Rafael Nadal is in a very tough situation ahead of the season's second Major at Roland Garros. A 21-time Major winner and a 13-time Roland Garros champion has not been able to find the proper form in Madrid and Rome, scoring only three victories at both events and playing miles behind his best.
The defending champion experienced the worst Foro Italico result since 2008 following a 1-6, 7-5, 6-2 loss to Denis Shapovalov in two hours and 37 minutes. A year ago, Denis squandered two match points against Rafa in the Italian capital, and he fixed that on Thursday night.
The Canadian stayed calm in the second set's closing stages and dominated the decider against the rival who could not move as he wanted. Nadal felt a pain in his foot and gathered more dark clouds over his Roland Garros preparation.
Denis won three points more than Rafa, fired 13 aces and defended seven out of 11 break points. Nadal got broken five times, and three came in the final set when he could not stay in touch physically.
Rafael Nadal lost to Denis Shapovalov after losing ground in the final set.
Shapovalov had a clear edge with 35 winners and 39 unforced errors, firing 30 service winners and doing everything right at the net.
There was nothing to separate them in the shortest and more extended rallies, and Denis saved his best tennis for the most crucial parts of the clash to find himself in the last eight. Nadal was the only player on the court in the opening set, serving well and delivering two breaks to control the scoreboard.
The Spaniard drew first blood with a backhand down the line winner in the opener's fourth game. He saved a break point in the next one and took four straight points on the return to open a 5-1 advantage. Serving for the set in game seven, Rafa fired a service winner for 6-1 in 42 minutes.
The Canadian survived three break points and seven deuces at the beginning of the second set to gain a boost. He broke Nadal in the second game and saved a break point in the fifth for 4-1. Nadal made one last push and broke at love in game seven to reduce the deficit and gain a boost.
The Spaniard denied break points in the eighth game to lock the result at 4-4 and fended off a match point in the tenth for 5-5. From 30-0 up in game 12, Rafa lost four straight points on his serve to hand the set to his rival and seal his fate in this match following his physical state.
They exchanged breaks at the beginning of the final set, and it was all about Shapovalov after that. He claimed four straight games from 2-2 to emerge at the top and dethrone a ten-time winner.