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By Chris Oddo | @TheFanChild | Thursday May 13, 2021


Never out of it. Never quit. Never relent. AKA: Rafa being Rafa.

True to form, Rafael Nadal didn’t lose hope against high-flying Denis Shapovalov on Thursday in Rome, and at the end of an epic three-hour, 27-minute encounter it was the great Spaniard who emerged victorious, 3-6, 6-4, 7-6(3) over the Canadian.

Tennis Express

Nadal improves to 16-0 in round of 16 matches at Rome, and will face either Alexander Zverev or Kei Nishikori in quarterfinal action on Friday, as he continues his quest for a tenth title at Rome.

“A very difficult match,” Nadal said. “I have been against it on the score almost all the time. Every beginning of the set has been super hard for me, but I was there, no?”

The victory marks the 16th time that Nadal has won a match from match points down, and the second time this season, after he dramatically defeated Stefanos Tsitsipas in the final at Barcelona.


“Is an important victory for me,” Nadal said. “To be able to win matches like today, 3 hours 27, in Barcelona final 3 hours 38. Long matches. To be able to win these kind of matches against young players give me confidence with my body.”

Nadal, who played the late match last night against Jannik Sinner, had to return for a mid-afternoon start on Thursday, and he quickly found himself behind by a set and break against the surging Canadian.

“It's true that I have to do things better for tomorrow,” he said. But the main thing today for me is recover physically, no? Have been a positive victory for me. I fighted until the end a lot to be in quarterfinals. Tomorrow is a chance to play a quarterfinals match. I hope to be ready to compete well.”

The Comeback Begins

Nadal rallied to take six of the final seven games of the second set, then hit back from a break down in the third to level up.

But the drama was far from done. Shapovalov held two match points with Nadal serving at 5-6, the first coming with the clock showing 3:13, and Nadal serving at 30-40.

That was the big chance for Shapovalov. After Nadal made the first serve the pair engaged in a long rally with solid depth from both players. Shapovalov saw his chance and went for a big backhand on the 16th stroke, flattening out the trajectory, but the shot sailed long.

It was a classic example of stubborn Nadal, refusing to miss.

Two points later, after Shapovalov rifled a passing shot past Nadal, the world No. 14 had his second chance.

Nadal made the first serve again, aiming it wide to Shapovalov’s forehand, and from there the 22-year-old worked his way into another rally. But he shanked a forehand badly on the eighth stroke to prolong the affair.

In the tiebreaker nerves seem to get to Shapovalov, after he won the first point. Serving at 1-2 he double-faulted and was visibly upset by a distraction in the crowd behind him. That resulted in umpire Mohamed Lahyani silencing the crowd, but the Canadian never silenced his demons. He netted a makeable forehand on the next point, slipping to 4-1 down.

Shapovalov saved one match point but Nadal closed affairs on the next point to improve to 65-7 lifetime at Rome. The quest for another slice of history at the Foro Italico is still intact.

Shapovalov: Who is going to give me crap?

In the end Shapovalov ended both bitterly disappointed by his loss and hopeful that his performance could lead to better things. He said he benefitted from facing Nadal and knowing he had nothing to lose.

“It's great to have these opportunities,” he said. “You go out, play with nothing to lose. Who is going to give me crap for losing to Rafa? Of course, it helps to play freely.”

The Canadian has dropped 15 straight matches against the Top 5 since he defeated Nadal at Montreal as a 17-year-old, but he’ll take confidence from this near miss.




“I also think I have the game, I have what it takes to beat these guys,” he said. “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.”

 

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