Nine-time champion Rafael Nadal saved two match points to defeat Canada’s Denis Shapovalov in a three-set battle on Thursday to set up a rematch with his Madrid Masters slayer Alexander Zverev in the quarter-finals of the Italian Open.
Second seed Nadal won through 3-6, 6-4, 7-6 (7/3) after nearly 3hr 30min on court against the 13th-seeded Shapovalov.
Madrid winner Zverev also survived a scare before the sixth seed got past Japan’s Kei Nishikori 4-6, 6-3, 6-4 in just under three hours.
Nadal lost to Zverev in the Madrid last-eight last week, with the German having now won his last three matches against the Spaniard.
“The main thing today for me is recover physically,” said 34-year-old Nadal.
“These kind of matches always are tough, tough to recover playing the next day. I don’t have to hide that. That’s the truth. But let’s see.”
The Spaniard will be making his 16th last-eight appearance in Rome. It will also be his 97th ATP Masters 1000 quarter-final.
Zverev, 24, was also apprehensive after a tough week on clay.
“I think last week and now this match for me is going to catch up tomorrow,” he said.
“At the end of the day, he’s one of the biggest competitors in the world and I’m going to try to be one myself tomorrow.”
Nadal trailed by 0-4 in the opening set, and 0-3 in the second.
Shapovalov also broke for 3-1 in the third set but Nadal broke back immediately and held on despite two match points against him in the 12th game to force a tie-break.
Nadal’s experience in the high-pressure moments paid off against the 22-year-old who had beaten him in their first meeting in Montreal in 2017.
“It’s an important victory for me. Be able to win matches like today, long matches,” said 20-time Grand Slam winner Nadal.
“To be able to win these kind of matches against young players give me confidence with my body.”
For Shapovalov there were only “one or two points” the difference in the clash of left-handers.
“It’s just a tough loss but who’s going to give me crap for losing to Rafa?” said the Canadian who won his only ATP title in Stockholm in 2019.
Zverev dropped just five games to 45th-ranked Nishikori last week in the second round in Madrid, but was pushed harder in the Foro Italico.
Nishikori was up a break in the third set and saved three break points in one service game, eventually taking a 4-1 lead.
But Zverev broke back at 2-4, winning the final five games to reproduce his form from the Spanish capital.
The 2017 Rome champion converted five of his 13 break points and won 70 percent of his first-serve points to advance as Nishikori slumped to an 11th consecutive defeat against Top 10 opponents.
© Agence France-Presse