They were coming at their Thursday matches from different angles – Genie Bouchard attempting to climb back up the rankings while Denis Shapovalov was hoping to push further in his rapid rankings rise – but both had a setback in Court No. 3 action at Wimbledon.
Bouchard played well but lost 6-4, 7-5 to No. 17 seed Ashleigh Barty of Australia while Shapovalov allowed his early dominance to slip away in a 0-6, 6-2, 6-4, 7-6(3) defeat at the hands of mercurial Frenchman Benoit Paire.
Both could look at fateful moments that could have changed the outcomes. Bouchard was crucially broken at 5-all in the second set when Barty completely mishit a service return that squibbed just over the net and died in the grass for an uncontested winner.
As for Shapovalov, he had a set point leading 5-4 in the fourth set and returned a drop shot deep only to have Paire loft a lob over him that looked to be drifting long – only to land smack on the baseline. Shapovalov challenged and Hawk-Eye technology sadly (for Shapovalov) showed the ball landing flush within the borders of the baseline.
The Shapovalov – Paire match may have taken a 180 degree turned at the beginning of the second set when it was all Shapovalov, with him leading 6-0, 1-0.
Paire, who had basically tossed the final game of the first set at 0-5, approached the baseline as he was about to start serving in the second game of the second set and looked up at his support crew and, seemingly at his wits end, said, “je ne peux pas servir, je prends des mites sur chaque retour, which roughly translates “I can’t serve, he’s hitting bombs on every (service) return.”
Shapovalov couldn’t hear that but from his opponent’s body language he could have had doubts about the 29-year-old Frenchman’s commitment to the match.
Then, trailing 1-0, Paire won a point to 30-15 and let out a big growl of self-motivation and then another roar after winning the next point.
Things would never be the same in the dynamic of the match, as Paire’s tennis became more powerful and consistent and Shapovalov’s lost some of its edge from the first set.
It was almost as if Paire played possum and suddenly revived just at the moment his 19-year-old opponent wondered if he actually had a legitimate challenger on the other side of the net.
But two games later Paire broke Shapovalov in a game that started with a double fault (as they often do) and ended with a missed passing shot with the No. 47-ranked Frenchman applying pressure at the net.
There was another break of serve at 4-2 for Paire and in just 51 minutes the match was level at a set apiece.
In the third set Paire began to take control, winning it after a break in the fifth game.
In the fourth, there was that chance for Shapovalov with the set point at in the tenth game and then after an early 2-1 mini-break lead in the tiebreak. But as he had from the first set on, Paire was the more settled individual on court, using his backhand to match Shapovalov in the rallies and blunt the effect of the lefty’s wide serve in the ad court. The wheels finally came off for Shapovalov when he missed a sitter forehand wide that would have got him to 4-5. With the score 6-3 – triple match point – Shapovalov sailed a backhand service return long and Paire had a victory that had looked highly unlikely after the opening set.
The extent of Shapovalov’s disappointment and frustration was obvious when, totally out of character, he walked off the court at the end without acknowledging the crowd’s applause.
Paire, 6-foot-5, is one of the rare talents in the game with a huge serve, a glorious two-handed backhand that he hits inside/out better than anyone in the sport and volleys that he consistently dispatches with precision to exactly where his opponent ain’t. His forehand is eminently vulnerable under pressure – it totally collapsed against Roger Federer in a third-set tiebreak in Halle two weeks ago – but stands up adequately when he’s swinging freely as he was on Thursday.
Shapovalov is one of the game’s brute shot-makers who can take over a match with his explosiveness. But when the stats sheet shows that his winners to unforced errors ratio is 28/28 and his opponent is 37/31 as it was Thursday, it’s not a winning formula.
“I had all the momentum after the first set, and I blew that,” Shapovalov said post-match. “Obviously I wasn’t able to sustain my level today – missing a lot of first serves (only 54 percent made compared to 64 percent for Paire) is probably the big key of it. I just have to look over the match again and just do some brainstorming, find out why this kind of thing keeps happening. “It was kind of the same story in the French Open [a second-round 5-7, 7-6(4), 7-5, 6-4 loss to Maximillan Marterer of Germany]. I had a lot of momentum going my way, and then all of a sudden it just slipped away from me. “I didn’t have a good grass court season (2-4). I got some tough draws – wasn’t able to play my best tennis today. We’ll just have to move on from it and just learn from it.”
