Tennis: Nadal fends off Shapovalov, advances to semis in Australia

AP , Tuesday 25 Jan 2022

Rafael Nadal held off Denis Shapovalov 6-3, 6-4, 4-6, 3-6, 6-3 in four hours to reach the Australian Open semifinals for the seventh time and keep his bid on track for a men’s-record 21st Grand Slam singles title.

Rafael Nadal
Rafael Nadal of Spain plays a forehand return to Denis Shapovalov of Canada during their quarterfinal match at the Australian Open tennis championships in Melbourne, Australia, Tuesday, Jan. 25, 2022. (AP)

Nadal shares the record of 20 with Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic for most singles titles in men's tennis majors. Neither of those two are in Melbourne.

Nadal was dominant for the first 2 1/2 sets against No. 14 Shapovalov, but appeared to be hampered at times by a stomach problem in the third and fourth sets.

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 suddenly looked vulnerable.

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.

He held onto the break and when he clinched the match, Nadal went to the corner and nodded his head a few times and did a subdued fist-pumping celebration. 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 will play either seventh-seeded Matteo Berrettini or No. 17 Gael Monfils. Berrettin was a Wimbledon runner-up last year; Monfils is 35 and contesting his second quarterfinal in 17 trips to Australia.

Madison Keys continued her resurgent 2022 season by reaching the semifinals in Australia for the first time since 2015 with a 6-3, 6-2 victory over French Open champion Barbora Krejcikova.

And resurgent might be a major understatement.

The 1-hour, 25-minute win over Krejcikova contained 11 aces, 27 winners and just one dropped service game and was her 10th win in a row and 11th of the new year.

That includes five wins so far at Melbourne Park, starting with a straight-sets victory over 2020 Australian Open winner Sofia Kenin, plus five in winning the Adelaide International — her first title since 2019 — and one at an earlier Melbourne tournament.

She only won 11 matches in 2021, saying she was focusing too heavily on results, and her year-end ranking slumped to 56th. It was the first time since 2014 she’d finished outside the Top 20.

“I did everything I could to rest this off-season and focus on starting fresh and new . . . starting from zero and not focusing on last year,” Keys said in her on-court interview. “I think it’s going well so far!”

She lost an Australian Open semifinal to Serena Williams in 2015, her first trip to the final four at a major. She reached the final at the 2017 U.S. Open and semis at Roland Garros and the U.S. Open in 2018, but hadn’t made it back to the last four in a Grand Slam since then.

The feeling in Melbourne will be vastly different. She could be facing either top-ranked Ash Barty, an Australian, or fellow American Jessica Pegula.

“I’m seven years older and it’s not my first semifinal of a Slam,” she said. “I think I’m a little bit more prepared this time around than I was all those years ago.”

Krejcikova took a medical timeout while trailing 5-2 in the first set from what might have been heat stress, and appeared to be lethargic at times during the 35-minute second set.

Temperatures was peaking toward 32 degrees Celsius (90 Fahrenheit) under almost cloudless skies.

“It was the heat with some physical conditions that started to bother me after five games,” Krejcikova, who is still playing in the doubles draw, said. “I mean, from there on, you know, I just couldn’t put it together.

“I have been struggling with something. Yes, it was happening and I didn’t feel good. I just don’t want to talk about it because I think Madison, she really deserves the win and she really deserves to get the credit. ”

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