Watch: Rafael Nadal trains at Foro Italico

Rafael Nadal will compete in Rome for the first time in two years

by Jovica Ilic
Watch: Rafael Nadal trains at Foro Italico
© Alex Pantling / Staff - Getty Images Sport

Ninteen years after debuting at the Rome Masters, Rafael Nadal is back at Foro Italico. The ten-time Rome Masters champion trained at Foro Italico on Saturday, starting his preparations for the fifth Masters 1000 event of the season.

Rafa is most likely competing in Rome for the last time, struggling with injuries and contemplating retirement if his physical shape does not improve. Nadal is 69-8 in Rome, lifting ten trophies between 2005 and 2021. The Spaniard's Foro Italico crown from three years ago remains his 36th and last Masters 1000 title, achieving it over his great rival Novak Djokovic.

Rafa injured his left hip at last year's Australian Open, embracing the most extended break of his career and returning to action in Brisbane at the beginning of 2024. Nadal played well after missing almost a year, beating Dominic Thiem and Jason Kubler before facing Jordan Thompson in the quarter-final.

Denis Shapovalov & Rafael Nadal, Rome 2022© Alex Pantling / Staff - Getty Images Sport

They battled for almost three and a half hours, and Nadal experienced a massive blow, squandering three match points and feeling the pain around his troubled hip again.

The Spaniard missed the Australian Open and returned home, returning to the practice court in February. However, Rafa struggled with an abdominal injury, not working on his serve and skipping Doha, Indian Wells and Monte Carlo.

A 22-time Major winner returned to action in Barcelona, scoring one win before losing to Alex de Minaur, unprepared to endure two or three sets at a high level. The veteran raised his level in Madrid and earned three wins for the first time since the 2022 US Open.

Nadal served revenge to Alex de Minaur and prevailed over Pedro Cachin to enter the fourth round. Seeking his 100th Masters 1000 quarter-final, Rafa fell to Jiri Lehecka 7-5, 6-4, struggling on the return and ending his campaign after getting broken two times in a row.

Rafael Nadal, Rome 2022© Julian Finney / Staff - Getty Images Sport

Rafael Nadal will compete at the Rome Masters.

After the match, the organizers presented Rafa with a unique trophy, honoring his achievements at the home Masters 1000 event.

Despite an emotional ceremony, Nadal has not rulled out a possibility to play in front of the home fans again in 2025, eager to extend his career if his body shows signs of improvements. Nadal's tenth Rome Masters title came in 2021, and he could not fight for another trophy a year later, dealing with a foot injury and playing way below his best.

Rafa lost only four games against John Isner before facing Denis Shapovalov for the second straight year in the Italian capital. In 2021, the Canadian missed a massive chance to spoil the Spaniard's party, pushing him to the limits and wasting match points in a tight loss.

Denis changed that in 2022, scoring a 1-6, 7-5, 6-2 win in two hours and 37 minutes and delivering Rafa's worst Foro Italico result since 2008!

Rafael Nadal, Madrid 2024© Clive Brunskill / Staff - Getty Images Sport

Shapovalov kept his composure in the closing stages of the second set and dominated the decider against the rival who struggled with his movement.

Denis won three points more than Rafa, with each player forging the advantage in one set and a tight battle in the remaining one. The younger player fired 13 aces and saved seven out of 11 break points. Four breaks were not enough to propel the defending champion through, getting broken five times, three in the decider.

Shapovalov went for his shots and landed 35 winners and 39 unforced errors. He landed 30 service winners and covered the net efficiently. They stayed neck and neck in the shortest and more advanced exchanges, and Denis saved his best tennis for the pivotal moments to dethrone the legend and reach the quarter-final.

Rafa made a convincing start, serving well in the opener and stealing Denis' serve two times. Nadal moved in front with a backhand down the line winner in the fourth game of the opening set. Rafa denied a break point in game five for a 4-1 lead and secured another break in the next one.

The Spaniard served for the set in game seven, firing a service winner for 6-1 after 42 minutes. Shapovalov played against three break points at the beginning of the second set, saving them and holding after seven deuces to end his downfall.

Denis grabbed a break in the second game and opened a 4-1 gap after defending a break point in game five.

Rafael Nadal, Madrid 2024© Clive Brunskill / Staff - Getty Images Sport

Eager to seal the deal in straight sets due to his issues, Rafa broke back at love in game seven, returning to the positive side and saving break points in the next one to lock the result at 4-4.

Nadal defended a match point in the tenth game, leveling the score at 5-5 and gaining a boost. However, Shapovalov stayed composed and grabbed a crucial break at 6-5, wrapping up the set and becoming the favorite against the rival who struggled with his movement.

They traded early breaks in the decider before Denis shifted into a higher gear from 2-2, rattling off four games and dethroning a ten-time champion.

Rafael Nadal