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Injury worries mount for Rafael Nadal as foot problem ends Italian Open hopes

Rafael Nadal was beaten in Rome (Alessandra Tarantino/AP)
Rafael Nadal was beaten in Rome (Alessandra Tarantino/AP)

Defending champion Rafael Nadal was hampered by a foot injury as his bid for a record-extending 11th Italian Open crown was ended by a three-set defeat to Denis Shapovalov.

Nadal’s movement was severely compromised towards the end of this last-16 encounter in Rome by a chronic issue which the Spaniard feared as recently as December would end his glittering career.

With the French Open set to begin on May 22, doubts will increase over whether Nadal will even make it to Paris and, if he does, whether he can be competitive having just returned to action after a broken rib.

Rafael Nadal must now be a doubt for the French Open, which starts later this month (Alessandra Tarantino/AP/PA)
Rafael Nadal must now be a doubt for the French Open, which starts later this month (Alessandra Tarantino/AP)

“I had my foot again with a lot of pain, and that’s it,” a forlorn Nadal said after a 1-6 7-5 6-2 defeat. “(The pain) is sometimes more, sometimes less. Today was crazy.

“I am not injured. I am a player living with an injury. That’s it. (This) is nothing new. It’s something that is there.

“Unfortunately my day-by-day is difficult, honestly. Even like this, I am trying hard. Of course, it’s difficult for me to accept the situation sometimes.

“What can happen in the next couple of days, I don’t know. What can happen in one week, I really don’t know now. It’s the time to accept the situation and fight. That’s it.”

There were few concerns for Nadal early on as he won the first set at a canter and then rallied from 4-1 down in the second to level at 4-4, but some uncharacteristic errors were creeping in.

Nadal saw off Shapovalov at the same stage of this tournament 12 months ago, saving two match points along the way having been a set and a break down, but this time it was the Canadian who rallied.

Nadal faltered in the 12th game of the second set as Shapovalov forced a decider, where it became increasingly apparent that the third seed was struggling physically.

Shapovalov won the last four games with minimal resistance to prevail in two hours and 38 minutes and the 13th seed can now look forward to a quarter-final clash against Norway’s Casper Ruud, seeded fifth.

There were no such problems for world number one and reigning French Open champion Novak Djokovic, who claimed a 20th win from 26 meetings against Stan Wawrinka to reach the quarter-finals.

Wawrinka secured his first victories for more than a year following foot surgery to reach the third round but looked weary from the start and was unable to trouble Djokovic, who eased to a 6-2 6-2 victory.

“He’s not physically where he wants to be, but, nevertheless, he’s Stan Wawrinka, he can hurt you if you give him time and I managed to do well I think,” Djokovic said in his on-court interview.

In the last eight Djokovic will contest a first match against eighth seed Felix Auger-Aliassime, who saw off Marcos Giron 6-3 6-2.

Second seed Alexander Zverev defeated Alex De Minaur 6-3 7-6 (5), while Stefanos Tsitsipas fought back from a set down to see off Karen Khachanov 4-6 6-0 6-3 and will next meet home hope Jannik Sinner.

In the women’s event, defending champion Iga Swiatek recovered from a poor start to defeat Victoria Azarenka and reach the quarter-finals.

The world number one, who is bidding for a fifth consecutive title, began the match with a slew of errors and trailed 3-0 but battled back to claim a 6-4 6-1 victory.

The first set alone took 79 minutes, with Swiatek saving eight of the 11 break points she faced, but the Pole found her form in the second to move through to an intriguing clash with Bianca Andreescu.

Bianca Andreescu will take on Iga Swiatek
Bianca Andreescu will take on Iga Swiatek (Andrew Medichini/AP)

Swiatek said: “For sure I didn’t start well and everybody could see that. I’m really happy with the way I reacted and how I improved in the first set.”

Former US Open champion Andreescu defeated Croatian Petra Martic 6-4 6-4, while third seed Aryna Sabalenka impressed in a 6-1 6-4 win over Madrid finalist Jessica Pegula.