Novak Djokovic serves the ball to Alejandro Davidovich Fokina during their 3rd round match at the Italian Open tennis tournament, in Rome, Thursday, May 13, 2021. (AP Photo/Alessandra Tarantino)

Never count him out: Nadal rallies past Shapovalov in Rome

Never count him out: Nadal rallies past Shapovalov in Rome

ROME (AP) — When it comes to long, grueling clay-court battles, nobody is better than Rafael Nadal.

Nearing his 35th birthday, the Spanish great showed he’s still got the stamina to withstand much younger challengers in a 3-6, 6-4, 7-6 (3) comeback win over 22-year-old Denis Shapovalov on Thursday that secured him a spot in the Italian Open quarterfinals.

Nadal roared back from 3-0 down in the second set and then saved two match points on his serve at 6-5 in the third.

It seems — and it’s been this way since Nadal started dominating back in 2005 — that the Spaniard gets tougher and tougher to beat the longer matches wear on.

“That’s why he’s won so many matches on clay,” Shapovalov said. “It’s not the first time Rafa’s done this. I’m not the first person to lose with match points. He does well with the pressure in those moments.”

Nadal, who will be aiming for a record-extending 14th French Open title next month, was also pushed at times in a straight-set win over 19-year-old Jannik Sinner that ended late Wednesday.

Then there was his long three-set victory over Stefanos Tsitsipas — another 22-year-old — in the Barcelona Open final last month.

“To be able to win these kind of matches against young players give me confidence with my body,” Nadal said.

Nadal struggled to hold serve at the start, while Shapovalov was blasting aces and winners with his one-handed backhand. Nadal dug in, though, and started to win the longer rallies.

Shapovalov missed a backhand to conclude a long rally on his first match point then shanked a forehand on his second. A costly double-fault handed Nadal a 3-1 lead in the tiebreaker and the Spaniard quickly closed it out after 3 hours, 27 minutes.

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.

Earlier, top-ranked Novak Djokovic cruised past Spanish qualifier Alejandro Davidovich Fokina 6-2, 6-1.

Djokovic will next face Tsitsipas, who eliminated Matteo Berrettini 7-6 (3), 6-2 in a matchup of top-10 players.

“It’s going to be a battle,” said Djokovic, who has reached the quarterfinals in each of his 15 Rome appearances.

After spectators were banned from the opening rounds because of the coronavirus pandemic, capacity was at 25% as part of the Italian government’s re-opening plan.

“I missed the crowd as much as anybody else — one of the biggest reasons why I keep on playing,” Djokovic said.

A five-time champion in Rome — with his last title coming in September when the tournament was moved amid the pandemic — Djokovic has had a rough start to the clay season.

He lost in the third round loss to Daniel Evans in Monte Carlo followed by a defeat to Aslan Karatsev in the semifinals of his home tournament, the Belgrade Open.

Djokovic said he played “at least 20-30% better” than he did against Taylor Fritz in his opening match in Rome.

“So I’m on a good trajectory,” he added.

Also reaching the quarterfinals was 6-foot-11 (2.11-meter) 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.

Opelka next faces Argentine qualifier Federico Delbonis, who beat Felix Auger-Aliassime 7-6 (3), 6-1.

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).

Sonego had loud vocal support from the crowd during the opening two sets and was also able to maintain his focus in the third after the crowd was sent home due to a 10 p.m. nation-wide curfew.

In the women’s tournament, top-ranked Ash Barty beat Veronika Kudermetova 6-3, 6-3 and will next face American teenager Coco Gauff, who defeated Madrid champion Aryna Sabalenka 7-5, 6-3.

The 17-year-old Gauff said she learned how to stay relaxed by watching the Japanese anime series Demon Slayer.

“The main character, Tanjiro, he has this breathing technique right before he fights. When I get nervous, I notice that slowing down my breathing helps me a lot,” Gauff said. “At least five to 10 times it was in my head. You got to do the total concentration breathing that Tanjiro does.”

