© Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

Rafael Nadal edges Denis Shapovalov en route to the title in Rome.

Nadal Survives Shapovalov Scare To Top ATP Comebacks Of 2021

Dimitrov's victory against Medvedev in Indian Wells comes in second

In tennis you always have to win the last point to claim victory. Until then, your opponent is always in with a chance, even if they are heavily trailing. With the margins in the sport so small, the tempo of matches can quickly change.

Yesterday we looked at three of the best ATP Tour comebacks of the season. Now, we will complete the top five with the two best ATP Tour match comebacks of 2021, before turning attention to the best Grand Slam comebacks of 2021 from Wednesday.

2) BNP Paribas Open, Round of 16, Grigor Dimitrov d. Daniil Medvedev 4-6, 6-4, 6-3
Grigor Dimitrov had not reached the quarter-finals at an ATP Masters 1000 event all season, and the drought looked set to continue in Indian Wells. Daniil Medvedev was cruising towards a comfortable straight-sets fourth-round victory in California against the Bulgarian.

The Russian was the more consistent of the pair as he dictated from the baseline with his flat groundstrokes to march to a 6-4, 4-1 lead. But with Medvedev within touching distance of a meeting against Hubert Hurkacz, Dimitrov changed up tactics, swinging more freely and hitting powerful and precise backhands to force his opponent into errors.

The Bulgarian also capitalised on Medvedev’s serving struggles — the World No. 2 made just 34 per cent of his first serves in the second set — to roar back, winning five straight games to level.

With momentum now on his side in the decider, Dimitrov, who hit 25 winners in the match, continued to play aggressively and frustrate an out-of-sorts Medvedev by approaching the net effectively to close out points and seal victory.

“He is such a tough player and competitor,” Dimitrov said. “Over the past year, I have played him a few times and haven’t been able to find a way. But today, I just felt something at 1-4 and I calmed myself down and started to make better decisions and started to control the pace of the game, which I really believed helped me. In the end it was just very solid and smart play.”

You May Also Like: Dimitrov Roars Back in Indian Wells, Shocks Medvedev To Reach QFs

1) Internazionali BNL d’Italia, Round of 16, Rafael Nadal d. Denis Shapovalov 3-6, 6-4, 7-6(3)
It is an unfamiliar sight to see Rafael Nadal trailing on clay. It is even rarer to see the 13-time Roland Garros champion being dismantled on it. But that was exactly what was happening in the third round at the Internazionali BNL d’Italia, where Denis Shapovalov led Nadal 6-3, 3-0 on Campo Centrale.

The Canadian flew out of the blocks and stormed to take the opening set, dictating with his heavy forehand as he outmanoeuvred Nadal. Shapovalov then gained a break to march into a 3-0 lead in the second set, with the finishing line now seemingly in sight.

However, defeating Nadal on clay was never going to be so simple and it proved so as the 35-year-old held firm to fend off another break point and hold for 1-3. It marked a turning point in the match as the Spaniard rolled off four consecutive games, eventually letting out a roar as he clinched the set.

While many expected Nadal to race away to victory in the decider, Shapovalov had other ideas, moving 3-1 ahead before he was again pegged back. At 5-6 down, Nadal was in bigger danger than ever, with Shapovalov fighting his way to two match points. However, a missed backhand from the 22-year-old and a forehand winner from Nadal kept him alive, and he used his experience in the tie-break to secure his epic victory after three hours and 27 minutes.

“[It] is an important victory for me [to] be able to win matches like today, three hours and 27 [minutes], in the Barcelona final three hours and 38 [minutes], long matches," Nadal said. “To be able to win these kinds of matches against young players gives me confidence with my body.”

Nadal would go on to defeat Novak Djokovic in the final to earn his 10th trophy in Rome.

Read more from our Best of 2021 series here.