Nadal Saves 2 M.Ps., Denies Shapovalov Upset In Rome Thriller
Rafael Nadal booked a spot into his 16th quarter-final at the Internazionali BNL d’Italia in dramatic fashion, having to save match points and rally from a set down in a three-and-a-half hour epic against 13th seed Denis Shapovalov on Thursday.
The nine-time champion trailed by 0-4 in the opening set, 0-3 in the second and saved two match points late in the third set as Shapovalov took control in their third-round clash on Campo Centrale. But Nadal was clutch in the high-pressure moments and steadily raised his level to secure the 3-6, 6-4, 7-6(3) victory for a spot in the last eight.
“[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," said Nadal. “To be able to win these kinds of matches against young players gives me confidence with my body. It's true that I have to do things better for tomorrow. But the main thing today for me is [to] recover physically.”
The victory extends Nadal’s record to 19 wins in a row against fellow left-handed players – a streak dating back to the 2017 Coupe Rogers in Montreal, when 18-year-old Shapovalov defeated Nadal in their first meeting.
"These matches, you have nothing to lose... I also think I have what it takes to beat these guys," Shapovalov later reflected. "It's not a surprise to me. It's just a tough loss. Of course, it's not the first time Rafa's done this. I'm not the first person to lose with match points. For sure, he does well with the pressure in those moments.
"Just something I have to take back and just make a couple changes. But I'm definitely happy with where my game's at, relatively speaking, against the greatest player on this surface."
Shapovalov raced out of the blocks and built up a double-break 4-0 lead, dictating with his booming forehand and regularly pulling Nadal out of position. Nadal needed a few games to find his footing, and broke back at 4-2 to cut down the deficit, but Shapovalov had him back under pressure again at 5-3. The Canadian broke through once more after winning a marathon game, denying Nadal five chances to close it out and converting his fourth set point when Nadal buried a backhand into the net.
As ATP and WTA players including Jannik Sinner and Kristina Mladenovic took to the stands to witness the potential upset brewing at Campo Centrale, the 13th seed got out to another big lead with an early break in the second set. But Nadal held firm to shake off a point for a double break to make it 3-1. Nadal let out a roar, and the moment marked a turning point in the contest as the Spaniard reeled off four games to take a 5-3 lead – his first lead of the match – and clinched the second set.
Once again Shapovalov opened the third set with a break for 3-1, but this time Nadal capitalised on a shaky service game to get them back on serve straight away. With Shapovalov struggling to find first serves, Nadal created four more break opportunities in the final set.
The Spaniard was in danger once again as Shapovalov applied the pressure at 6-5, fighting his way to two match points. But a wayward backhand from the Canadian and a forehand winner from Nadal extended his stay in the contest, sending them into a tie-break. Experience marked the difference in the decider as Nadal kept his cool to reel off four points in a row for a 4/1 lead before closing out the victory in three hours and 27 minutes.
“[This] has been a positive victory for me,” Nadal said. “I [fought] until the end a lot to be in quarter-finals. Tomorrow is a chance to play a quarter-final match. I hope to be ready to compete well.”
Into a record-extending 97th quarter-final at the ATP Masters 1000 level, second seed Nadal will play Mutua Madrid Open champion Alexander Zverev, who battled past former World No. 4 Kei Nishikori in three sets. The German has won three consecutive matches against Nadal, including a straight-sets victory last week at the Caja Magica.