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Rafael Nadal suffered in more ways than one as he was beaten 1-6, 7-5, 6-2 by Canada’s Denis Shapovalov at the Rome Masters on Thursday.
The 10-time champion raced through the first set and hit back from 4-1 down to 4-4 in the second but as the match wore on, his left foot – a chronic problem which flares up from time to time – was evidently bothering him more and more and Shapovalov took full advantage to reach the quarter-finals.
The Canadian will face Casper Ruud in the last eight on Friday but for Nadal, the question will now be how fit he can get himself by the time Roland-Garros begins on May 21.
For a while it looked like being a straightforward win for Nadal over a man who held two match points against him at the same stage last year.
The Spaniard, who returned in Madrid last week after six weeks out because of a fractured rib, ripped through the first set, playing some of the best tennis since he returned from injury last week in Madrid after six weeks out following a fractured rib.
The 35-year-old Nadal held serve easily in the opening game and had two break points on Shapovalov’s first service game. The Canadian saved them both with some typically aggressive play but the respite was brief as Nadal broke twice, for 3-1 and 5-1 on his way to the first set after 42 minutes.
Shapovalov finds his range as Nadal falters
Shapovalov went off for a bathroom break, to gather his thoughts, and returned with a new idea on serve, standing much wider than usual, trying to use the angles.
On one particularly acutely angled serve out wide on the ad-court, Shapovalov had Nadal clattering into the advertising boards on the side of the court but he still had to save three break points in the first game just to get his nose in front.
After he was beaten by Carlos Alcaraz in the quarter-finals in Madrid last week, Nadal admitted he was searching for confidence and a few loose shots handed the Canadian the break for 2-0 in the second set.
Ay 3-1, Shapovalov saved another break point to extend his lead but Nadal broke back for 3-4 and then, despite his forehand deserting him temporarily, saved two break points to level at 4-4 after a 10-minute game.
Shapovalov regrouped to hold serve for 5-4 and in the next game, he forced a set point only for Nadal to save it with a well-constructed point and hold serve with a thunderous backhand down the line.
The Canadian held easily to lead 6-5 and two Nadal double-faults left him under pressure, facing a second set point. This time, though, he couldn’t save it and sent a backhand long to give Shapovalov the set.