Ruthless Nadal Beats Shapovalov In Rome

Fognini beats Gojowczyk for place in first quarter-final at Foro Italico

Rafael Nadal continued his quest for an eighth Internazionali BNL d’Italia crown, which will help him to regain No. 1 in the ATP Rankings, on Thursday with victory over #NextGenATP Canadian star Denis Shapovalov.

Top seed Nadal recorded the 20th match win of the year (20-2) with a 6-4, 6-1 victory over Shapovalov, who will become the Canadian No. 1 on Monday after his run to the Rome third round.

“It was a solid match for me,” said Nadal, who lost just five of his service points. “I started with some mistakes on the return. But with my serve, I didn't lose many points. At the beginning, I really think that he was serving big. I got the break in the 3-all. And then the match changed… He probably stopped to serve that big a little bit, and I was a little bit more relaxed."

The Spanish superstar will next challenge another talented player in Italian Fabio Fognini for the 14th time. Nadal leads 10-3 in their FedEx ATP Head2Head series, which includes victories in their past five matches. 

“It'll be a match against a great player, with a lot of talent," said Nadal. "I know I have to play well, to keep having chances and keep going in the tournament. I hope to be ready to make that happen, to play at the right level and to be competitive.”

Nadal improved to a 53-6 match record at the ATP World Tour Masters 1000 tournament in Rome, but he won the last of his seven trophies five years ago. Should he earn his 32nd Masters 1000 crown with victory in Sunday’s final, he will replace Switzerland’s Roger Federer in the top spot.

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Shapovalov immediately felt the heat from Nadal, nine months on from losing to the Canadian in the 2017 Rogers Cup third round that denied his a return to World No. 1. To his credit, the 19-year-old saved eight break points in his first two service games, but a rushed forehand approach by Shapovalov at 3-3 handed Nadal the break. After winning 15 of his service points, Nadal lost his first point on serve, due to a backhand error, at 4-3, 40/0. The Spaniard completed the 49-minute opener with a deep forehand approach, which Shapovalov struck back into the net. Shapovalov, on the back foot throughout, committed 19 unforced errors – 12 of which came on his forehand wing.

Nadal carried his momentum into the second set, with Shapovalov hitting a double fault to gift his opponent the first game. Pushing Shapovalov closer to the advertising hoardings at the back of the court, Nadal broke again for a 4-1 lead with a barrage of forehands that ended with a smash winner. Shapovalov hit a forehand error at 1-5, on Nadal’s second match point.

“I think Rafa played incredible today,” said Shapovalov. “He's been playing at a really high level for this whole clay season. So credit to him, he was just simply too good today. I don't think I played too bad today. I felt like I was playing good out there, especially [in] the first set. It was really tight, really competitive.”

Shapovalov won 3-6, 6-4, 7-6(4) on Montreal’s hard courts in August 2017, but felt the full force of Nadal’s clay prowess at the Foro Italico. During this season's European clay swing, 31-year-old Nadal has already captured 11th titles at both the Rolex Monte-Carlo Masters (d. Nishikori) and the Barcelona Open Banc Sabadell (d. Tsitsipas).

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Earlier in the day, Fognini delighted Italian supporters with a hard-fought victory in reaching the quarter-finals. One week shy of his 31st birthday, Fognini recovered from a 2-4 deficit in the first set – by winning five straight games – en route to a 6-4, 6-4 third-round victory over Peter Gojowczyk in one hour and 33 minutes.

This year’s Brasil Open titlist (d. Jarry), currently No. 21 in the ATP Rankings, hit 19 winners — including 11 forehands — to set up a Friday clash against Nadal.

It was Gojowczyk, competing in only his seventh ATP World Tour Masters 1000 tournament, that claimed the first break, courtesy of an errant forehand from Fognini, serving at 2-2, 30/40. The lead was short-lived, as errors began to mount up for the 28-year-old German — he committed 18 unforced errors, largely late on in the 43-minute opener. Trailing 2-4, Fognini went on to clinch five straight games, which included a second break of Gojowczyk’s serve at 4-5, 15/40, when the World No. 53 struck a forehand approach into the net.

Chances to break serve came and went for both players in the second set, notably at 2-2, with Fognini serving at 30/40, when Gojowczyk narrowly missed a crosscourt backhand, then, with the German serving at 3-4, 30/30, when Fognini overcooked a forehand close to the net. The pressure began to tell on Gojowczyk at 4-5, when he hit two double faults, and, as Fognini focused and tightened up his game, the Italian was rewarded with his 20th match win of the season (20-10) after hitting a forehand crosscourt winner.

Fognini is through to his fourth Masters 1000 quarter-final or better - also 2013 Rolex Monte-Carlo Masters semi-finals, 2014 Western & Southern Open quarter-finals and 2017 Miami Open presented by Itau semi-finals.

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