Denis Shapovalov added to his already considerable lore with a dramatic 6-4, 4-6, 5-7, 7-6(2), 6-4 victory over Andreas Seppi on Wednesday at the US Open – a win that followed the earlier and much less eventful Milos Raonic 6-3, 6-4, 6-4 victory over Gilles Simon on the same Court 5.
Raonic broke the Frenchman in the second game of the match on the way to a straight-forward win in two hours and six minutes before Shapovalov needed to run the gamut of emotions in pulling out a three-hour and 47-minute barnburner against the 34-year-old Italian veteran.
Shapovalov’s day began inefficiently as he was broken by Seppi in his opening service game of the match before breaking back to make the first-set score 3-all. He finally won the set with a break in the final game but erratic play that would plague him began in earnest in the second set when Seppi broke his serve to 4-3 and held on for the set.
Early on it seemed as if Shapovalov’s superior weight of shot would overwhelm the No. 51-ranked Italian. But errors crept into his game and the match was never quite the same as Shapovalov alternated brilliance with missteps right until the end of the match.
Seppi said as much afterward when he told Italian reporters that Shapovalov would be a top-five player but that he didn’t think he had played very well in this match – making too many mistakes and not getting in enough first serves (just 56 per cent for the match).
The low point for Shapovalov was at the end of the third set when, after breaking serve to lead 4-2 he was immediately broken back in the next game when he served consecutive double faults from 30-15 and then again at 5-all when he double-faulted on game point.
After Seppi served out the set, a stunned, red-faced Shapovalov sat in his courtside seat at the change-over, shaking his head in frustration.
But he rebooted and hung tough in the fourth set, the only one without a service break. He extended the match to a decisive fifth set with the help of some pretty sketchy tiebreak play by Seppi at a moment when the Italian appeared to be slightly in the ascendency.
In the fifth set Shapovalov started strongly, breaking to 2-1 only to lose it as Seppi broke back to 3-all.
Leading 30-love in the next game, the rangy Italian followed an approach shot to the net only to have Shapovalov drill a low passing shot so hard that he could barely get his racquet on it. That began the final momentum shift of the match as Shapovalov promptly came back to break to 4-3 – on his fifth break point of the game – and steadied to hold serve two more times to wrap up a roller-coaster and highly-entertaining contest.
When Seppi broke back to 3-all in the final set – he did so on a point where Shapovalov was in perfect position at the net but the passing shot ticked the top of the net and skipped past him.
It suddenly looked like luck, and maybe even destiny, was on Seppi’s side at that juncture but Shapovalov was resilient, later explaining, “I told myself to refocus, ‘you’ve broken him four times this match, you can do it again.’ And that’s what happened. Sure enough, the next game I broke him back. Obviously it’s a little bit disappointing, especially in a fifth set, when something like that happens.
“It’s the game of tennis, anything can happen. Like I said, I just refocused myself and just played the next point.”
Shapovalov insisted, with all the momentum shifts, that it had been “fun to be out there.” He also claimed to be prepared for the challenge of facing world No. 5, the 2017 US Open and 2018 Wimbledon runner-up, Kevin Anderson, in the third round. “Obviously I’m tired now,” he said at his media conference. “I’m lucky, I’m only 19 years old. I feel pretty good. I’ll be ready for Friday.”
It will be a first meeting between Anderson and Shapovalov. The 19-year-old from Richmond Hill, Ont., remarked about the match-up, “he’s made multiple Grand Slam finals – he’s no walk in the park. He’s a tough opponent, tough to get a rhythm with him. Obviously he’s serving unbelievably huge. I’ve had a little bit of experience playing guys like him. I’m ready. It’s going to be a lot of short points. I’m going to try to use the chances that I get. It’s going to be another battle.”
Shapovalov’s regular coach Martin Laurendeau has not been with him since a debilitating issue with the L5 disc in his back forced him to return home to Montreal after Shapovalov’s opening-round match at Wimbledon. He was not in Toronto for Rogers Cup and is not in New York for the US Open. Elaborating on the situation, Shapovalov said, ”we made a decision that this year is kind of a write-off. I’m going to be travelling with my mom (Tessa Shapovalova) a little bit more. We’ll see from there.”
His wolf mascot “Storm” was present courtside near his mother on Wednesday. Once again he patiently told the story to New York reporters about he and friends calling themselves a ‘wolf pack’ and then him seeing a wolf in an airport store in Brisbane, Australia, in January. He couldn’t resist buying Storm, who came with a Christian name. The stuffed animal has been part of the Shapovalov support group ever since.
