Denis Shapovalov tops Milos Raonic for berth in Madrid quarters

Denis Shapovalov from Canada, left, shakes hands with countryman Milos Raonic. (Francisco Seco/AP)

MADRID — Milos Raonic was a huge influence on Denis Shapovalov during the Canadian teenager’s formative years in the sport.

On Thursday, the youngster showed his tennis idol that he’s ready to join him among the sport’s elite.

Shapovalov defeated Raonic 6-4, 6-4 in third-round play at the Madrid Open, completing their first-ever ATP World Tour meeting in one hour 22 minutes.

"He’s such a legend in our country," Shapovalov said. "I mean he’s been dominating the sport in our country and in the world. I’ve always looked up to him.

"To beat a guy like that, it’s a huge confidence booster for me. Hopefully I can take that going forward."

Raonic, from Thornhill, Ont., is currently ranked 24th in the world, 19 positions higher than Shapovalov.

Raonic is a former world No. 3 who is trying to return to form after battling injuries in recent seasons. The 27-year-old has eight career titles on his resume and reached the Wimbledon final in 2016.

Shapovalov, from Richmond Hill, Ont., is coming off a breakthrough season that saw him reach the semifinals at the Rogers Cup — knocking off top-seeded Rafael Nadal along the way — and rocket up the rankings.

He will next face world No. 22 Kyle Edmund of Britain, a 6-3, 6-3 winner over 10th-ranked David Goffin of Belgium. Edmund defeated former No. 1 Novak Djokovic in straight sets a day earlier.

Shapovalov picked up a service break on Raonic in the first set and did it again in the second.

"The match felt like everything kind of went great, went my way," he said. "I was guessing a lot the right way on the serves. When I got my racket on them, usually they’re falling in. There’s nothing to criticize about my performance today."

The 19-year-old Canadian has split his four career meetings with Edmund. This will be their first head-to-head matchup on clay.

"Obviously I think this is just an extreme bonus for me to be in the quarters of a Masters, especially on this surface," Shapovalov said. "I never expected to get this far. But yeah, I think still I’m learning on this surface. I’m learning every day. Regardless of how I do this week, I’m going to keep grinding, keep working away."

In other matches, Rafael Nadal broke John McEnroe’s record of 49 straight sets won on the same surface by beating Diego Schwartzman 6-3, 6-4.

Nadal extended his winning streak to 50 consecutive sets on clay, eclipsing the mark McEnroe established on carpet in 1984.

"When my career is over, these are things that are going to be there for always. It’s difficult to be able to win 50 sets in a row," Nadal said. "Well, it’s done. It’s over. Let’s not talk about that any more and let’s continue on what we have ahead which is what I am concerned about."

The world No. 1’s focus is trained on his next match against Dominic Thiem, a rematch of last year’s final. Thiem, who outlasted Borna Coric 2-6, 7-6 (5), 6-4, is the last player to beat Nadal on clay at Rome last year.

"On this surface, (Thiem) is one of the most dangerous players you can face," Nadal said. "Tomorrow is a key match in the tournament."

While Nadal marched on, the top women’s players continued to struggle in the Spanish capital after top-ranked Simona Halep and Maria Sharapova both lost in the quarterfinals.

Also on the men’s side, second-seeded Alexander Zverev brushed aside Leonardo Mayer 6-4, 6-2 and will meet John Isner after he edged Pablo Cuevas in a hard-fought match that needed tiebreakers to decide all three sets.

Isner prevailed 6-7 (9), 7-6 (3), 7-6 (4) in 2 hours, 21 minutes.

The top-ranked Nadal, who improved to 18-1 overall on the season, has won 38 of his last 39 matches on his favoured clay.

Nadal went up a break at 4-2 in the first set after back-to-back errors by Schwartzman, including a missed smash.

Nadal then struck a forehand winner on the run to break Schwartzman again in the second set. Schwartzman broke back, but two straight double-faults gave Nadal a third break en route to the win.

The 16-time Grand Slam champion is seeking his sixth title in Madrid after taking his trophy hauls at Monte Carlo and Barcelona to 11 apiece.

Also, Dusan Lajovic fought back from 0-4 in the decisive tiebreaker to stun fourth-seeded Juan Martin del Potro 3-6, 6-4, 7-6 (6) for his first career win against a top-10 ranked player.

Lajovic moved on to meet sixth-seeded Kevin Anderson, who eliminated Philipp Kohlschreiber 6-3, 7-6 (7).

In women’s action, top-ranked Simona Halep lost to Karolina Pliskova 6-4, 6-3 in women’s quarterfinal play. Halep was the two-time defending champion and on a 15-match winning streak at the clay-court tournament.

But Pliskova gave the Romanian no chance, breaking her serve four times and hitting 20 winners.

"This was one of my best matches of the year," the sixth-seeded Pliskova said. "I feel amazing since in the last six matches I lost to her. I never thought I would beat her. My serve was great and everything went my way."

Pliskova’s only prior victory from a previous seven matches against Halep was in the 2016 Fed Cup.

Pliskova won her 10th career title in April, when the Czech was victorious on clay in Stuttgart.

She will play Petra Kvitova or Daria Kasatkina in the semifinals.

Seventh-seeded Caroline Garcia also advanced to the final four after beating Carla Suarez Navarro 6-2, 6-3.

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