Rafael Nadal held off Denis Shapovalov 6-3, 6-4, 4-6, 3-6, 6-3 in four hours to reach the Australian Open semifinals for the seventh time and keep his bid on track for a men’s-record 21st Grand Slam singles title.
Nadal shares the record of 20 with Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic for most singles titles in men’s tennis majors. Neither of those two are in Melbourne.
Nadal was dominant for the first 2 1/2 sets against No. 14 Shapovalov, but appeared to be hampered at times by a stomach problem in the third and fourth sets.
At a tournament where he’s clinched the title only once (2009) and lost seven of his previous 13 quarterfinals — by far his worst conversion rate at any of the four major tournaments — Nadal suddenly looked vulnerable. But following a seven-minute break between the last point of the fourth set and his first serve in the fifth, he recovered sufficiently to hold and then break Shapovalov’s serve for a 2-0 lead in the decider.
He held onto the break and when he clinched the match, Nadal went to the corner and nodded his head a few times and did a subdued fist-pumping celebration. Then he went back on court and properly celebrated. Shapovalov left a shattered racket on the court.
“I was completely destroyed. Tough day. Very warm,” Nadal said. “At the beginning of the match I was playing great (but) Denis is very talented, very aggressive. He was serving huge — especially the second serve.
“I think I had my chances at beginning of the third. I didn’t get it. I started to feel a little bit more tired. For me, it’s amazing to be in the semifinals.”
The men’s semifinals are both scheduled for Friday, giving Nadal two days off.
“I’m not 21 anymore!” he said. “After this . . . great to have two days off.
“I felt quite good physically in terms of movement. At least it was a great test. I really believe I’m going to be ready for the semifinals.”
Nadal will play either seventh-seeded Matteo Berrettini or No. 17 Gael Monfils. Berrettin was a Wimbledon runner-up last year; Monfils is 35 and contesting his second quarterfinal in 17 trips to Australia.