In Raonic’s match, he got a service break in the second game and that set the tone for a commanding display against Simon – his fifth win in six meetings with the 33-year-old Frenchman.
Simon only had a single break point in the first set and the same in the second. On the latter, Raonic challenged him by coming into the net and the Frenchman was unable to pass – missing wide with a backhand. There were no break points for Simon in the final set.
“He had a good start,” Simon summed up, “and it was really hard to return the second serve. I was struggling a lot with his second serve today. When he’s cruising on his serve, you have a lot of pressure on your own serve. In the end he was able to break me once in every set and that was enough for today.”
Raonic was solid in the rallies – particularly on the backhand side with a slice that has enabled him to stay in rallies with the best players as he showed against Novak Djokovic in a three-set loss in Cincinnati two weeks ago.
When asked in French if he was impressed with Raonic’s consistency in the rallies, Simon responded negatively and probably unfairly. But he did concede about Raonic, “what’s really impressive is that, in those moments when he decides to put the pressure on, he’s great on those shots. He didn’t have that many chances but as soon as he had one he did what he had to do – he didn’t miss or else he hit a passing shot here and there.”
Raonic was 3/6 in break point conversions – Simon was 0/2.
The bottom line is Simon needed to be nearly flawless when he had the few chances that he did – and he wasn’t. Raonic was. “In those important moments I was able to just be patient and sort of trust my legs that I would be able to hold on,” said the No. 25 seed, “just to keep that pressure on him.”
The winners to unforced errors stat was remarkably weighted in Raonic’s favour – he was 39/29 while Simon was an anemic 4/14. At the net Raonic also dwarfed Simon – going 28/41 for a 68 per cent success rate compared with 2/3 for a 66 per cent success rate for Simon.
Never one to pat himself on the back after a win, Raonic was his usual understated self in analyzing his performance. “I did things well and took care of my serve,” he said. “I was a lot more disciplined with myself. I wasn’t going up and down in the match like I did my previous one (against qualifier Carlos Berlocq). Overall I’m happy.”
Raonic’s victory sets up a third-round clash with the world No. 101 – normally not such a scary proposition. Except this week that happens to be three-time Grand Slam champion Stan Wawrinka. The 33-year-old Swiss has come almost all the way back from serious left knee surgery last August, which involved a tissue graft from his hip. It took Rafael Nadal to beat him in a tough three sets at the Rogers Cup in Toronto earlier this month and Roger Federer to do likewise in three close sets the following week in Cincinnati.
It will be the fifth meeting between Raonic and Wawrinka with the Swiss holding a 4-1 edge. But Raonic won their last match – in five set sets in the 2016 Australian Open round-of-16. “He’s playing well,” Wawrinka said about Raonic. “He’s also had some injuries, had some struggles. He’s always been a tough opponent. He’s serving big, putting on a lot of pressure, going for it. You don’t get a lot of chances to break him, but you need to take them.
“We always had really tough match against each other.”
Four of the five have been on hard courts with Wawrinka winning his three in Rotterdam (2015), Shanghai (2013) and Cincinnati (2012).
“I watched him play two matches last week,” Raonic said about Wawrinka. “I watched him play a little bit of his match against Grigor (Dimitrov) on Monday. He’s playing well again. He’s moving well. He’s doing his things – stepping up. He’s playing well on those big points. He’s hitting the ball hard, as he knows how to. He’s effective with his backhand. It’s going to be tough. I’m going to have to play well.”
Toward the end of Roanic’s media conference things got a little light-hearted. When he was asked about his seemingly improved sliced backhand, he replied, “I think I have always had a pretty good slice backhand. Since I’ve had the chance to play more consistently, I think I have gotten in better shape to where I can get in better position and be able to be more effective with it.”
When it was suggested to him that not too many two-handed backhand players have such a good sliced backhand, he smiled, “(that’s) because I don’t have a very good two-handed backhand. I need it.”
Back in the day – not so long ago – twitter had a few humorous Raonic handles, including one to do with his sleeve and one his hair.
When it was suggested to him Wednesday that his current clean-cut look may have resulted in fewer tweets (none at all in 2018) from the Milos Raonic’s Hair twitter account (@Milos_Hair), he played along and smiling said, “maybe the person who started that account is on summer vacation. It could be a lot of factors.”
No gel and the shorter length appear to have robbed @Milos_Hair of his (her?) inspiration.
