Nadal hangs on to beat Shapovalov, advances to Aussie Open semis

Graham Denholm / Getty Images Sport / Getty

MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) — Rafael Nadal fended off Denis Shapovalov in a four-hour, five-set match to reach the Australian Open semifinals for the seventh time, and said he felt almost “destroyed.”

After breaking his racket on the hard court in frustration at the end of the 6-3, 6-4, 4-6, 3-6, 6-3 loss, Shapovalov said he felt like Nadal got special treatment.

There were plenty of momentum-shifting moments on a hot Tuesday at Rod Laver Arena, including Nadal needing treatment for a stomach ailment after dominating the first 2 1/2 sets and Shapovalov complaining that his rival was wasting time.

None of it changed the fact that Nadal is one step closer in his bid for a men’s-record 21st Grand Slam singles title. He denied ever getting any special treatment, and added that Shapovalov was young and said he would get over it.

The 35-year-old Spaniard shares the men's record of 20 major singles titles with Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic. Neither of those two are in Melbourne: Federer continues to recover from knee surgery, and nine-time champion Djokovic was deported for failing to meet Australia's strict COVID-19 vaccination requirements.

At a tournament where he's clinched the title only once (2009) and lost seven of his previous 13 quarterfinals — by far his worst conversion rate at any of the four major tournaments — Nadal looked vulnerable in the third and fourth sets.

But following a seven-minute break between the last point of the fourth set and his first serve in the fifth, he recovered sufficiently to hold and then break Shapovalov's serve for a 2-0 lead in the decider.

“I respect everything that Rafa has done and I think he’s an unbelievable player. But, you know, there’s got to be some boundaries, some rules set,” Shapovalov said. "It’s just so frustrating as a player. You feel like you’re not just playing against the player; you’re playing against the umpires, you’re playing against so much more.

“I mean, it was a big break after the fourth set for this reason, and the momentum just goes away.”

Nadal held onto the break through the fifth set and when it was over, he went to the corner and nodded his head a few times. Then he went back on court and properly celebrated. Shapovalov left a shattered racket on the court.

“I was completely destroyed. Tough day. Very warm,” Nadal said. "At the beginning of the match I was playing great (but) Denis is very talented, very aggressive. He was serving huge — especially the second serve.

“I think I had my chances at beginning of the third. I didn’t get it. I started to feel a little bit more tired. For me, it’s amazing to be in the semifinals.”

The men's semifinals are both scheduled for Friday, giving Nadal two days off.

“I’m not 21 anymore!” he said. "After this ... great to have two days off.

“I felt quite good physically in terms of movement. At least it was a great test. I really believe I’m going to be ready for the semifinals.”

Nadal hangs on to beat Shapovalov, advances to Aussie Open semis
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