The dog days of October are not generally viewed as an inspiring time on the worldwide tennis scene.
But last week abounded with surprises, emotions and accomplishments.
At the top if the list, from a Canadian standpoint, was Denis Shapovalov winning his first ATP title at the Stockholm Open. In the broader scheme of things, there was Andy Murray making an improbable comeback from undergoing hip surgery in January to victory at the European Open in Antwerp, Belgium.
There were also other notable happenings such as Vasek Pospisil triumphing at the Challenger event in Las Vegas as well as Canadians Leylah Annie Fernandez and Steven Diez respectively reaching the finals of ITF and Challenger events. Internationally, there was 22-year-old Jelena Ostapenko winning her first title since Seoul, Korea, in the fall of 2017 three months after becoming the French Open champion, and 35-year-old Janko Tipsarevic exiting the tennis stage with a memorable marathon match and tribute in Stockholm.
There’s a certain irony to Shapovalov (above just before he put down the heavy trophy during the presentation ceremony) winning his first ATP title before his compatriot and friend Félix Auger-Aliassime. The Montrealer has participated in three finals in 2019 – Rio de Janeiro, Lyon and Stuttgart – without getting a title. While Shapovalov – after seven loses in semi-finals – came through on his first finals opportunity, beating no. 60 ranked Filip Krajinovic of Serbia 6-4, 6-4 on Sunday.
Shapovalov has been playing much better since Rogers Cup in Montreal in August. After reaching the semi-finals (as did Auger-Aliassime) at the Masters 1000 Miami Open in March, he went just 2-9 at European clay and grass-court tournaments. That included going 0-3 on grass, his favourite surface.
But things picked starting in Montreal and he has now gone eight tournaments without losing his opening round match and has compiled a 17-7 record over that time.
On ATPTour.com, Shapovalov spoke about his spring and summer slump in Europe, saying, “it was a tough period for me mentally. I wasn’t completely there after such a big run in Miami and wasn’t fully prepared to be on for the clay-court season. I had a couple of tough draws and wasn’t so fired up to play every match. After Wimbledon, I took some time off and did a little bit of soul searching, found the reason why I enjoyed tennis again. I’ve been playing the sport differently and treating it differently ever since then.”
Shapovalov’s victory at the Kungliga Tennishallen in Stockholm has moved his ranking up from no. 34 to no. 27. He only has 10 points to defend at his next two events in Vienna this week (starting against no. 34 ranked Pablo Carreno Busta in the first round on Wednesday) and in Paris at the Masters 1000 next week. That means his ranking is unlikely to drop very much, so he should be assured of being among the 32 seeds at the Australian Open in January.
He was flying solo without a coach in Stockholm but did have his physio Stefano De Pirro (above) with him. It is uncertain whether retired Russian player Mikhail Youzhny, after fulfilling some outside commitments, will be with Shapovalov in Vienna and/or Paris.
Murray’s 3-6, 6-4, 6-4 victory over Stan Wawrinka at the ATP 250 event in Antwerp may have been the most compelling final of the 2019 season. The back story of Murray suffering so much after his first round loss at the Australian Open in January and an ensuing media conference where he seemed resigned to probably never playing tennis at a high level again, made his triumph highly-unexpected and semi-miraculous.
It took Murray six singles tournaments – and record of 6-6 – to gain enough form to be able to defeat the no. 18 ranked Wawrinka for the 46th singles title of his career.
Murray had surgery – his second after a previous hip procedure a year earlier – in late January to have a metal layer placed over his femur bone and another in the hip socket (see x-ray above). His first singles tournament back was in August at the Masters 1000 in Cincinnati.
He needed three sets in his last three matches in Antwerp, including two hours and 27 minutes against Wawrinka, to finally win the title. Overcome with emotion right after the victory, it was obviously the culmination of a long, hard road of rehab for him to be able to again play close the way he did when he won three Grand Slam titles and held the No. 1 ranking for a total of 41 weeks.
After his win on Sunday, Murray was quoted on ATPTour.com as saying, “my hip is fine. There’s no pain there anymore, which is amazing. I guess there shouldn’t be because it’s metal, there’s no pain receptors or anything in the metal, so that’s brilliant. It allows me to compete like that and enjoy what it is that I’m doing.”
His ranking moved up from no. 243 to no. 127 with the victory, but he still has an injury-protected ranking of no. 2 that he will be able to use to enter tournaments – including the 2020 Australian Open where he will nonetheless not be seeded.
Murray now plans to take time off until he plays for Britain in the Davis Cup Finals from November 18-24 in Madrid.
In the meantime, he and wife Kim are expecting their third child – to join daughters Sofia, 3, and one-year-old Edie – any day now.
