MELBOURNE, Australia — Denis Shapovalov is out of the Australian Open in the quarterfinals after a 6-3, 6-4, 4-6, 3-6, 6-3 loss to Rafael Nadal Tuesday.
But the Canadian went out with a bang, and a whimper.
Shapovalov called out Carlos Bernardes and his chair umpire colleagues for being “corrupt”, claiming Nadal benefited from special treatment during a match played in brutal, torrid heat and humidity.
It certainly felt to the 22-year-old as though he had to battle multiple opponents.
“Physically I feel fine. Emotionally, it just sucks to lose that one. Definitely felt like I had it on my racquet,” Shapovalov said in his post-match press conference. “Third, fourth, fifth set I felt like I was the better player, had more chances. Just one bad game for me (in the fifth set).”
Shapovalov felt Bernardes was giving outsized latitude to Nadal on the time between serves, and the length of his between-set breaks.
In fact, the 2022 rules for a toilet break and a change of attire combined allow up to five minutes from the time the player arrives at and enters the off-court location. So Nadal didn’t particularly overstep.
“I mean, I think I misspoke when I said (Bernardes) is corrupt, or whatever I said. It's definitely emotional, but I do stand by my side,” Shapovalov said. “I think it's unfair how much Rafa is getting away with.”
Shapovalov was clear that Nadal alone was enough of a challenge without the crowd applauding the Canadian’s missed first serves, and the umpire giving Nadal what he considered privileged treatment.
Late in the fourth set, as Shapovalov was surging, Nadal had the doctor and physical trainer on court for a consult. He was given some tablets to settle a queasy stomach.
“At the beginning of the match I was playing great, and I know how difficult it is to play against a player like Denis. (Later) he was serving huge, and especially the second serve. I think I had my chances at the beginning of the third set. I didn’t get it. And then I started to feel a little more tired, and he pushed me,” Nadal said.
After Shapovalov forced it to a deciding fifth set, Nadal went off court for a change of attire – and a medical evaluation. They took his blood pressure and generally checked on his well-being, he said.
With all that, it was exactly seven minutes before play resumed.
Shapovalov’s momentum clearly was impacted even if nothing was amiss rules-wise.
And the Canadian noted that at last year’s Australian Open, he was refused a bathroom break because he had already asked for a medical time out.
“Where is the line? … I respect everything that Rafa has done and I think he's an unbelievable player. But there have got to be some boundaries, some rules set. 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,” Shapovalov said.
Later, Nadal said he felt Shapovalov was off-base in claiming the 20-time Grand Slam champion received special treatment.
He put that down to youth.
“I honestly feel sorry for him. I think he played a great match for a long time. Of course it’s 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 the match, no?” Nadal said.
“He's young. I made a lot of mistakes too when I was younger, and probably he will understand later on, after he thinks the proper way, that probably he was not right today.”
Would the outcome have been different had Shapovalov gotten off to a better start? Perhaps.
While the oven-like conditions were the same for both, the 13-years-older Nadal, the No. 6 seed, clearly was feeling the brunt of it.
But Shapovalov, seeded No. 14, was tight at the start. Flat.
“It was nerves. I didn't feel comfortable. It was my first match in a while on Rod Laver (Arena) so he was definitely more comfortable out there. I wasn't serving great, was struggling with the returns. So the rhythm was off,” Shapovalov said. “But yeah, I'm happy with the way I was able to fight and come back. I definitely found my game late in the third and in the fourth.”
By then, Nadal was spending changeovers with the cool-air hose up to his face, and an ice towel around his neck.
“I am not 21 anymore,” he said.
At times, Nadal didn’t even run down some balls from Shapovalov that were well within his reach.
But in the end, he said his serve – which had been a liability for much of the match, with toss issues and 11 double faults – saved him.
And so the 2009 champion is off to the semifinals. And with both semifinals being played on Friday this year (traditionally one had been played on Thursday, the other on Friday), he’ll have two days’ rest.
Canadian Félix Auger-Aliassime is still in the tournament. He will meet No. 2 seed Daniil Medvedev Wednesday night (3:30 a.m. ET), with the winner also advancing to Friday’s semifinals.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 25, 2022.
Stephanie Myles, The Canadian Press