MELBOURNE, Australia — With another Australian Open semifinal spot secured after a four-hour, five-set victory, Rafael Nadal looked toward his support team in Rod Laver Arena and nodded his head.
It was like he was just confirming the plan: Five wins down, two to go in his bid for a men’s record 21st major title.
On the other side of the net, 14th-seeded Denis Shapovalov broke his racket on the hard blue court after a frustrating 6-3, 6-4, 4-6, 3-6, 6-3 loss to Nadal, who later acknowledged he felt “destroyed” physically on a hot Tuesday afternoon.
There were plenty of momentum-shifting moments, including Nadal needing attention for a stomach ailment in the third and fourth sets after dominating the first two.
Shapovalov openly complained to chair umpire Carlos Bernardes during the quarterfinal match about Nadal getting longer breaks than players usually are entitled to, and taking too long between points.
He took a few shots at Nadal in his post-match news conference, too, saying he’s “100%” convinced the 35-year-old Spaniard receives special treatment.
At a tournament where he’s clinched the title only once (2009) and had lost seven of his previous 13 quarterfinals — by far his worst conversion rate at any of the four major tournaments — Nadal looked vulnerable in the third and fourth sets.
But following a seven-minute break — when Nadal left the court and went to the locker room — between the last point of the fourth set and his first serve in the fifth, he recovered sufficiently to save a break point with an ace, hold serve and then break Shapovalov for a 2-0 lead.
“I don’t know, was a little bit of miracle,” Nadal said of his revival. “I was destroyed honestly physically. But my serve worked well, and for me, every game that I was winning with my serve was a victory, no?”
He rejected any assertion that he gets any special treatment from umpires or referees, and added that Shapovalov was young and said he would get over it.
“I honestly feel sorry for him. I think he played a great match for a long time,” Nadal said. “Of course is tough to accept to lose a match like this, especially after I was feeling destroyed and probably he felt that, and then I was able to manage to win.
“I wish him all the very best … probably he will understand later on after he thinks the proper way that probably he was not right today.”
Nadal shares the men’s record of 20 major singles titles with Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic, and he’s got an inside run with the absence of his long-time rivals at Melbourne Park. Federer continues to recover from knee surgery, and Djokovic was deported for failing to meet Australia’s strict COVID-19 vaccination requirements.
“I respect everything that Rafa has done and I think he’s an unbelievable player. But there’s got to be some boundaries,” Shapovalov said. “It’s just so frustrating as a player. You feel like you’re not just playing against the player; you’re playing against the umpires, you’re playing against so much more.
“Physically I feel fine. Just emotionally more, just sucks to lose that one,” the Wimbledon semifinalist added. “Definitely felt like I had it on my racket. And towards third, fourth, fifth set I felt like I was the better player, had more chances. Just one bad game for me.”
Nadal will get two days off before Friday’s semifinal match against Matteo Berrettini. The Wimbledon runner-up, who became the first Italian man to reach the Australian Open semifinals, held on to beat No. 17 Gael Monfils 6-4, 6-4, 3-6, 3-6, 6-2.
“I’m not 21 anymore!” said Nadal, who was sidelined with injuries after last year’s French Open and then had to overcome COVID-19. “After this … great to have two days off.
“I felt quite good physically in terms of movement. I really believe I’m going to be ready for the semifinals.”
The women’s quarterfinals were over in straight sets, with 2017 U.S. Open runner-up Madison Keys beating French Open champion Barbora Krejcikova 6-3, 6-2 in the Day 9 opener on Rod Laver Arena and top-ranked Ash Barty advancing with a 6-2, 6-0 win over No. 21 Jessica Pegula.
Barty is back in the semifinals at Melbourne Park for the second time in three years; Keys is back seven years after losing her first Grand Slam semifinal to Serena Williams in Australia.
Barty, who won the Wimbledon title last year and the French Open in 2019, wants to become the first Australian woman to win the Australian Open singles title since 1978.
In her best run to date, she lost in the 2020 semifinals to eventual champion Sofia Kenin.
“I’ve grown as a person. I’ve grown as a player,” Barty said. “I feel like I’m a more complete player.”
Keys continued her resurgent 2022 season, extending her winning streak to 10 matches, including a title run in a tuneup event, and 11 overall for the year. She only won 11 matches in total in 2021, when her year-end ranking slumped to 56th.
“I did everything I could to rest this off-season and focus on starting fresh and new … starting from zero and not focusing on last year,” Keys said. “I think it’s going well so far.”
Krejcikova took a medical timeout while trailing 5-2 in the first set, with the temperature heading toward 90 degrees.
“It was the heat with some physical conditions that started to bother me after five games,” she said. “I mean, from there on, you know, I just couldn’t put it together.”
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