Nadal and Shapovalov shake hands after match

Photo : Corinne Dubreuil/ATP Tour

It was an exciting Thursday for Canadian tennis fans as both Félix Auger-Aliassime and Denis Shapovalov were in action – each competing for their own shot at a quarter-final appearance at the 2021 Internazionali BNL d’Italia. 

Auger-Aliassime took on Argentine qualifier Federico Delbonis, while Shapovalov faced no tougher opponent than Rafael Nadal, the King of Clay himself.

First up, the Richmond Hill native at Centre Court.

Shockingly, the last time Nadal didn’t make it through to the quarter-finals of an ATP Masters 1000 was at the National Bank Open presented by Rogers in 2017 – losing to none other than the 22-year-old Canadian.

It looked as if Shapovalov might do it again…

Off to a dream start, he broke Nadal’s first two service games and took a commanding 4-0 lead in the first set.  

Nadal raised his level of play and fought back, winning the next three games confidently. 

The entertaining eighth game, where Shapovalov managed to hold his serve, seemed almost underwhelming compared to the chaotic ninth. 

After Nadal missed his first serve at 40-30, down 3-5, a fan left the stands disrupting the serving Spaniard. Shapovalov offered Nadal another shot at first serve – which he kindly declined in an act of good sportsmanship. 

The Canadian won the next two points, setting up his first of four set points. The back-and-forth game ultimately went to No. 13 seed Shapovalov, winning his first set against Nadal since their match in Montreal.

In the second set, Shapovalov got off to another impressive start holding his first two service games and breaking Nadal early. 

However, it wouldn’t be enough as the nine-time Italian Open champion won four of the next five games to take the second set 6-4.

The third set was very tight and looked as if it was destined for a tiebreak. 

Up until the 11th game, Shapovalov up 6-5, sent an unreturnable ball to Nadal’s side of the court to give himself a match point opportunity. However, Nadal reminded us why he is the best in the world on clay by denying both of Shapovalov’s match point opportunities. 

In the final set tiebreak, Nadal wasted no time at all and went up 4-1. Shapovalov couldn’t come back from that deficit and lost the match 3-6, 6-4, 7-6(3).

It was an incredible comeback victory from Nadal, who’s now onto his 16th quarter-final in Rome. 

Auger-Aliassime can’t beat back-to-back Argentine opponents

Meanwhile, Auger-Aliassime fell short of his second ATP Masters 1000 quarter-final appearance to red-hot Delbonis 7-6(3), 6-1. 

Despite a strong start to the Italian Open with a massive win over Diego Schwartzman, the Montrealer struggled to find his rhythm in today’s contest. 

Auger-Aliassime committed six double faults and won only 44% of his second serves. The latter being the likely source of today’s result, as he won 91% of his second serve points against Schwartzman on Tuesday and dominated that contest. 

Although he was broken early in the first set, the 20-year-old managed to fight back and force a first set tiebreak. Ultimately, he was bested by the Argentine and looked stunned from that point on. 

The second set, which lasted only 39 minutes, was all Delbonis. He broke the Canadian twice and didn’t allow Auger-Aliassime a chance to get back in the match. 

Delbonis calmly advanced to his first quarter-final at the ATP 1000 Masters level and will meet American Reilly Opelka on Friday.