Photo: Martin Sidorjak
It’s been less than a month into the 2022 season, and Denis Shapovalov has already hoisted the ATP Cup with Team Canada, earned a career-high seven-match winning streak, and made his first quarter-final appearance at the Australian Open.
His journey to the quarter-final at Melbourne Park – his third Grand-Slam quarters – began with a couple of hard-fought victories over Laslo Djere of Serbia and Soonwoo Kwon of South Korea. The Canadian then went on a tear, returning brilliantly against Reilly Opelka to nullify the American’s monstrous serve in the third round. Shapovalov’s next match against World No. 3 Alexander Zverev was even more dominant, as he dismantled the German in straight sets.
Today, bidding for a spot in the final four, Shapovalov faced 20-time Grand Slam champion Rafael Nadal. Unlike his previous matches, the Canadian didn’t have a strong start and eventually found himself down two sets to love. Despite his spirited response to force a fifth set, Nadal managed to end Shapovalov’s hot streak in a four-hour and 10-minute thriller, 6-3, 6-4, 4-6, 3-6, 6-3.
Today’s clash was the fifth meeting between the two lefties and the first at a Grand Slam event. Shapovalov’s only win against Nadal came in 2017 in Montreal, which was surprisingly – or not so surprisingly – the last time the Spaniard lost to a left-handed player. Nadal now leads their head-to-head 4-1.
The first two sets in today’s clash followed similar narratives. The sixth-seeded Nadal dominated his service games and didn’t give the Canadian a chance to heat up. Despite having similar stats in the service department over the two sets, the telling number was the breaks converted – 0/0 for Shapovalov and 2/3 for Nadal.
The third set had a similar start to the previous two, up until Nadal hit two double faults in the sixth game to give the Canadian two break point opportunities. But, a resilient Nadal was there to win the next four points, wiping the golden chance away. Shapovalov kept his foot on the gas and managed to fight his way to two more break point chances in the set, this time in the 10th game and on set point. The confident Canadian connected on his second set point with a stunning cross-court backhand.
Shapovalov took that momentum into the fourth set and broke Nadal in the fourth game. The court started to tilt in favour of the Canadian, and Shapovalov was able to hold on to his lead to send the match to a decider.
In the fifth set, Shapovalov had a look at breaking Nadal’s serve in the opening game, but, he wasn’t able to convert and was broken by Nadal in the subsequent game. That ended up being the only break in the set, and Nadal was able to clinch the match in the ninth game. The Spaniard advances to his seventh Australian Open semi-final and has his eyes set on winning a record-setting 21st Grand Slam.
Nadal will face Matteo Berrettini of Italy in the semi-finals.