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Ailing Nadal outlasts Denis Shapovalov in dramatic Australian Open quarter-final

Madison Keys pulled off another big upset with a straight-sets, last-eight victory.

A triumphant Rafael Nadal.
A triumphant Rafael Nadal.
Image: Tertius Pickard

AN AILING RAFAEL Nadal battled to a five-set victory over Denis Shapovalov in a dramatic Australian Open quarter-final.

Nadal lost from two sets up against Stefanos Tsitsipas at the same stage last year and it appeared the same may well happen when Shapovalov forced a decider on Rod Laver Arena.

But Nadal, who had called the trainer for a stomach issue during the fourth set, made his experience count to move ahead early in the fifth and hold on for a 6-3 6-4 4-6 3-6 6-3 victory.

A relieved Nadal said: “I was completely destroyed. Very tough day, very warm. I didn’t practise for it.

“I was a little bit lucky at the beginning of the fifth. At the beginning of the match I was playing great but I know how difficult it is to play against a player like Denis.

“For me it’s amazing to be in the semi-finals.”

Importantly, the 35-year-old now has two days off to try to recover physically before his semi-final against either Matteo Berrettini or Gael Monfils.

“I started to feel not very well in my stomach,” said the sixth seed. “I think I was lucky that I was serving great in the fifth. It was a great test and I really believe I’m going to be ready for that semi-final.” 

Nadal was not considered among the big favourites at the start of the fortnight having not competed for half of last season because of a foot problem.

But he played himself into that position, dropping only one set to Karen Khachanov during the first four rounds and raising hopes that he could win a record 21st grand slam title.

Shapovalov pulled off one of the biggest victories of his career over third seed Alexander Zverev in the fourth round to reach his third slam quarter-final and first in Melbourne.

The 22-year-old was unable to find his best form in the opening set, though, and then showed his frustration by getting into a row with umpire Carlos Bernardes over the time Nadal was taking between points.

After Bernardes refused to give Nadal a time violation for delaying Shapovalov on his serve, the Canadian shouted: “You guys are all corrupt,” and he and Nadal then had words at the net.

It did not distract Nadal, who moved into a two-set lead, but Shapovalov began to turn the tide in the third set and clinched it with a backhand winner after his opponent was given a time violation.

Nadal began to look weary and troubled in the fourth set, leaving the court for six and a half minutes at the end of it for a medical examination and a toilet break.

Two double faults – he served 11 during the match – put him in trouble in the opening game of the decider but Shapovalov could not take advantage and then dropped serve himself to give Nadal a lifeline.

australian-open-tennis Nadal discusses his illness with medical staff. Source: Andy Brownbill

The Spaniard seized it, finding more conviction in his shots again and exploiting costly errors from his opponent, who will feel he had the match in his grasp.

When a final backhand volley drifted wide, Shapovalov smashed his racket angrily on the court while Nadal celebrated reaching his 36th grand slam semi-final.

Earlier, Madison Keys continued her impeccable start to the 2022 season with a straight-sets destruction of fourth seed Barbora Krejcikova on Thursday to set up a potential Australian Open women’s semi-final against Ashleigh Barty.

Unseeded American Keys, ranked 51, pulled off another big upset to beat French Open champion and fourth seed Barbora Krejcikova 6-3, 6-2 on Rod Laver Arena and make the last four.

Her reward is a clash with either world number one Ashleigh Barty or fellow American and 21st seed Jessica Pegula for a place in the final.

The last time Keys got this far at Melbourne Park she was just 19 and came face-to-face with a dominant Serena Williams, the eventual champion.

“I would say it mostly feels different because I’m seven years older and it’s not my first semi-final of a Slam,” she said.

“I think I’m a little bit more prepared this time around than I was all those years ago.

“It’s also a completely different situation, time and person, all of that. I think you take the experience that you have from those moments and you try to apply it, but you also know that it’s going to be a completely different challenge.”

That 2015 result helped propel her into the top 10. She went on to be a 2017 finalist at the US Open and made the last four at Roland Garros a year later.

But she endured a frustrating 2021, winning just 11 matches in the entire season, a mark she has now matched less than a month into the new year after winning a lead-up event in Adelaide.

The big-serving American came into the tournament as the WTA aces leader and signalled her return to form by beating 2020 champion Sofia Kenin and eighth seed Paula Badosa en route to the quarter-finals.

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“It means a lot,” said Keys. “Last year was really hard.

“I did everything that I could with my team to just reset in the off season and focus on starting fresh for the new season, really starting from zero and not worrying about last year.

australian-open-2022-day-9 Madison Keys celebrates victory. Source: Chris Putnam

“Wow, that’s gone well so far. I am really proud of myself.”

She slammed down her first service game to love to take charge, but Krejcikova worked two break points on the next.

The American saved them both and served out with an ace but the Czech star earned another four on the following service game, only to be denied again by the gutsy 26-year-old.

Keys attacked Krejcikova back, working five break points and converting when her opponent slapped a forehand wide to give her a 4-2 lead.

The fourth seed called the trainer at 2-5, red-faced and struggling with the heat. She appeared to have her temperature and blood pressure taken.

But Krejcikova soldiered on and, though she held serve, she lost the set in 50 minutes.

With her confidence down, Krejcikova was broken twice early in the second set as Keys looked the fresher.

The fourth seed refused to give up and broke back for 1-3, but it was a short-lived fightback as Keys stormed to the finish line.

“I train in Orlando in the summer which I think is the hottest place on earth in the summer,” Keys said of handling the heat better than Krejcikova.

“I am pretty used to it, just because I train in that all the time which I think is definitely a bonus for me.”

Additional reporting by – © AFP 2022

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