On Wednesday night Vasek Pospisil got the chance to have two of the most daunting experiences in tennis – playing the indomitable Rafael Nadal and doing so in the biggest stadium in the tennis world – 23,771-seat Arthur Ashe Stadium.
On the whole things didn’t work out too badly, he held his own in a even two-hour contest, coming out on the short end of a 6-3, 6-4, 6-2 score but enjoying his first match in Ashe.
On a day of 34 degree temperatures and high humidity, Pospisil said he felt like he was playing in a sauna and that the “air was so hot” despite the match beginning just about nine p.m.
After dropping the first set, Pospisil managed to score a service break and led 4-2 in the second. But the inexorable Spaniard came back. “I just kind of physically and mentally got a little tired at one point in the match,” Pospisil said. “He just is relentless. He pounced on that. I lost any momentum I had there in the second set. Then it was just one-way traffic. It was just very tough.”
Always susceptible in humid conditions, Pospisil experienced a couple of difficult moments. “I was just bloated,” he explained. “I threw up a couple times. It’s just because I was trying to eat some food and I was drinking too much. I’m sweating more than I’m able to replace. It just makes it a challenge sometimes to fuel up on the court. Sometimes I don’t have any room in my stomach.”
Still the night in Ashe stadium was memorable. “I enjoyed it actually,” he said about the enormous arena. “I felt like it almost plays a little bit like an indoor court in some ways because it’s quite covered. The only trouble for me was the humidity. It didn’t help my case today. I felt like I was hitting the ball really well. I think that was just an extra challenge which isn’t ideal because challenges are great enough when you’re playing someone like Rafael.”
Pospisil added, “the quality of his strokes is really impressive. He hits the ball with a lot of power and spin. He covers the court extremely well. You have to go for it and play riskier than other players.”
Relatively, Pospisil’s numbers on the night weren’t too shabby – his winners to unforced errors ratio was 22/23 while the world No. 1 and defending US Open champion was 26/16.
Pospisil isn’t finished at the 2018 US Open, on Thursday and partner Fernando Verdasco will play the seventh seeds, Lukas Kubot of Poland and Marcelo Melo of Brazil in an opening-round doubles match.
Daniel Nestor, partnering American Bradley Klahn, was eliminated in the final Grand Slam match of his illustrious career on Wednesday. The Nestor – Klahn duo were ousted 6-3, 6-3 by American brothers Christian and Ryan Harrison in the first round.
The 45-year-old Torontonian (46 next Tuesday) will officially play his last match likely alongside Vasek Pospisil when Canada faces the Netherlands in a Davis Cup World Group Playoff from September 14-16 at the Coca Cola Coliseum in Toronto.
“It’s sad to finish but you know when your time is up and it’s been confirmed over the last year,” Nestor said. “I still want to have the opportunity to play Davis Cup because I think in those conditions – on fast indoor courts – I can still play well.”
When asked about what’s next for him after Davis Cup, Nestor was his usual jokester self saying, “I’d love to have batting practice at (the Toronto Blue Jays) Rogers Centre because I’ve been asking for that for 15 years to see if I can still hit a home run.”
In a more serious vein he continued, “I’m helping out with a Challenger in Calgary (October 13-21), the National Bank Challenger they’re having there. I’m looking forward to that. I’d like to do different things but not something full time right away. I just want to have opportunity to relax and enjoy family time as well as stay somewhat busy and definitely stay on the court and stay in shape.”
Is there any chance he will be in the TV commentary booth at some point? “Yeah, for sure,” he said, “there’s always a chance. That’s not something I’ve thought about too much, but I’d like to do different things to help out with Canadian tennis and that’s definitely a possibility.”
Genie Bouchard, who has never been past the round-of-16 in five previous tries at the US Open, could get halfway there with a win over 19-year-old Marketa Vondrousova of the Czech Republic in Thursday’s second round. They will play on Court 17 – third match after a women’s and a men’s match – roughly somewhere between 3 p.m. and 5 p.m. ET.
The circular Court 17 stadium has 2,800 seats and, as a French spectator in the crowd on Wednesday at the Milos Raonic – Gilles Simon match suggested, it’s a lot like the now demolished Court 1 “bullring” court at the French Open.
It’s a first meeting for Bouchard, now ranked No. 137 but up to No. 112 in the WTA ‘live’ rankings, and Voudrousova, No. 103.
The Flushing neighbourhood in the borough of Queens is located just to the east of the US Open site. It has one of the highest concentrations of Chinese Americans in the five boroughs of New York City. The picture here is of Main Street taken from the Long Island Railroad.
(Feature photo: Mauricio Paiz)