___

More AP Tennis: https://apnews.com/hub/tennis and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

___

Andrew Dampf on Twitter: www.twitter.com/AndrewDampf

Andrew Dampf, The Associated Press

Tennis

 

Canada's Denis Shapovalov reacts after missing a point as he plays Spain's Rafael Nadal during their 3rd round match at the Italian Open tennis tournament, in Rome, Thursday, May 13, 2021. (AP Photo/Alessandra Tarantino)

Spain's Rafael Nadal prepares to serve the ball to Canada's Denis Shapovalov during their 3rd round match at the Italian Open tennis tournament, in Rome, Thursday, May 13, 2021. (AP Photo/Alessandra Tarantino)

Just Posted

Alberta is now below 3,000 active cases of COVID-19, as the province reported 2,639 Wednesday. (NIAID-RML via AP)
Red Deer below 100 active COVID-19 cases for first time since March

69.7 per cent of Albertans 12 and over have at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine

A Comox Valley 55+ baseball team isa being organized for the 2021 season. ADOBE STOCK IMAGE
18U AAA Carstar Braves start season strong

The Red Deer Carstar 18U AAA Carstar Braves started the Baseball Alberta… Continue reading

(Contributed image).
Online poetry reading to benefit Red Deer women experiencing period poverty

The Period Promise Poetry Powerhouse is a central Alberta collective of some… Continue reading

Montreal Canadiens right wing Paul Byron, right, celebrates after scoring on Vegas Golden Knights goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury (29) during the second period in Game 2 of an NHL hockey Stanley Cup semifinal playoff series, Wednesday, June 16, 2021, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/David Becker)
Montreal hangs on for 3-2 win to even series with Golden Knights at a game each

Canadiens 3 Golden Knights 2 (Series tied 1-1) LAS VEGAS — Montreal… Continue reading

New York Yankees Gary Sanchez celebrates his two-run home run during the seventh inning of the team's baseball game against the Toronto Blue Jays, Wednesday, June 16, 2021, in Buffalo, N.Y. (AP Photo/Jeffrey T. Barnes)
Cole, Sánchez, Chapman come through as Yanks edge Blue Jays

Yankees 3 Blue Jays 2 BUFFALO, N.Y. — Gerrit Cole pitched eight… Continue reading

Atlanta Hawks' Trae Young, right, is fouled by Philadelphia 76ers' Matisse Thybulle during the second half of Game 5 in a second-round NBA basketball playoff series, Wednesday, June 16, 2021, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)
Hawks rally from 26 points down, stun 76ers in Game 5

Hawks 109 76ers 106 (Atlanta leads series 3-2) PHILADELPHIA — Trae Young… Continue reading

Green party Leader Annamie Paul speaks during a news conference on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Tuesday, June 15, 2021. Paul has survived another day of party strife after a planned ouster shifted course, leaving her with a tenuous grip on power ahead of a likely federal election this year. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang
Green Leader Annamie Paul blasts ‘racist,’ ‘sexist’ party execs who sought ouster

OTTAWA — Annamie Paul is firing back against the coterie of party… Continue reading

Conservative Sen. Claude Carignan leaves the Senate Chamber on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on June 19, 2018. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang
Bill to implement UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples clears Senate

OTTAWA — A landmark piece of Liberal legislation aimed at harmonizing Canada’s… Continue reading

Tampa Bay Lightning left wing Alex Killorn (17) flips a shot on New York Islanders goaltender Semyon Varlamov (40) during the second period in Game 1 of an NHL hockey Stanley Cup semifinal playoff series Sunday, June 13, 2021, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/Chris O'Meara)
Russian goalies highlight Lightning-Islanders series

NEW YORK — Semyon Varlamov is the wily veteran, coming off a… Continue reading

Canada's Felix Auger-Aliassime reacts during his ATP Tour Singles, Men, Round of 16 tennis match against Switzerland's Roger Federer in Halle, Germany, Wednesday, June 16, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Friso Gentsch-dpa via AP
Canadian Felix Auger-Aliassime upsets Roger Federer in second round of Noventi Open

HALLE, Germany — Canada’s Felix Auger-Aliassime earned one of the biggest victories… Continue reading

A course official keeps out of the sun on the seventh green during a practice round of the U.S. Open Golf Championship, Tuesday, June 15, 2021, at Torrey Pines Golf Course in San Diego. (AP Photo/Gregory Bull)
A different US Open than imagined at Torrey Pines

The spectacular ocean vistas will fill TV screens as usual, along with… Continue reading

Most Read