points to win the Canadian Open for a second time.

Nadal can be that commanding, that controlling, even without the kind of serve that is normally reserved for the best tennis players in the world. He commands without that weapon. And the very fact he can be the best in the world with that serve -- Nadal aced Kiefer only twice yesterday -- is simply more indication of just how complete his growing game has become and how athletic he is on whichever surface he now plays.

The days of Nadal being a one-trick pony are over. The wins on clay, grass and hardcourt in succession of this dream summer. There is no longer a surface he can't succeed on.

"I lost (to him) on clay. I lost on grass. I lost on hardcourt," Kiefer said. "Maybe I should try and go indoors, my last option."

Even Nadal, as popular as he may be, seems genuinely surprised by the manner in which he breezed through most of the tournament after the amazing show he put on Wimbledon. Others seem to think more of him than he often thinks of himself. Yesterday, while he was the picture of calm throughout the one-sided final, he wasn't after he hit an overhead smash to win the match.

It was then he punched the air, tossed his sweatbands into the standing crowd, pumped his left fist and began applauding, more for the crowd than for himself.

It's easy to admire and appreciate Nadal. Even in a week in which Federer lost in the first round, Andy Roddick imploded and Novak Djokovic didn't come anywhere near his billing, Nadal just hung around, won, wowed the crowd and picked up $420,000 and a Ted Rogers handshake to boot.

The tournament did have the dream winner, just not the dream matchup of a final.

There was really only one memorable game in the match, the fifth game of the second set, with the score tied 2-2, and Kiefer in position three times to break Nadal's serve. Kiefer battled as hard as was imaginable.

But in the end, he left behind three break points and succumbed quietly without much answer for the final three games of the final.

Nadal ended up holding serve and breaking what was left of Kiefer's spirit.

"The result," Nadal said, "was easier than the match."


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