Rafael Nadal defeats Denis Shapovalov under the charge of favoritism

MELBOURNE, Australia – After missing the match he has long played with so much passion, Rafael Nadal has had ample opportunity to learn about tennis at this Australian Open.

At 35, his latest return from injury now finds him in the semi-finals, just two wins away after breaking his three-way tie with Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer and claiming his 21st Grand Slam singles title.

But it also found him briefly on the defensive on Tuesday after his opponent, Canadian Denis Shapovalov, said Nadal benefited from favoritism in the quarter-finals, which Nadal won by taking command of the fifth set to win. , 6-3, 6-4, 4. -6, 3-6, 6-3, in four hours and eight minutes.

Nadal politely dismissed the accusations from Shapovalov, a young Canadian. “I think he’s wrong,” Nadal said.

Shapovalov, who certainly didn’t help his cause by playing an edgy, error-filled game to give up his serve early in the fifth set, didn’t take the loss well, smashing his racket on the blue hardcourt of the Rod Laver Arena immediately after his final. wide derivative volley. It was a stark contrast to Nadal, who has never broken a racquet in anger during a game in his nearly 20-year professional career.

But Shapovalov was both discouraged and disappointed by Nadal, the Spanish champion whom Shapovalov first met as a nine-year-old ball boy at the Canadian Open in Montreal and then beat, Hollywood-style, in the same city in their first game in 2017. .

As wide-eyed as Shapovalov may have once been about the Spaniard, he didn’t hold back on Tuesday: complaining during and after the game that Nadal was being given more time between points than allowed.

After winning the first set, Nadal changed clothes and was slow to leave his chair after the referee, Carlos Bernardes, called “Time”. Shapovalov took the balls and prepared to serve while waiting, and when Nadal finally arrived on the pitch about 45 seconds after Bernardes announced, Shapovalov approached Bernardes and said Nadal should have been penalized for the delay.

Bernardes disagreed and Shapovalov returned to the baseline and then approached Bernardes again, saying Nadal still wasn’t ready. Bernardes replied, “You’re not ready to play either because you come to talk to me.”

“I hope you are joking?” said Shapovalov as he retired. “You are all corrupt.”

Shapovalov, 22, received no code violations for the comment, although he could be fined or sanctioned by the Australian Open after further investigation. Shapovalov later said, apologetically, “I think I misspoke.” He was involved in another exchange with Bernardes as Nadal prepared to serve the second game of the second set even though there were still several seconds left on the service counter. Nadal came to the net. Shapovalov met him there and after a brief exchange play resumed.

“It was nothing against Rafa,” Shapovalov said. “Rafa was serving, and I would expect the ref to look at Rafa, and the ref was looking down at me. It made no sense to me.

But Shapovalov was not done complaining about Nadal, arguing with Bernardes after the fourth set as Nadal, who was briefly examined on the court for stomach issues, stretched the spirit of the rules by taking an extended break off the court before the final set for a combined medical and restroom visit.

Nadal later explained that he started to feel bad late in the second set, probably due to the hot and humid weather and his long break from the match. He returned to the tour this year after missing five months with a chronic foot problem, then contracted Covid-19 in late December during a show in Abu Dhabi. He is seeded sixth in Melbourne, where he won the title in 2009.

Shapovalov questioned Bernardes at length as they awaited Nadal’s return, saying he had not been allowed to combine the two breaks in a past tournament. Nadal served seven minutes after the end of the fourth set.

When asked at a post-match press conference if Nadal received preferential treatment, Shapovalov replied “100% yes” and said there must be limits.

“Every other game I’ve played, the pace has been so fast because the referees were timed after every point,” Shapovalov said. “This one, I mean, after the first two sets, it was like an hour and a half just because he dragged so much after each point. He gave so much time between sets and stuff.

Players are allowed 25 seconds between points when serving, but chair umpires have the discretion to start the shot clock. When returning to serve, players must play at the “reasonable pace” of the server, a phrase from the tennis rulebook that leaves a lot of room for interpretation.

“I respect everything Rafa has done and I think he’s an amazing player,” Shapovalov said. “But there must be limits, established rules. It’s so frustrating as a player. You feel like you’re not just playing against the player; you play against the referees, you play against so many more. It is difficult. I mean, it was a big break after the fourth set and because of that, the momentum is going away.

“They are legends of the game,” Shapovalov said of stars like Nadal, “but when you step onto the pitch it should be even.”

Bernardes, a veteran chair umpire from Brazil, gave Nadal a time violation for taking too long to serve in the fourth set. Bernardes and Nadal didn’t always agree, and Bernardes was barred from working Nadal’s matches during a cooling-off period in 2015. But that informal ban soon ended.

Nadal dismissed Shapovalov’s accusations of favoritism and said it was common practice to take extra time to change clothes and equipment after a set played in such scorching conditions.

“I think he was really wrong,” Nadal said in Spanish of Shapovalov. “When you lose a match like this, you get frustrated. I have a lot of affection for Denis. I think he’s a good guy with a lot of talent, the talent to win several Grand Slams. No way I don’t want to argue with him. But I think he’s wrong. He’s young and when you’re young you make mistakes.

Nadal observed that the rules have been tightened in recent seasons to make it harder to favor the elite or any player due to the advent of online electronic calling, shot clocks between points and , this season, stricter time limits for bathroom breaks.

“You have less room now to influence anything,” said Nadal, who added he was not interested in gaining an advantage on the pitch.

“I really believe that on the pitch you don’t deserve better treatment than others,” Nadal said. “And I really don’t want it, and I don’t feel like I have it.”

Nadal was often far from his best in the second half of Tuesday’s game: missing some of his familiar forehands by wide margins. He also committed 11 double faults, a large amount by his standards. But he was able to serve well when he needed it most, including scoring an ace to save a break point in the opening game of the fifth set and saving two more break points in the third game.

“I was destroyed honestly, physically, but my serve worked well,” Nadal said. “For me, every game I won with my serve was a win.”

He also took the overall victory and will now have two full days to recover before facing No. 7 seed Matteo Berrettini or No. 17 seed Gael Monfils in the semi-finals on Friday afternoon. Nadal generally prefers to play during the day, where conditions are usually faster and help his forehand penetrate the court. But he looked like he was happy to play in the shadows against Shapovalov.

“I’m not 21 anymore,” Nadal said wearily during his post-match interview on the pitch.

But 21 could still be his magic number in Melbourne, where he is just two games away from breaking a tie.

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