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Nadal stumbles, then surges past Shapovalov into semifinals

  • Ravi Ubha

Rafael Nadal avoided a repeat of last year's quarterfinal heartbreak to reach a seventh semifinal at the Australian Open. 

MORE: All the scores from Day 9 at AO 2022

Nadal held off Denis Shapovalov 6-3 6-4 4-6 3-6 6-3 in four hours to the delight of the majority assembled at Rod Laver Arena in Tuesday's afternoon heat, 11 months after relinquishing a two-set lead against Stefanos Tsitsipas. 

"I was completely destroyed after that," Nadal said in his on-court interview with twice Australian Open winner Jim Courier. "Very tough day, very warm."

Nadal proclaimed that Shapovalov could win multiple majors after he stunned his elder rival on Canadian home soil in 2017. 

He repeated the message this week, although Nadal is the one now two wins away from winning Grand Slam title No. 21 to snap his three-way tie with Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic. 

Based on his ranking – and the tally of majors – he will be favoured to top either Matteo Berrettini or Gael Monfils in Friday's semifinal.

MORE: AO 2022 men's singles draw 

If healthy, that is. The trainer visited Nadal in the fourth set for a stomach issue as last year's Wimbledon semifinalist rallied. 

In past years, Nadal’s semifinal would have been played on Thursday, but a scheduling change made this year sees both semifinals moved to Friday. He was far from disappointed. 

"After these matches, it's great to have two days off," said Nadal, who suffered from Covid in December following his long layoff from a foot injury.

"I hope and I really believe I am going to be ready for the semifinals. 

"For me it's everything to be able to play one more time in Rod Laver Arena in that semifinal match. I'm just excited and happy and can't thank everyone enough for the support.

"We can create history or this stuff but the real truth is that two months ago we didn't know if we will be able to be back on tour at all, so here I am, for me it's just a present of life that I am playing tennis again."  

Big serving by Nadal in the fifth averted early danger, and the contrast of emotions was plain to see when Shapovalov erred on a volley on match point. 

The world No.14 pummelled his racquet while Nadal, 35, looked at his box in sheer jubilation. 

Shapovalov remains one of the flashiest shot-makers in tennis. Efficiency and grit have matched the spectacular this fortnight as he beat the likes of Alexander Zverev and Reilly Opelka with new coach Jamie Delgado – formerly of Team Andy Murray – alongside. 

Yet he is still prone to making unforced errors in bunches. Three in succession, including two sprayed forehands, assisted Nadal in breaking for 3-1 in the first, and 13 came altogether in the fifth. 

Still, his overall tally of 53 winners and 51 unforced errors impressed. 

Nadal didn't face a break point in the first, his lone moment of concern erased at 5-3, 30-15 when he pounced on a popped-up volley and ripped a forehand winner.  

Shapovalov wasn't pleased with the time Nadal took to receive serve starting the second set, telling chair umpire Carlos Bernardes, "He's still not ready to play."

The players came together at the net prior to Nadal's next service game, the Mallorcan seemingly not too fussed, however. 

Shapovalov and Nadal made their points early in the second set

Games stretched on the Nadal serve in the second but he hung on for 3-3, overcoming a double fault on game point, one of his total of 11.  

A break then quickly arrived for Nadal. At 30-40, a net cord allowed Nadal time to produce a forehand winner. 

A gutsy second serve fended off one set point, but Nadal grabbed a two-set lead in the next game. 

Shapovalov needed to tweak, and did. Serving and volleying, plus more potency on the second serves, were among the adjustments. 

In hindsight, holding from 0-30 to start the third proved huge.  

Shapovalov earned his first two break points at 3-2 – after a pair of double faults. But two first serves accounted for them both, a Nadal fist pump punctuating the eventual hold. 

Nadal wasn't as fortunate when a double fault surfaced at 4-5, Shapovalov's backhand winner officially forcing a fourth. 

Nadal's ninth double fault gifted Shapovalov a 3-1 lead in the fourth, before trainer Paul Ness arrived at 4-1.  

It wasn't the drama Nadal wanted, a round after contesting the longest tiebreak of his career (16-14) against another lefty, Adrian Mannarino. 

"I started to not feel very well in my stomach, so I just asked if they can do something," said Nadal.

"They just checked that everything was alright on my body and then I took some tablets to try to improve the stomach problem I had. That's all."


Shapovalov was often brilliant, but departed with head bowed

Shapovalov was in the ascendancy, his error count diminishing as his bold play befuddled Nadal. 

A creaking Nadal escaped to start the fifth with an ace on break point, holding with a reflexed backhand volley that normally might have elicited a bigger celebration than the muted fist pump that ensued. 

Now serving second, Shapovalov dipped, a double fault and wild mishit giving Nadal a 2-0 advantage. 

They took turns ruing unforced errors in the next game, the tension escalating with Nadal thwarting two more break points in a 10-minute game. Shapovalov's angst peaked when Nadal's backhand volley when serving and volleying produced a net-cord winner. 

Shapovalov never got another chance, and he fell to Nadal for the fourth straight time.

Shapovalov's pal Felix Auger-Aliassime might still give Canada a semifinalist, but Nadal is back in familiar territory in Melbourne.