Nadal saves match points to advance

May 18, 2021
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    Fans at the Italian OpenSpectators were allowed into the Italian Open on Thursday for the first time this week

    Rafael Nadal saved two match points to overcome a huge test from Denis Shapovalov and reach the Italian Open quarter-finals.

    The Spaniard was a set and a break down but outlasted the Canadian to win 3-6 6-4 7-6 (7-3) in a near three-and-a-half-hour contest.

    Nadal, chasing a 10th title in Rome, forced a third-set tie-break by saving match points at 6-5.

    Meanwhile, Novak Djokovic reached his 15th Rome quarter-final in a row.

    The world number one and defending champion dropped his opening serve but recovered immediately to beat Spanish qualifier Alejandro Davidovich Fokina 6-2 6-1.

    Is Nadal wobbling on clay?

    Nadal will bid for a record 21st men's Grand Slam singles title at the French Open starting on 30 May, as well as a record-extending 14th Roland Garros title.

    He may have won this match on Thursday but it still raised question marks over the Spaniard's form before the French Open, even if his determination to win was as strong as ever.

    He was beaten in the Madrid quarter-finals by Alexander Zverev last week and at the same stage in Monte Carlo by Andrey Rublev last month.

    Although he won the Barcelona title in April, Nadal had to save a championship point to beat Stefanos Tsitsipas in the final.

    Against 22-year-old Shapovalov he saved a break point that would have put the Canadian 4-0 up in the second set and also went a break down in the third set. That, alongside some struggles with his serve and the match points he faced, were yet more dents in the aura of invincibility he has exuded on the clay for so many years.

    "It was a really difficult match, the score was against me almost all the time, but I was there, I was fighting all the time, I didn't give away anything," said 34-year-old Nadal, who plays Germany's Zverev on Friday for a place in the semi-finals.

    "To be able to win these kind of matches against young players gives me confidence with my body."

    Djokovic enjoys return of crowd in Rome

    The previous rounds of the tournament had been held behind closed doors but on Thursday the venue welcomed back spectators with 25% capacity allowed.

    "It was not good, it was great. I missed the crowd," the five-time champion Djokovic, 33, said.

    "It was nice to see them back."

    After losing his opening service game against Davidovich Fokina, Djokovic went on to outclass the Spanish qualifier – who staged some late resistance by saving five match points – in a clinical display.

    He said his performance had been "at least 20-30% better" than against American Taylor Fritz in his opening match on Tuesday, when he directed a furious outburst towards the umpire over the playing conditions and had been prone to errors.

    Djokovic will take on fifth seed Stefanos Tsitsipas for a place in the last four after the Greek beat Italy's Matteo Berrettini 7-6 (7-3) 6-2.

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