‘Rafael Nadal is incredible in tight situations,’ young gun recalls

Rafael Nadal had a rough 2021 season. The Spaniard dropped out from the leading positions for the first time in a couple of years and played only two matches after Roland Garros. The king of clay lost the Roland Garros trophy to Novak Djokovic, and his most notable title came a few weeks earlier at Foro Italico. Rafa could have experienced an early exit at the Rome Masters, facing Denis Shapovalov in the third round. The Canadian defeated the Spaniard as a teenager in 2017 at home in Montreal. He had a massive chance to repeat that in the Italian capital four years later. Shapovalov wasted two match points in the deciding set’s 12th game in a heartbreaking 3-6, 6-4, 7-6 loss after grueling three hours and 27 minutes! As was expected, Denis admitted it was a tough loss to accept. Still, he was not surprised by the outcome or Nadal’s fighting spirit, saying he did that many times in the past against various rivals.

Rafael Nadal needed three and a half hours to beat Denis Shapovalov in Rome 2021.

Praising the Spaniard, the Canadian said that Rafa played on a high level when it mattered the most to avoid the defeat. The youngster was happy with how he performed, declaring he would sleep well that night after knowing he gave his everything. Denis hit 40 winners and 45 unforced errors, playing brave tennis and staying in touch with Rafa in the shortest and mid-range exchanges. Nadal did not play well in the opener, suffering three breaks and finding himself 3-0 down in set number two! Facing elimination, Rafa claimed six of the next seven games to turn the tables and force a decider. Starting all over, Shapovalov earned a 3-1 advantage that did not last long, as Nadal pulled the break back to prolong the battle. The Spaniard wasted three break chances at 5-5 before facing those two match points in the next one. He repelled them and clinched the tie break 7-3 after forcing Denis’ error to advance into the quarter-final and survive a massive scare. Shapovalov avenged this loss this May, beating Rafa at Foro Italico after another great battle.

“It’s a tough loss. It’s not the first time Rafa’s done this, and I’m not the first person to lose against him after having match points. Rafa deals with pressure efficiently in those pivotal moments. Still, I’m pleased how I performed and will not have trouble sleeping tonight,” Denis Shapovalov said.