Rafael Nadal faces Denis Shapovalov again after last year's epic Rome clash

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Rafael Nadal faces Denis Shapovalov again after last year's epic Rome clash

Rafael Nadal and Denis Shapovalov will meet on Thursday in the Rome Masters third round. It will be their sixth meeting on the Tour, with Nadal winning four of the previous five encounters. Rafa and Denis have played three thrilling encounters, starting from their first duel in Montreal 2017, when the youngest stunned a Major winner in the deciding tie break.

Rafa bounced back in straight sets in Rome 2018 and the Davis Cup Finals 2019 to move in front in their rivalry. Nadal and Shapovalov did not face in 2020, and their fourth meeting came in Rome last year. It turned out to be an epic one, and Rafa prevailed 3-6, 6-4, 7-6 in three hours and 27 minutes after fending off two match points!

It was an important victory for Nadal, as he avoided an early exit following the Madrid Masters quarter-final defeat a week earlier. Nadal won five points more than Shapovalov in one of the most thrilling encounters at Foro Italico in recent years.

Rafael Nadal will face Denis Shapovalov for the third time in Rome.

The Spaniard wasted ten out of 14 break chances and suffered five breaks that almost cost him the match after trailing 6-3, 3-0, 40-30! Denis fired over 40 winners and tried to keep the points on his tally.

He pushed Rafa to the limits and stayed in touch with a great rival in the shortest and mid-range exchanges. After a terrible start, the Spaniard climbed back in the second set's second part to win it 6-4 and force a decider.

A nine-time champion trailed again in the decider before making one last push that kept him alive. Denis survived three break chances at 5-5 to gather a boost and created those two match points in the next game. Rafa stayed calm and defended them to bring the game home and introduce a tie break.

The more experienced player had the advantage and claimed it 7-3 to emerge at the top and remain on the title course. Nadal and Shapovalov shared the court at this year's Australian Open in the quarter-final, and it developed into open war.

Rafa scored a 6-3, 6-4, 4-6, 3-6, 6-3 victory in four hours and eight minutes, staying calm after losing ground in sets three and four and building an early advantage in the decider. Nadal brought the win home and scored two more to lift the 21st Major crown and make a perfect comeback after skipping the second part of the previous season due to an injury.