Rafael Nadal. (Photo by Aurelien Morissard/Xinhua)
Rafael Nadal continues his bid for a maiden Paris Masters title when he takes on Canadian, Denis Shapovalov in the semi-finals on Saturday.
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Nadal is looking to reach the Paris final for the second time, having previously gone that far in 2007- his best effort at the tournament till date. Should he go all the way and claim a maiden Paris title this week, he will secure the year-end No. 1 ranking. The Spaniard is already guaranteed to replace Djokovic as the world No. 1 on Monday, regardless of what happens in Paris over the weekend.
Nadal has had his troubles on indoor hard courts over the years, but he has been in excellent form in Paris this week, beating Adrian Mannarino, Stan Wawrinka and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in straight sets to reach the last four for only the fourth time in his career.
He was pushed hard in a tight opening set by a resurgent Tsonga in his quarter final on Friday night, but once he took the opener on a tie break, the great Spaniard pulled away, winning 7-6 6-1 to secure a 14th consecutive tour victory. Nadal has not been beaten since he lost to Roger Federer in the Wimbledon semi-finals. He has since won titles in Montreal and the US Open, and is on course for a fifth title of the season in Paris.
He has of course enjoyed previous success in Paris this year, claiming his customary Roland Garros title- a staggering 12th triumph at that venue- while he also won in Rome, beating Djokovic in the final.
Tsonga arrived Friday’s Paris Masters quarter final in fine form, having beaten Andrey Rublev, Matteo Berrettini and Jan-Lennard Struff this week, and the hard-hitting former champion gave Nadal plenty to ponder early on, winning 21 of 22 points on his first serve and offering the Spaniard no break opportunities. However, like the great players often tend to do, Nadal upped the ante in the tie break, taking it 7-4 to bag the opener. That seemed to break Tsonga’s resistance as the Frenchman won just one more game in the remainder of the match. Nadal had some really good stats of his own, winning 93% of points on his first serve and giving up no break points throughout the contest.
Nadal has now reached 10 consecutive semi-finals, and will attempt to move into a sixth final of the season when he plays the very impressive Denis Shapovalov on Saturday.
Shapovalov has been in breath-taking form this week, beating Gilles Simon (via retirement), Fabio Fognini, Alexander Zverev and Gael Monfils to reach his fourth Masters 1000 semi-final. The 20-year-old is attempting to reach his first Masters final having lost the previous three semi-finals in Montreal in 2017, Madrid in 2018 and Miami earlier this year.
The Canadian has been playing with remarkable freedom and authority in Paris, most evident in his outstanding 6-2 6-2 victory over Gael Monfils on Friday. Monfils is not the easiest man to hit through on the tour, but Shapovalov regularly blitzed winners past the Frenchman, off the forehand and backhand in an electrifying display of attacking tennis.
“It was one of those matches where nothing was really going wrong for me,” said Shapovalov. “I felt like any shot I hit was finding its way into the court… Everything went for me, so I am super happy to get the win.”
The 20-year-old won 23 of 25 points behind his first serve and nine of 14 on his second, and did not face a single break point in the 59-minute rout. Shapovalov, as he’d done to Fognini earlier in the tournament, ended Monfils hopes of qualifying for the Nitto ATP Finals with that victory. The Frenchman would have jumped above Matteo Berrettini into the eighth and final qualifying spot had he beaten Shapovalov on Friday.
Shapovalov’s talents have never been in question, but he had been held back by a lack of consistency. The Canadian had a decent start to the year, highlighted by a semi-final run at the Miami Open, but he went through a very lean spell after that, winning just four matches in the 11 tournaments following that Miami showing.
His results have been better in recent months, coinciding with the arrival of new coach Mikhail Youzhny on the scene. Shapovalov made the semi-finals at Winston-Salem and Chengdu, reached the third round of the US Open (lost to Monfils), and just a couple of weeks ago, attained a significant milestone by winning his maiden tour-level title in Stockholm.
“I feel like with that title with Stockholm, it kind of gave me a sense of calmness, relief,” said Shapovalov. “I’ve just been able to enjoy the last couple weeks of the season and, because of that, I feel like I’ve been able to play really well.”
Well, he’s certainly playing well enough to trouble Nadal in Saturday’s Paris semi-final. He has beaten Nadal before- at his breakout tournament in Montreal in 2017, but Nadal evened the series with victory at the Rome Masters in 2018.
It’s got to be lights out from Shapovalov yet again if he is to upset Nadal, and I think he’s capable of doing that, especially with the way he has been playing this week. Being a left-hander helps, as Nadal’s famous cross-court forehand goes into his own forehand- his stronger wing- while the Canadian’s backhand has been purring this week, and he’s comfortable going down the line or cross court with that shot.
It is of course easier to execute all of this on paper, but not quite so with a menacing Rafael Nadal at the other end. The world No. 2 has also been in excellent form this week, and it will take a near-perfect performance from Shapovalov to dislodge the great Spaniard.
Rafael Nadal vs Denis Shapovalov is live from Paris on Saturday, 2 November from 4:30pm local time/ 3:30pm GMT