An ailing Rafael Nadal battled to a five-set victory over Denis Shapovalov in a dramatic Australian Open quarter-final – and was then accused by his opponent of receiving preferential treatment.
The Canadian became involved in a row with umpire Carlos Bernardes at the start of the second set of his 6-3 6-4 4-6 3-6 6-3 defeat over the amount of time Nadal was taking to get ready to receive serve.
After Bernardes refused to give Nadal a time violation, the 22-year-old shouted: “You guys are all corrupt,” and he and Nadal then exchanged words at the net about the matter.
Shapovalov is far from the first opponent to complain about Nadal’s time-keeping but he went further in the press conference room, alleging that the 20-time grand slam champion is given an unfair advantage by officials.
“I think I misspoke when I said he’s corrupt,” explained Shapovalov. “It’s definitely emotional but I do stand by my side. I think it’s unfair how much Rafa is getting away with.
“I’m completely ready to play and the clock is ticking, clicking towards zero, and I’m looking at the umpire and obviously I’m going to speak up and say something.
“I’ve been ready to play for a minute and a half and he tells me he’s not going to give him a code violation because I’m not ready to play. To me, it’s a big joke.
“And then after the fourth set – last year I wasn’t allowed to take a toilet break when I asked for a medical. He had already taken two medicals. He was getting medically evaluated, and after the evaluation the guy goes and takes a toilet break.
“It’s like, where is the line? I respect everything that Rafa has done and I think he’s an unbelievable player. But there’s got to be some boundaries. 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.”
Asked if he feels Nadal receives preferential treatment, Shapovalov said: “Of course. One hundred per cent he does.”
Nadal gave a forceful response denying Shapovalov’s accusations, saying: “I really believe that it’s always in the mind that the top players get bigger advantages and, honestly, on court it’s not true.
“That’s my feeling. I never feel that I had advantages on court, and I really believe that he’s wrong in that case. In the last couple of years we have a clock, we increase the measures to make the things more fair for everyone.
“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.
“I wish him all the very best. He’s young, and I think we all make mistakes in our careers. I make 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.”
One for the ages ✨
— #AusOpen (@AustralianOpen) January 25, 2022
The row overshadowed a compelling contest and a huge achievement for Nadal, who doubted last year whether he would be able to come back from a foot problem and is now through to his 36th grand slam semi-final.
The Spaniard lost from two sets up against Stefanos Tsitsipas at the same stage last year and it appeared the same may well happen when Shapovalov, who defeated third seed Alexander Zverev in the fourth round, forced a decider.
But Nadal, who had called the trainer for a stomach issue during the fourth set, made his experience count to move ahead early in the fifth and hold on.
The sixth seed grinned with joy and relief while Shapovalov, who missed a chance to break at the start of the decider, slammed his racket angrily to the court.
Nadal said: “It was a little bit of a miracle. 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.
“I started to feel bad at the end of the second. It was very warm out there today and the conditions were hard.
“Of course, in the beginning of the fifth set I was very worried. More than worried, I thought it was going to be super difficult to win that match. But here I am. Being in semi-finals means a lot to me, to have a victory against a great player after all the things that I went through.”
Importantly, the 35-year-old now has two days off to try to recover physically before his semi-final against seventh seed Matteo Berrettini, who won his own five-setter against Gael Monfils to become the first Italian man to reach the last four in Melbourne.
Bravo, Matteo 👏🇮🇹
— #AusOpen (@AustralianOpen) January 25, 2022
Like Nadal, Berrettini looked in control at two sets to love up only for crowd favourite Monfils to fight back and level the match as the clock ticked past midnight.
Berrettini was the steadier in the decider, though, and the 25-year-old said after his 6-4 6-4 3-6 3-6 6-2 win: “It feels unbelievable. I’m really happy for myself. It was a great fight against Gael. I thought I had him in the third and then I found myself in the fifth.”
Umpire James Keothavong had to appeal to some unruly fans in the crowd several times to respect both players.
“Some of them are not really tennis fans I think,” said Berrettini after he was heckled during his on-court interview. “It’s fine. I win, I’m happy.”