Photo : @InteBNLdItalia
A year ago in the third round of the Italian Open, Denis Shapovalov had two match points against Rafael Nadal, but ultimately was defeated by the soon-to-be 10-time champion.
In the rematch at the same stage of the 2022 event, the Canadian got the job done, mounting a remarkable comeback to stun the King of Clay in three sets.
Nadal dominated the early stages of the match, but Shapovalov was able to turn things around, giving the defending champion a taste of his own baseline aggression as he powered his way to a 1-6, 7-5, 6-2 victory.
It is Shapovalov’s first win over the 21-time Grand Slam champion since their first meeting in 2017 in Montreal.
Shapovalov threw everything at Nadal in the two-hour, 36-minute battle, smacking 35 winners while also committing 39 unforced errors. The King of Clay also made an uncharacteristic 34 unforced errors of his own, almost triple his 13 winners.
Nadal wasted no time putting Shapovalov under pressure, earning three break points in the Canadians’ first service game, although he was unable to convert on that occasion as Shapovalov held after eight minutes.
There was no let up from the Spaniard, however. The next time Shapovalov stepped up to serve, Nadal ripped backhand winner down the line to claim the first break. He then drew an error on break point two games later to make it a double break as he cruised through the first set.
It looked like Nadal would run away with the match when he kept pushing Shapovalov to start the second set. However, after saving a few break points in his first service game, the Canadian turned around and broke for a 2-0 lead.
The King of Clay was not going to go away quietly and managed to fight back to level the set at 4-4, but Shapovalov was not deterred. It was now his turn to apply all the pressure and continued to create opportunities on his opponent’s serve.
After failing to convert a set point on the Nadal serve at 5-4, Shapovalov was successful the second time of asking, breaking the Spaniard in the 12th game to send their third straight meeting to a deciding set.
Once again, the first game of a set was problematic for Shapovalov, as Nadal broke to take the lead in the decider. However, the Canadian immediately responded with a love break of his own.
As the third set went along, it was Shapovalov gaining the upper hand while Nadal began to fade. From 2-2, the Canadian won 14 consecutive points, breaking serve and moving within two points of victory on the Spaniard’s serve at 5-2, 0-30.
Two match points would come and go, just as they had a year ago. But this time, Shapovalov got a third look at closing out this match and this time Nadal floated a backhand long to send the Canadian into the last eight.
He joins Felix Auger-Aliassime in the quarter-finals in Rome. It is the first time since Miami in 2019 that two Canadian men are in the quarters of a Masters 1000 event. Both Shapovalov and Auger-Aliassime reached the semis of that event.
Shapovalov will go for a second straight Top 10 win in the quarter-finals when he meets world No. 10 Casper Ruud. The Norwegian won their lone previous meeting in the Geneva final last year on clay.