Rafael Nadal survives Denis Shapovalov fightback to win epic Australian Open quarter-final

Spanish sixth seed edges Canadian after five sets inside Rod Laver Arena to reach last four

Rafael Nadal of Spain celebrates after defeating Denis Shapovalov in their quarter-final match at the Australian Open. AP
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Rafael Nadal reached his seventh Australian Open semi-final on Tuesday after surviving a fightback from Denis Shapovalov and coming through in five gruelling sets.

Nadal, 35, looked to be in cruise control when he moved into a two-set lead on Rod Laver Arena, before Shapovalov found a new level to win sets three and four and take the match into a decider.

The Spanish sixth seed, who was troubled by a stomach issue midway through the contest, marshalled his resources off court with a medical time-out then returned after the fourth set to break Shapovalov in the second game to wrest back the momentum. With the rest of the match staying on serve, Nadal clinched a 6-3, 6-4, 4-6, 3-6, 6-3 victory in 4hr 8min.

“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 semi-finals.”

Nadal's presence in the latter stages of the Australian Open is remarkable and testament to the Spaniard's fighting spirit. The former world No 1 returned to the ATP Tour earlier this month having cut short his 2021 season last August due to a long-term foot injury. His preparations for the Australian summer were set back further after testing positive for Covid-19 last month, shortly after returning to Spain from Abu Dhabi, where he competed at the Mubadala World Tennis Championship.

Nadal, who made a winning return to the circuit by winning an Australian Open tune-up event in Melbourne, will now have two days' rest before the semi-finals, where he will take on Italian seventh seed Matteo Berrettini who fought off a comeback of his own agsainst Gael Monfils of France, eventually coming out on top 6-4, 6-4, 3-6, 3-6, 6-2.

“I’m not 21 anymore! After this, great to have two days off," Nadal said. “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 semi-finals.”

Nadal is bidding to strike out on his own as the most decorated male Grand Slam champion of all-time. He is currently level on 20 majors title alongside Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer.

Shapovalov, meanwhile, accused umpires of giving Nadal preferential treatment and was unhappy with the amount of time the Spaniard was taking between points, twice complaining to umpire Carlos Bernardes.

"I think it's unfair how much Rafa is getting away with," said Shapovalov. "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."

Updated: January 25, 2022, 2:32 PM