It’s beginning to feel a bit like 2017 all over again for Denis Shapovalov. Following Wednesday evening’s 6-3, 7-5 victory over No. 14-ranked Fabio Fognini, the 19-year-old from Richmond Hill, Ont., is half way to reaching the Rogers Cup semi-finals – something he accomplished a year ago in Montreal when he made his big breakthrough with wins over Rafael Nadal and Juan Martin del Potro.
On the subject of the big Argentine, yesterday del Potro withdrew from the Rogers Cup in Toronto with a left wrist issue. That could make things a little easier for Shapovalov as he will now face No. 39-ranked Robin Haase in Thursday’s third round after the Dutchman downed lucky loser Mikhail Youzhny 7-5, 6-2.
Shapovalov made a quick start in the match against Fognini, which was moved to the Grandstand court after a two-and-a-half rain delay forced tournament officials to adjust the schedule. He broke to 3-1 in the opening set and then served it out, after a more than two-hour rain delay, at 5-3.
In the second set, he rallied from a 4-0 deficit to overcome Fognini, who came into the week after winning the Los Cabos, Mexico, ATP 250 event last Saturday.
“It just felt pretty fast to me,” Shapovalov said about falling being in the second set. “All of a sudden, I won a set and, next thing I know, I’m down 4-0. So I told myself, ‘look let’s take some time – regroup – get your game back and prepare for the third.
“But I just kept fighting. And once I got that first break, I just told myself, ‘look, I can come back in this set.’ And, yeah, I just believed in myself.”
It’s sometimes hard to imagine the feisty, frenetic Shapovalov not believing in himself, especially when he’s playing at home in Canada. On Wednesday, after making a twitter post expressing his disappointment about being moved to the Grandstand, Shapovalov quickly revised himself after he experienced the greater intimacy of the 4,000-seat stadium at the rear of the grounds. “I think it helped me a lot,” he said, “because it was so ecstatic, so energetic because it’s so compact that it actually bothered Fognini quite a bit – especially toward the end.”
There was a little aggro between the two players when Fognini, perennially on the verge edge of combustibility, hit a ball in anger that accidentally came a little too close to Shapovalov late in the second set. The latter expressed his feelings about it and then became further upset when he heard the Italian muttering in his native tongue. An Italian reporter said that the gist of what Fognini said was something like, “these young guys, they hit so hard.”
“I don’t speak Italian,” Shapovalov said later. “I just told him if he has a problem, we can discuss it after. But I just tried to stay focused.”
Apart from a dip in those first four games of the second set, Shapovalov was on his game – winning 72 per cent of first serve points and 62 per cent on his second. He was also 4/5 on break point conversions to just 2/4 for Fognini. His overall dominance was clear in the total points won – he led 68 to 50.
“I think my game is at a very high level right now,” he said. “Last week, even though I lost to Kei [Nishikori 7-6(1), 6-3 in Washington], it was a really good match. And I was telling everyone, ‘I’m playing well in practice. I’m feeling really good.’ “But I have a really tough match again tomorrow, so we’ll see out there how I’m feeling.”
Shapovalov and the 31-year-old Haase have just played once – with Shapovalov winning 7-6(3), 6-7(5), 6-3 in the second round in Rome on clay in May.
The match-up could have a follow-up – again in Toronto. With the way things now stand they would be their respective nation’s No. 1 players when Canada hosts the
Netherlands in a Davis Cup World Group Playoff at the Coca-Cola Coliseum from September 14-16.
On Wednesday evening, the No. 2-ranked Canadian, Milos Raonic, didn’t play nearly as well as he did in a 6-3, 6-4 win over No. 10 seed David Goffin on Monday and wound up losing 7-6(4), 4-6, 6-1 to No. 41-ranked Frances Tiafoe of the U.S.
From the very beginning Raonic was not sharp, which showed itself mostly in his service returns. Tiafoe had a dream beginning – holding his serve easily throughout the first set – dropping just two of 26 points on serve. That built his confidence and he carried it into the tiebreak where Raonic made a two crucial errors – a forehand volley into an open court which he put midway up the net when he led 1-0 and then a poor forehand unforced error when he served at 4-all. That proved to be the decisive mini-break.
The second set was interrupted by an hour rain delay with Tiafoe serving at 3-3, 30-all.
The resumption of play after two hours was a comedy of errors as the lights went out at the end of the warm-up and umpire Renaud Lichtenstein of France (above with Tiafoe) dithered (on instructions from the supervisor and referee) about whether they would continue in light (without lights) that was nonetheless playable.
When they did Raonic made two strong returns off first serves and quickly had the service break to 4-3 – and pretty soon took the set 6-4.
But things went pear-shaped quickly in the third set, as the No. 29-ranked Canadian reverted to his form of the first set and Tiafoe raced to a 5-0 lead.
After he lost his serve after the resumption, Tiafoe expressed his dissatisfaction with the indecision about the lights when, as he later described it, he and Raonic were “walking in circles – we kind of looked like clowns out there.”
In his media interview, the 20-year-old Tiafoe said the mishmash delay with the lights had served as motivation for the third set. “I was so pissed at the ref that I was like ‘I’m not losing this friggin’ match.’”
There are always lots of stats after a tennis match, but one stood out on Wednesday evening – Tiafoe won 83 per cent of his second serve points (only 72 per cent on his first) while Raonic won just 50 per cent of his second serve points.
“It’s disappointing to not do the things I wanted to do well,” Raonic said about what the French call a contre-performance (a counter-performance), “and I sort of feel like I might have handed it to him a little bit too much. That’s the most disappointing part.”