Next for Shapovalov will the ATP 500 in Washington beginning the week of July 30th to be followed a week later by the Rogers Cup in Toronto – an event where two years, at age 17, he announced his arrival with a first-round upset of Nick Kyrgios.
In all the numbers, maybe a critical one is the fact that the 19-year-old Shapovalov has not been home since a few days before his first clay-court tournament in Monte Carlo on April 15th. That’s getting pretty close to three months.
“Yeah, it’s been a while,” he said about being away from home, “but I’ve been all right because my parents have been visiting me. In between I got a week off (after the French Open in late May) to kind of vay-cay. I don’t feel too homesick. “Obviously it’s nice to go back to Toronto and see my dogs – and my brother.”
At that moment he laughed realizing he had put the two canines ahead of his older sibling Evgeniy. “We should cut that part out,” he joked.
He went on, “it’s a little bit disappointing how the season ended – how the last couple of tournaments didn’t quite turn out the way I wanted to. But it’s part of the sport. I’m young. I’m learning. So hopefully I can just learn from it.”
With a ranking that looks like it will be a career-high equalling No. 23 after Wimbledon, his tennis education is still in its infant stages.
And for the record, when he gets home Evgeniy will be happy to see him again as will Denis’ pair of man’s best friends – Lucky and Nika.
The bottom line after Bouchard’s loss to Barty is that the better form player won. It was the logical result considering their current positions – Barty is ranked No. 17 and her 2018 record is 29-12 while Bouchard is No. 188 with a 2018 won/loss of 7-9.
The difference in the first set was a poor game by Bouchard at 1-all when she lost serve – making three unforced errors from 15-all. She still had two break points in the final game of the set and forced nervy Barty to need three set points to wrap things up.
The beginning of the match was pretty well a shocker in terms of Barty’s serving. Not a bad server, she was almost other-worldly out of the gate – hitting two aces and two service winners in her first service game and three aces and one service winner in her second service game.
It was unusual from the enterprising by not particularly service-imposing 5-foot-5 native of Ipswich, Australia.
Jokingly asked what she had for breakfast on Thursday before the 11:30 a.m. start of the match, she replied about the super serving, “I think that’s a mix of nervous energy – obviously when you’re a bit nervous things can happen well or not so well. I came out firing, hit my spots on my serves really well. And I think she did the same.”
Bouchard seemed to have turned things around in the second set when she broke in the fourth game, helped by Barty’s consecutive double faults, and soon led 5-2. But the Montrealer had been love-30 in her two previous service games and Barty finally broke through with a break to 5-4 and another to 6-5 on her way to sealing the set 7-5 and the match.
Bouchard showed lots of grit in the final game-saving four match points – one with a deep service return and another with an outright forehand winner. But on the fifth, she misfired with a forehand into the net.
Barty was relieved after the win in an hour and 31 minutes and said about Bouchard, “she’s not playing as if she’s ranked 180-odd in the world. She’s qualified quite comfortably and played well in the first round.”
While Bouchard was disappointed there was a general feeling she had acquitted herself well, stood her ground and showed many signs of her old aggressive-hitting, iron-willed self.
“I played an opponent who is playing really well right now, especially on this surface,” Bouchard said about the 22-year-old Barty. “I think she has a great game for grass. So I knew I was coming up against someone tough and I’m disappointed because I felt I had chances in both sets. I think I played well but I know I can play better.”
Testimony to the competitiveness of the match was the winners to unforced errors ratios for the players – Barty was 27/19 while Bouchard was 23/14.
“I was just so excited to play matches – I’ve been sitting on the sidelines for a couple of months,” Bouchard said. “It’s always tough coming back. So to get some wins right away is definitely giving me confidence moving forward.”
That sitting on the sidelines was caused by an abdominal strain that prevented her from playing a Challenger event in France before Roland Garros in May.
