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Foot injury returns for Rafa Nadal in three-set loss to Shapovalov at Rome Masters tennis

Rafael Nadal of Spain reacts following defeat in his men’s singles third round match against Denis Shapovalov of Canada during day five of the Internazionali BNL D’Italia at Foro Italico on May 12, 2022 in Rome, Italy. (Photo by Alex Pantling/Getty Images)

By Ricky Dimon

Rafael Nadal lost to Denis Shapovalov at the Internazionali BNL d’Italia on Thursday, but the result is really the least of his worries.

Nadal started strong and looked well on his way to a quarterfinal berth after issuing a breadstick in the first set, but his recurring foot issues became a problem and he stumbled to a 1-6, 7-5, 6-2 loss. Shapovalov took down the Spaniard for the second time (previously Montreal 2017) after two hours and 37 minutes.

“I was just trying to change something,” Shapovalov said of breaking serve right away in set two following his rough opening frame of play. “He was completely outplaying me at the beginning of the match. Obviously the first set, the beginning of the second, I was just hanging in there. Definitely really happy to turn it around.

“Obviously I’m a huge fan of his growing up. I watched him play so many times. Growing up, I wanted to play and behave like him. So I definitely super look up to him and hopefully he’s fit for [the French Open].”

Canada’s Denis Shapovalov celebrates defeating Spain’s Rafael Nadal during their third round match at the ATP Rome Open tennis tournament on May 12, 2022 at Foro Italico in Rome. (Photo by Andreas SOLARO / AFP) (Photo by ANDREAS SOLARO/AFP via Getty Images)

With the French Open less than two weeks away, Nadal does not have much recovery time prior to his bid for a 14th trophy at Roland Garros and a 22nd Grand Slam title overall.

“I am living with an injury,” said the 35-year-old, whose foot has been a problem dating back to last year’s quarterfinal loss to Novak Djokovic on the red clay of Paris. “My day by day is difficult. I am trying hard but of course it’s difficult to accept the situation at times. A lot of days I can’t practice the proper way.

“Today it started halfway through the second set and it was unplayable for me. I don’t want to take away (the) credit from Denis that he deserves…. Today is for him.

“I started playing the match much better…so I feel sad [that it got worse]. (There were) a lot of positive things, but when this happens the rest of the positive things disappear. It’s time to accept the situation and fight.”

Despite his ongoing physical issues, Nadal battled to the Australian Open title at the beginning of this season–which completed the double-career Grand Slam. The world No. 4 won his first 20 matches in 2022 before a rib injury contributed to an Indian Wells final loss to Taylor Fritz. Nadal missed the next two months before returning last week in Madrid, where he succumbed to new sensation Carlos Alcaraz in the quarterfinals.

Shapovalov advances to face Casper Ruud on Friday in Rome. Djokovic remains a a potential semifinal opponent after the top-ranked Serb eased past Stan Wawrinka 6-2, 6-2.

Ricky contributes to 10sballs.com and also maintains his own tennis website, The Grandstand. You can follow him on twitter at @Dimonator.