Rafael Nadal to face Denis Shapovalov in Italian Open rematch as he labels their previous Rome clash ‘a joke’

Rafael Nadal in action

Rafael Nadal overcame a sluggish start to see off John Isner in his opening match at the Italian Open and his reward is a clash against Denis Shapovalov, whom he beat in a titanic battle in Rome last year.

The 10-time Italian Open champion was made to work for his points on serve early on as Isner had two break point opportunities in the first set, but he held firm and eventually broke in game eight.

He took that momentum into the second set as he broke in the opening game and again in games five and seven to seal the match.

“I finished better than how I started, without a doubt,” Nadal said about the match. “The beginning of the match was not good for me.

“He had some chances on the return and had two break points. [He had] two not difficult balls so I was in his hands at that moment. I was lucky that he missed those shots and then I was able to break. Then the match changed, of course. With the first set on the board, and having the break in the first game of the second [set], everything changed.”

He will face Shapovalov, who defeated Nikoloz Basilashvili 6-4, 7-6 (7-5), for a place in the quarter-final.

The pair also met in Rome last year with Nadal saving two match points before winning in three hours and 27 minutes while at this year’s Australian Open they slugged it out in five sets with the Spaniard also victorious.

“Last year was a joke, the match that I saved here against him,” Nadal said. “[I was] super lucky. I know how dangerous he is, I need to play well, of course. I need to play better than today, but after a while without being on court it is another victory and I have the chance again to play against one of the best players in the world.

“I need to build things again after a tough stoppage and that’s what I am trying now. I just need to stay with the right attitude, and let’s see if I am able to make that happen.”

Second seed Alexander Zverev, who finished runner-up at the Madrid Open on Sunday, also advanced with a 7-6 (8-6), 6-3 win over Sebastian Baez.