History-chasing Rafael Nadal on Tuesday defeated Denis Shapovalov in five grueling sets to enter the semi-finals of the Australian Open 2022. (More Tennis News)
Nadal, 35, took four hours and 10 minutes to beat 14th seed Shapovalov 6-3, 6-4, 4-6, 3-6, 6-3. The 2009 champion will next face the winner of Gael Monfils vs Matteo Berrettini quarter-final match.
Nadal, seeded sixth in Melbourne for the season-opening Grand Slam, won the first two sets with relative ease on Rod Laver Arena.
But the 22-year-old Canadian, who finished off a 6-3 7-6(5) 6-3 win over Olympic gold medalist Alexander Zverev in the previous round, produced a stunning fightback to force the decider.
Shapovalov, who took a swipe at umpire Carlos Bernardes for giving Nadal additional time on change of ends in the second set, grew into the match even as the former world number one struggled with foot and stomach issues.
Nadal is bidding the become the first male tennis player to win 21 Grand Slam singles titles. The Spaniard is involved in a three-man tie with Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic.
Both Federer and Djokovic are not competing in Melbourne. While the Swiss maestro is recuperating from knee surgery, the Serbian legend was deported from Australia after a lengthy visa row.
At a tournament where he's clinched the title only once 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 after the second set.
He lost the third and fourth sets in 50 and 46 minutes respectively. 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.”
Earlier in the day, Madison Keys defeated French Open champion Barbora Krejcikova in straight sets to enter women's singles semis.