“It’s a tricky injury because you use it in everything you do,” she explained about dealing with the abdominal issue that diminished her and forced her to retire in her first-round match in the French Open qualifying on May 23rd. “You really have to stop everything to let it heal. That really just puts you behind everyone else who’s continuing to practice and play matches. That’s why coming back is so tough, a lot of treatment, strengthening, stretching – all of that fun stuff!”
Bouchard expressed her appreciation of Robert Lansdorp, the 79-year-old California-based Dutchman who has been working with her in recent months, and who was at Wimbledon. “I’ve really enjoyed my time with Robert so far,” she said. “I’m grateful he made the trip all the way out here – it’s far from L.A. I think he has so much experience, I trust everything he says and he’s definitely helped me.”
She insisted several times that she wants to play as much as possible to get match-tough, including in the next two weeks in a $100,000 (US) Challenger on clay in Contrexeville, France, next week and then the WTA International Series event in Gstaad, Switzerland, the following week, also on clay.
“I’m looking forward to playing more matches,” she said. “I want to play a lot now that I’m healthy.”
At one point during her media conference, she said about the match with Barty, “I gave everything.” The latter remark may represent the biggest positive to come out of the match for her.
Summing up, in a subtle shot at all the Genie skeptics, she declared, “it’s definitely not the end of my career, which some people think it is. I’m here to stay – like it or not.”
Daniel Nestor, a two-time Wimbledon doubles champion – with Nenad Zimonjic in 2008 and 2009 – played his final match at Wimbledon on Thursday. He and partner Jurgen Melzer of Austria were beaten 6-3, 6-4, 6-4 by eighth seeds Nikola Mektic of Croatia and Alexander Peya of Austria.
It was the 45-year-old Nestor’s 24th appearance at the All England Club.
Nestor plans to retire after the US Open and Canada’s Davis Cup World Group Playoff versus the Netherlands from September 14-16 in Toronto.
It appears his only current partner commitments are to Vasek Pospisil for the Rogers Cup in Toronto in August and likely to an American for the US Open.
Knowing all the fanfare that will go along with Nestor’s final appearance in his hometown of Toronto at the Rogers Cup, Pospisil joked on Thursday, “that might be one of the rare weeks that I might be more interested in doing well in doubles than singles.”
Gabriela Dabrowski and her Chinese partner Xu Yifan advanced to the second round on women’s doubles on Thursday with a 6-7(5), 6-2, 10-8 victory over American Alison Riske and Olga Savchuk of Ukraine.
The match, postponed by rain on Wednesday evening, resumed Thursday at 3-2 with a service break to Riske and Savchuk. Dabrowski and Xu were able to break Savchuk’s serve to level at 4-all and were the more effective pair from then on – allowing their superior doubles teamwork to come to the fore. The match ended on a double fault by Riske, who had played a singles match earlier in the day – losing 1-6, 7-6(10), 6-2 to Belinda Bencic of Switzerland.
Vasek Pospisil and his American partner Ryan Harrison were eliminated in the first round of men’s doubles – losing 6-4, 7-6(8), 6-2 to Germans Philipp Petzschner and Tim Puetz on Thursday.
About his first-round losses in singles (Mikhail Kukushkin) and doubles, Pospisil deadpanned, “there’s not much to sign off for. Just look at the score-sheet – I won just one set in two matches.
“I have a lot to do physically. I didn’t feel good. I felt kind of slow.”
He continued philosophically, “there’s so many ups and downs in sport. I’m used to it. I’m 28-years old. It’s not my first year on tour. I’m not going to go and cry about it but I’m definitely not high energy and not happy right now. That’s for sure. I know it turns around, it always turns around. And the only way it turns around is if you work hard. I’ve got to I work on the things I didn’t do well here and kind of assess why I haven’t played well the last few weeks. I feel like I know why and my team and I know why. Now just go and sharpen up, get that fixed and try and get some confidence on the hard courts.”
That last line suggests he may be skipping next’s week’s ATP 250 on grass in Newport, R.I., and getting back on tour at the ATP 500 in Washington at the end of July. But he didn’t totally rule out Newport.
This is not a scene one would expect to see on Wimbledon High Street on a Saturday morning – but there it was last Saturday. There’s a horse stable nearby and these two non-horses may well be resident there.