Dennis Shapovalov shocked Rafael Nadal on the Spanish legend’s favourite playing surface Thursday to highlight a big day for Canadian tennis stars at the Italian Open clay-court tournament.
Shapovalov joined fellow Canadians Bianca Andreescu and Félix Auger-Aliassime in the quarter-finals with 1-6, 7-5, 6-2 upset of Nadal to end Thursday’s play at the ATP and WTA 1000-series event.
Andreescu beat Croatia’s Petra Marti 6-4, 6-4 and Auger-Aliassime bounced American Marcos Giron 6-3, 6-2 earlier in the day.
Nadal has been struggling with a foot injury, and limped between points as the match wore on.
“Definitely tough to see him in pain there at the end,” Shapovalov said. “I never want to see that, especially with a great legend like Rafa. He brings so much to our sport. Hopefully he’s fit and ready to go for the French [Open].”
Still, Nadal dominated the first set, winning 74 per cent of service points and 64 per cent of total points. Despite firing four aces in the set, Shapovalov struggled on serve, winning just 44 per cent of service points. He was broken twice on five chances.
Shapovalov rebounded strong to start the second set, eventually taking a 4-1 lead. But Nadal battled back and survived a break point chance to hold and tie the set 4-4.
But Shapovalov held serve the rest of the set and broke Nadal in the deciding 12th game to force a decider.
After the players traded breaks to open the third set, Shapovalov took over, winning the match with his third break of the set.
Shapovalov finished the match with 13 aces to Nadal’s two and also excelled at the net. The Canadian won 74 per cent of net points (14 of 19) compared to 50 per cent for Nadal (three of six).
“I hurt my foot again with a lot of pain,” Nadal said. “I’m a player living with an injury. It’s nothing new. It’s something that is there, unfortunately. Day by day is difficult. Lots of days I can’t practise with it the proper way again.”
Nadal, the third seed in Rome, entered the tournament with a 466-44 career record on clay.
Shapovalov will face fifth-seeded Casper Ruud of Norway in Friday’s quarter-finals. He is now 2-4 lifetime against Nadal, with the other victory coming in the first meeting between the players at the 2017 Rogers Cup in Toronto.
Earlier, Andreescu broke Marti three times on four chances and saved six of the seven break points she faced to reach her first quarter-final at a 1000 series clay tournament.
Next up for Andreescu is top-seeded Iga Swiatek, the defending champion in Rome who is attempting to win her fifth consecutive tournament.
Auger-Aliassime fired 11 aces and won 84 per cent of first serve points and 79 per cent of net points in a comfortable win over lucky loser Giron.
The eighth seed from Montreal will face world No. 1 Novak Djokovic in the quarter-finals. Djokovic beat Switzerland’s Stan Wawrinka 6-2, 6-2 on Thursday. It will be the first meeting between Djokovic and Auger-Aliassime.
In the women’s tournament, top-ranked Swiatek was tested before pulling out a 6-4, 6-1 victory over former No. 1 Victoria Azarenka to reach the quarter-finals and extend her winning streak to 25 matches.
Azarenka took a 3-0 lead before Swiatek won five straight games in a gruelling first set that lasted 1 hour, 20 minutes.
Swiatek is attempting to win her fifth straight tournament and defend her title in Rome.
The last player to win more consecutive matches was Serena Williams, who had a streak of 27 in a row over 2014 and 2015.
Swiatek’s run makes her a favourite to win a second French Open when the year’s second Grand Slam gets under way in 10 days. When Swiatek won at Roland Garros in 2020 she was ranked No. 54 –making her the lowest-ranked woman to win the Paris major in the Open era.
In a sign of how challenging it was for Swiatek to hold serve on the red clay court at the Foro Italico, she played more than twice as many points on her serve than Azarenka did – 98 to 47.
Azarenka was rattled when a spectator entered the front row of the mostly empty VIP section just behind her as she was facing a break point late in the first set. When she then double-faulted to hand Swiatek control of the set, she slammed her racquet in frustration and complained to the chair umpire about the mid-game interruption.
Swiatek will next face the 2019 U.S. Open champion Andreescu.
The loudest cheers of the day were for Jannik Sinner, the 20-year-old Italian who beat Filip Krajinovic 6-2, 7-6 (6) to reach the quarter-finals for the first time at his home tournament.
Sinner will next face Stefanos Tsitsipas, who rallied past Karen Khachanov 4-6, 6-0, 6-3 for a tour-leading 29th win of the year.
Also, 2017 Rome champion Alexander Zverev, who is also coming off a run to the Madrid final, beat Alex De Minaur 6-3, 7-6 (5).
The Canadian Press,
The Associated Press