Rafa Nadal will arrive for the first time in his career in Paris without tasting a title on clay. The culprit was Denis Shapovalov, who beat the defending champion at the Rome Masters 1000 by 1-6, 7-5, 6-2 in their round of 16 match in two hours and 39 minutes.
How did Nadal lose?
The Spaniard, who will have played just five matches on his favorite surface when he makes his debut at Roland Garros – three in Madrid and two in Rome – and who finished the match with an obvious limp, was surprised by the aggressiveness of a Shapovalov who went from strength to strength, finally unleashing all his virtues.
The first set, however, was a master class of the Spaniard, who showed many of the weapons that have led him to be a legend on clay. Quick of legs and head and giving the match just what he claimed before a very accelerated Shapovalov who chained a stick after another with little fortune.
The Spaniard added just three unforced errors in this first set and four winners, including the parallel backhand that led to the first break of the match. The script, for the moment, was the desired.
Nadal could put a spike in Flanders in the first game of the second set but wasted three break balls that Shapovalov made him pay in spades. Especially because the Canadian won in confidence, tempered the nerves and began to play tennis without that haste so harmful to their interests.
In no time, the American was 3-0 and put enormous pressure on the winner of 21 majors, who could not decipher the open serves of his rival. The situation was not exactly flattering but Rafa managed to recover the break and straighten the set. Or so it seemed…
Because the truth is that Shapovalov continued to do his thing, winning his serve with great solvency and putting pressure on the rest. So much so that Rafa had to save two break points in the eighth game and a first set point in the tenth, before giving up his serve and the set in the twelfth.
A devastating statistic
The third set started with a Nadal break and a counterbreak from the good Denis, who at times seemed to have a hammer in his left arm, stripping Rafa who is far from his best form. That alone explains why the American took 16 of the last 19 points in play, several of them with little resistance from Rafa.
It is only the tenth time that the Spaniard has lost a clay court match after winning the first set. The remaining 396 fell on his side. Needless to say, Nadal has a lot of work ahead of him heading into the second major of the year but let no one leave him for dead.
Shapovalov’s opponent in the quarterfinals will be the Norwegian Casper Ruud, who yesterday beat the American Jenson Brooksby 6-3, 6-4.