ROME — Canadian teenager Denis Shapovalov’s breakout season on clay is about to face the ultimate test.
Shapovalov reached the third round of the Italian Open on Wednesday with a 7-6 (3), 6-7 (5), 6-3 win over Dutch veteran Robin Haase. Next up for the 19-year-old from Richmond Hill, Ont., is top seed Rafael Nadal, a master of the clay court.
Shapovalov posted his biggest win to date when he beat Nadal in three sets in the round of 16 at last year’s Canadian Open in Montreal. But that was on a hardcourt surface, not Nadal’s preferred clay.
Nadal improved to 15-1 this season — and 404-36 in his career — on clay with a 6-1, 6-0 rout of 31st-ranked Damir Dzumhur on Wednesday. His only defeat on the surface in 2018 was against Dominic Thiem in the quarterfinals of last week’s Madrid Open.
Shapovalov is 7-4 on clay this year, including a run to the semifinals at Madrid. His only ATP-level experience on clay prior to this season was a first-round qualifying loss at the French Open.
He had to recover against Haase in the first set of Wednesday’s match after giving up a 5-2 lead. Shapovalov reasserted himself late and dictating the pace of the tiebreak.
After dropping a tightly contested second set, Shapovalov took control in the third. Haase didn’t help his cause with three double-faults in the final set.
Shapovalov, who will facew Nadal on Thursday, finished with seven aces and converted three of 11 break point opportunities in a match that lasted two hours 26 minutes.
Earlier, Fabio Fognini got the Italian Open crowd fired up with a 6-4, 1-6, 6-3 win over sixth-seeded Thiem.
Italy’s top player came out wearing a black shirt with a red lightning bolt design down his chest and he was energized from the start, grazing the flower beds lining the court to return Thiem’s high-bouncing topspin serves and frustrating the Austrian with well-placed lobs and touch volleys.
"I played very well today," said Thiem. "It was just him, he was very pumped playing at home."
Four-time champion Novak Djokovic also advanced, beating Georgian qualifier Nikoloz Basilashvili 6-4, 6-2.
Djokovic will play Albert Ramos-Vinolas, who rallied past eighth-seeded John Isner 6-7 (5), 7-6 (2), 7-6 (5).
Defending champion Alexander Zverev beat Italian wild-card entry Matteo Berrettini 7-5, 6-2.
Also on the red clay of the Foro Italico, Kei Nishikori rallied to beat third-seeded Grigor Dimitrov 6-7 (4), 7-5, 6-4, and Juan Martin del Potro eliminated Greek qualifier Stefanos Tsitsipas 7-5, 6-3.
While Fognini drop-kicked his racket onto the court after a miss early in the third set, it was Thiem who ultimately lost his cool. In the final game, Thiem smashed his racket into a mangled wreck and handed it to a befuddled fan in the front row.
When Thiem netted a service return two points later to end it, the White Stripes’ Seven Nation Army was blasted over the stadium sound system and the crowd began singing along in an atmosphere that more closely resembled a soccer game than a tennis match.
"We’re finally connecting and I think that’s the most beautiful thing," Fognini said of the crowd, which whistled him off the court following an erratic performance a few years ago. "They finally understand me.
"I beat a top clay-courter," Fognini added. "I think I deserved it at the end. … I ruined a few flowers but I think the federation can afford to buy some new ones."
Thiem was already looking ahead to the French Open, which starts on May 27.
"It’s a loss which is not too painful, which is just motivating me for the next weeks," the Austrian said.
In women’s action, Simona Halep routed Naomi Osaka 6-1, 6-0 for the first of two wins she needs this week to keep Caroline Wozniacki from taking her No. 1 ranking.
Last year in Rome, Halep rolled her ankle in the final and lost a lead and the championship to Elina Svitolina.
Wozniacki eliminated Belgian qualifier Alison van Uytvanck 6-1, 6-4, and three-time Rome champion Maria Sharapova came back to beat Dominika Cibulkova 3-6, 6-4, 6-2.
Maria Sakkari of Greece rallied past sixth-seeded Karolina Pliskova 3-6, 6-3, 7-5.
At 5-5 in the third, Pliskova got engaged in a lengthy argument after she had an overhead smash called out. The chair umpire acknowledged that she "lost" the ball mark and therefore said the point should be awarded to Sakkari. On the next point, Sakkari converted a break then served it out.
After the match, Pliskova didn’t shake hands with the chair umpire and struck the chair several times with her racket.
Also, U.S. Open champion Sloane Stephens held off a comeback from Estonian qualifier Kaia Kanepi in a 6-0, 5-7, 6-4 victory, and seventh-seeded Caroline Garcia defeated Timea Babos 6-3, 6-4.
Former No. 1 Angelique Kerber rallied past Irina-Camelia Begu 3-6, 7-5, 7-5, and 14th-seeded Daria Kasatkina eliminated American qualifier Danielle Collins 6-2, 6-3.