Rafael Nadal was in a challenging position ahead of his Roland Garros campaign. The Spaniard missed Monte Carlo and Barcelona after fracturing his left rib in Indian Wells. The king of clay returned to action in Madrid and Rome but could not play at his best.
Carlos Alcaraz toppled Rafa in Madrid and played even worse in Rome. Struggling with a foot injury, Nadal lost to Denis Shapovalov in the third round, almost retiring in the third set and leaving Rome limping! Denis stayed focused in the second set and earned a 1-6, 7-5, 6-2 triumph in two hours and 37 minutes.
Denis won three points more than Rafa, fired 13 aces and defended seven out of 11 break points. Nadal got broken five times, three in the final set, when he could not stay in touch physically. Shapovalov had a clear edge with 35 winners and 39 unforced errors, firing 30 service winners and doing everything right at the net.
There was nothing to separate them in the shortest and more extended rallies. Denis saved his best tennis for the most crucial parts of the clash to find himself in the last eight. Nadal was the only player on the court in the opening set, serving well and delivering two breaks to control the scoreboard.
Serving for the set in game seven, Rafa fired a service winner for 6-1 in 42 minutes, looking more than fine so far. The Canadian survived three break points and seven deuces at the beginning of the second set to gain a boost.
Rafael Nadal lost to Denis Shapovalov in Rome.
He broke Nadal in the second game after the Spaniard’s backhand error and cracked a forehand down the line winner in the next one for 3-0. Not giving up, Nadal earned three break chances in game seven and grabbed the first after Shapovalov’s loose forehand for 3-4.
The Spaniard denied a break point in game eight with a volley winner at the net and saved another with a service winner to level the score at 4-4. The Canadian placed a deep return in game ten and created a set point with a forehand crosscourt winner.
Nadal saved it and held with a backhand down the line winner that locked the result at 5-5. From 30-0 up in game 12, Rafa lost four straight points on his serve. He sprayed a backhand mistake to hand the set to his rival and seal his fate in this match following his physical state.
Shapovalov hit a wild forehand at the start of the decider to lose serve and broke back in the next one after Nadal’s loose backhand. Rafa leveled the score at 2-2 after two hours and 20 minutes, but it was all we saw from him.
He barely continued after the fifth game, and Shapovalov broke at love in the next one to open a 4-2 gap. Denis fired an ace in game seven for a hold at love, taking 12 straight points and moving closer to the finish line. Shapovalov placed a backhand winner in the eighth game for match points and converted the third after Nadal’s backhand error to score a notable win.
“I left Rome limping. If the doctors had not found the solution to numb the nerve in my foot and remove the pain, I would not have had a chance at Roland Garros. My preparation was far from good, but the confidence was there after winning the Australian Open,” Rafael Nadal said.