Canadian Denis Shapovalov nearly stuns Rafael Nadal but loses marathon at Italian Open
Richmond Hill, Ont., native couldn't convert pair of match points against King of Clay
After four disappointing tournaments in a row, Denis Shapovalov fell just short of pulling off one of the biggest victories of his career on Thursday.
The Canadian just couldn't land the knockout blow against the player widely considered to be the best clay-court competitor in history.
Spanish star Rafael Nadal rallied from a break down in both the second and third sets to beat Shapovalov 3-6, 6-4, 7-6 (3) in a third-round thriller at the Italian Open that lasted three hours 27 minutes.
A 13-time French Open champion and a 20-time Grand Slam winner, Nadal also has won the Italian Open on nine occasions. He is 456-42 all-time on clay.
Nadal has now won 19 matches in a row against left-handers — his last setback against a lefty was in 2017 when he lost to a then-18-year-old Shapovalov at the Rogers Cup in Montreal, a result that put the Canadian in the national spotlight.
"To be able to win these kind of matches against young players give me confidence with my body," Nadal said.
WATCH | Shapovalov comes up short against Nadal:
'These matches, you have nothing to lose'
Shapovalov, from Richmond Hill, Ont., came into the Italian Open having not won more than one match at his past four events. He was eliminated by lower-ranked players each time.
"These matches, you have nothing to lose," Shapovalov said of facing Nadal. "In tennis, I don't know, we're lucky. In the UFC, you have like one chance to fight the top guy. In tennis, you have a lot of chances.
"Of course, in this kind of sense it's great to have these opportunities. You go out, play with nothing to lose. Who is going to give me crap for losing to Rafa? Of course, it helps to play freely.
The 13th-seeded Shapovalov failed to convert on two match points on Nadal's serve with a 6-5 lead in the third set.
In the second set, Shapovalov was up 3-1 and had a 40-0 lead on serve in the ensuing game before the second-seeded Nadal stormed back for a break to get back into the match.
Shapovalov had the edge in winners (41-29) and aces (12-2).
Nadal is now 3-2 against Shapovalov, with one of the Canadian's wins coming by virtue of a walkover.
"Of course, there's a lot of positives," Shapovalov said. "In the end I lost, so that's it. As far as this week, it's much better level-wise than the previous weeks. That's how athletes are. If you lose, you lose. It's not very positive."
Nadal, a nine-time champion in Rome, will next face Alexander Zverev, the 2017 Rome champion and the winner of last week's Madrid Open.
Zverev also won in a comeback, beating Kei Nishikori 4-6, 6-3, 6-4.
"I have to do things better for tomorrow," Nadal said.
Meanwhile, Montreal's Felix Auger-Aliassime lost 7-6 (3), 6-1 to Argentine qualifier Federico Delbonis in another third-round match on Thursday.
WATCH | Auger-Aliassime falls to Delbonis at Italian Open:
Delbonis next faces American Reilly Opelka, who eliminated Karatsev, an Australian Open semifinalist, 7-6 (6), 6-4.
Opelka served 18 aces to record his third consecutive straight-set win — after entering Rome on a six-match losing streak that included dealing with a bout of COVID-19. He has yet to drop his serve this week.
Another quarterfinal will feature Andrey Rublev against local hope Lorenzo Sonego. Rublev dispatched Roberto Bautista Agut 6-4, 6-4 and Sonego overcame Dominic Thiem 6-4, 6-7 (5), 7-6 (5).
With files from The Associated Press