In the final analysis, maybe after a 25-day break from competition after Wimbledon due to getting over a quadriceps tear from his quarter-final at the All England Club, may have caught up to Raonic in his second outing at the Rogers Cup.
“He stepped up, played well,” Raonic said about Tiafoe, who now moves into top-40 in the ATP rankings. “He played a few good shots, made me played a few extra shots as well, and that sort of caught up with me.”
Possibly the pressure of playing at home also got to Raonic – it did to Tiafoe when he played in Washington last week and lost 6-0, 6-3 to No. 11-ranked Goffin. “I played at home last week and I know the pressure,” Tiafoe said. “I know what that feels like. I folded last week so I knew it’s not easy (for Raonic). I used that to my advantage.”
The 20-year-old Tiafoe, with Sierra Leone ancestry, regaled reporters at the end of his media conference when he told the story of meeting his girlfriend, who is a Canadian from Toronto.
After telling how American player Vicky Duval introduced them and recounting a convoluted version of their courtship in 2017. He wound up describing how, on her trip to the US Open, he and his girlfriend finally bonded.
“The last day there, I was like, ‘I’m going home and you’re going back to Canada. You’re going to Clemson soon – actually UCLA. But I was, like, ‘well, I guess this is my chance. Can we date?’ “And then I actually did it over FaceTime. I didn’t even do it in person. I’m not even going to lie. I was tight. I was tight. “She said yes. She had a long pause and then said yes. And then that’s, yeah, the story goes on.”
The centre court day finished at 12:07 a.m. on Thursday as Felix Auger-Aliassime thrilled spectators with everything but a victory when he lost a heart-breaker 3-6, 7-6(4), 7-6(7) to No. 68-ranked Daniil Medvedev of Russia.
The 18-year-old was seven minutes into the second day of his 19th year when he erred with a forehand into the net to give the victory to Medvedev on the latter’s third match point.
As much as it meant to Auger-Aliassime, Medvedev also was also totally into it, collapsing onto the court in relief at the moment of victory.
Auger-Aliassime led 4-1 in the final-set tiebreak after belting three forehand outright winners.
He also was ahead 5-4 but a ball right on the baseline by Medvedev and an unforced error allowed the Russian to creep ahead and never face match point himself. In the rallies, Auger-Aliassime was the more aggressive player as Medvedev played cautiously with his backhand – mostly cross-court – and a bit
more aggressively with his gangly forehand which managed to hold up under pressure.
It’s a tough loss for Auger-Alassime but his ranking should be about No. 119 next week and with any kind of a fall in terms of results he should reach at least No. 108 which would be good enough for the main draw at next January’s Australian Open.
Asked after the two-hour and 35-minute match if he was more mentally or physically tired, the 6-foot-4 Auger-Aliassime said, “I think physically, mentally I was still there. You know, I was enjoying myself. The crowd was behind me. “Mentally I could have played another set, but it was just physically those long games were getting tiring. I was kind of feeling it, you know, into my legs and wasn’t able to push as much on my serve. And that’s probably a reason why I lost that third set.”
“I’m sad and frustrated,” Auger-Aliassime said in French post-match. “It’s been a few tournaments now when I’ve had a chance to go further – to win more matches and I’ve had a little trouble closing out. So I’ve got to adjust to get over the hump to win matches like that one.”
About whether he felt that Medvedev played more cautiously and that he was the aggressor during the match, Auger-Aliassime said, “that happens a lot because I have an aggressive game-style. In the first set, he gave me a lot of quick, easy points. He adjusted in the second set. He played from farther back and started to put more balls in play. But actually, I was surprised because, compared to some other times this year, I was able to stay pretty solid and I was generally pretty good. So credit to him for having been so steady.”
Watching courtside were (left to right) coach Guillaume Marx, Tennis Canada’s main man in Montreal Louis Borfiga and Auger-Aliassime’s trainer Bernard Perrot – behind them are his father Sam and his agent Bernard Duchesneau.
Next for the 18-year-old is the Odlum Brown VanOpen in Vancouver next week. Needless to say, he will be the star attraction at the $100,000 ATP Challenger event.
In the first match of the day on centre court, Novak Djokovic needed an hour and 25 minutes to reach the third round with a 6-3, 6-4 victory over Canadian wild card Peter Polansky.
It was just the second match for the current world No. 10 since he won his fourth Wimbledon title last month and he gave a succinct analysis of his performance. “Overall game was so-and-so,” he said. “In the moments when, you know, I probably needed to step it up, I did. And it was just enough to win in straight sets.”
As for Polansky, his take went like this, “(I) had a couple chances, not many, but I had a couple of chances. 30-alls, maybe a couple break points that he played solid on. But I thought it went really well out there – 6-3, 6-4, probably a little closer than the scoreline said.
Next for Polansky will be the Odlum Brown VanOpen in Vancouver.
After that, it will be the qualifying for the US Open. At Flushing Meadows he will likely get an outsized amount of publicity as he ‘goes’ for the so-called ‘Grand Slam of lucky losers’ after reaching the main draw of the first three Grand Slams of 2018 via the lucky loser route.
Asked if he had a lucky loser strategy heading into the US Open, Polansky said, playing along with the humour of the situation, “well, step one is getting into the last round of qualifying. And then step two is…I don’t know. Don’t really need to play that last match…I guess.”
“I kind I want to get in directly – but a small, a very small part of me wants to get in as a lucky loser to the US Open and make history.”