ROME: Defending champion Rafael Nadal was knocked out of the Italian Open after the 21-times major winner was beaten 1-6, 7-5, 6-2 by Canadian Denis Shapovalov in the last-16 on Thursday.
Nadal had a solid start, but the 35-year-old struggled physically towards the end of the contest, raising doubts over his fitness ahead of the French Open, which he has won a record 13 times.
The Spaniard, who has endured a string of injuries during a career spanning more than two decades, dominated the opening set with his brilliant return of serves.
Canadian Shapovalov responded in style by racing to a 4-1 lead in the second set with his energetic and attacking play, but Nadal got back into the contest by winning the next three games.
Nadal saved a set point at 4-5 but a series of unforced errors and lack of aggression from him saw the match go into the deciding third set.
World number four Nadal broke through right away at the start of the decider but later limped with an apparent foot injury, likely related to his chronic left-foot problem.
Shapovalov went won 17 of the last 20 points, completing his comeback as he handed Nadal his earliest Rome exit since 2008.
“I am not injured. I am a player living with an injury. That’s it,” Nadal told reporters. “I started the match playing much better. My practice was much better, the warm-up, than the other day. Then when these kind of stuff happens, the rest of the things, the rest of the positive things disappears.
World number 16 Shapovalov, who had pushed Nadal all the way when knocked out at this stage of the tournament last year, will now face fifth seed Casper Ruud in the quarter-finals. Ruud won 6-3, 6-4 against Jenson Brooksby.
Last year’s Rome runner-up Novak Djokovic swept past Swiss veteran Stan Wawrinka 6-2, 6-2 in one hour, 16 minutes to reach the quarter-finals as he bids for a sixth Italian Open title.
Djokovic will face Canadian Felix Auger Aliassime in the quarter finals after the 21-year-old beat American Marcos Giron 6-3, 6-2.
World number three Alexander Zverev chalked up a century of match wins at Masters 1000 events with a 6-3, 7-6 (7-5) win over Australian Alex de Minaur to set up a last-eight clash with Cristian Garin, who beat Marin Cilic 6-3, 4-6, 6-4.
World number five Stefanos Tsitsipas battled back from a set down to beat 4-6, 6-0, 6-3 Russian Karen Khachanov which sets him up with home hope Jannick Sinner, who reached his first quarter-final in Rome with a 6-2, 7-6 (8-6) victory over Filip Krajinovic.
Women’s world number one Iga Swiatek claimed her 25th straight victory, defeating Victoria Azarenka 6-4, 6-1 despite a rocky start.
Swiatek will be expected to beat her quarter-final opponent Bianca Andreescu after the world number 90 came through against Petra Martic 6-4, 6-4.
Third seed Aryna Sabalenka defeated Jessica Pegula 6-1, 6-4 to reach the Rome last eight for the first time, while Jil Teichmann beat Elena Rybakina 6-7 (3-7), 6-3, 7-5 in a match that lasted more than three hours.
In an all-American battle, Amanda Anisimova emerged a 6-2, 6-2 winner over Danielle Collins, while fourth seed Maria Sakkari defeated Coco Gauff 6-4, 7-5.
Daria Kasatkina knocked second seed Paula Badosa out with a 6-4, 6-4 victory.
Published in Dawn, May 14th, 2022