— Vasek Pospisil (@VasekPospisil) October 20, 2019
Pospisil continued an impressive fall run by winning the $54,000 (US) Challenger event in Las Vegas on Sunday – defeating no. 138 ranked James Duckworth of Australia 7-5, 6-7(13), 6-3.
After winning his first five rounds in straight sets, the 29-year-old Pospisil needed two hours and 26 minutes – including failing to convert on five match points in the second set – to notch his eighth career Challenger title.
It came a week after he reached the third round as a qualifier at the Shanghai Masters 1000 where he defeated no. 16 ranked Diego Schwartzman and no. 63 Joao Sousa before losing to eventual winner Daniil Medvedev 7-6(7), 7-5.
Pospisil has now won 10 of his last 11 matches and has his ranking up to no. 168 after it fell to no. 248 earlier this month. He’s only in his fourth month of tennis in 2019, having missed the first six months after back surgery for a herniated disc in January. On Monday, Pospisil, along with Auger-Aliassime, Shapovalov and Milos Raonic, was named to the Canadian team for the Davis Cup Finals in Madrid next month.
Leylah Annie Fernandez won four matches (all in straight sets) but couldn’t quite make it five when she lost 6-3, 2-6, 6-1 in the final of the Waco, Texas, ITF event on Sunday to qualifier and little-known, no. 697 ranked Fernanda Contreras Gomez, 22, of Mexico.
Still, having just turned 17 last month, Fernandez has moved her ranking up to no. 211 which makes her the no. 2-ranked Canadian. Genie Bouchard is just slightly behind at no. 218 in the current Live WTA Rankings.
That means Canada’s top two women’s players are 19 (Bianca Andreescu) and 17 (Fernandez). On the men’s side, it’s 19-year-old Auger-Aliassime (no. 18) and Shapovalov, 20.
Diez, the Toronto native now residing in Llica D’Amunt, Spain, reached the final of the $69,000 (US) Ningbo, Japan, Challenger, before losing 6-1, 6-3 to no. 125 ranked Yasutaka Uchiyama of Japan on Sunday. The victory enabled the 28-year-old to move his ranking up to a career-high no. 136.
Diez represented Canada in Davis Cup in Bogota, Colombia, in 2010.
One of the more obscure happenings in tennis last week was the final ATP Tour match for 35-year-old Janko Tipsarevic – and what a match it was! The Serb, who is retiring but will still play one more event, the Davis Cup Finals next month, lost an enthralling 6-2, 4-6, 7-6(4) semi-final in three hours and nine minutes to Yuichi Sugita of Japan. He saved nine match points before losing.
The worldly Tipsarevic, who ranked as high as no. 8 in 2012, has been through a list of injuries and surgeries that would put better-known players such as Murray and Wawrinka to shame. The ATP Tour website reported that Tipsarevic had not played a tour match in 570 days when he won a round at the Miami Open in March. In recent years, he has endured seven surgeries – including two to remove a benign tumour in his left foot, two right-knee operations and three hamstring-attaching surgeries.
It was no wonder, even after he lost, that he bent down and kissed the court in Stockholm. Tournament director Simon Aspelin made a nice presentation to him following the match – giving him a framed, signed picture of three past Swedish winners of the Stockholm Open – Bjorn Borg, Mats Wilander and Stefan Edberg (picture at top).
From the oblivion of a ranking in the 80s in July and just two years removed from her victory at the 2017 French Open, Jelena Ostapenko won the Luxembourg Open on Sunday with a 6-4, 6-1 victory over no. 26 ranked Julia Goerges.
The 22-year-old Latvian sunk as low as no. 83 on July 29th after reaching a career high of no. 5 in March, 2018. But she is now back into the Top 50 at no. 44.
Maybe more importantly, she has begun a coaching partnership with the slightly eccentric but undeniably brilliant Marion Bartoli of France, the 2013 Wimbledon champion.
The WTA Finals begin on Sunday in Shenzhen, China, and finish on November 3. In the WTA website picture above, the top four players and last year’s champion, Elina Svitolina in the middle, are featured. Bianca Andreescu’s absence can be excused because she finished no. 5 in the Race to Shenzhen. But, based on her recent results, she will likely be a major factor in the eight-player, $14 million (US) year-end showdown.
On Monday, the now no. 4 ranked Andreescu became the highest ranked Canadian woman since the introduction of WTA computer rankings in 1975 – overtaking Genie Bouchard who reached no. 5 in October, 2014.
The draw for the WTA Finals will be done at 7 p.m. in Shenzhen this Friday – that’s 7 a.m. ET in Canada.
— Chicago Blackhawks (@NHLBlackhawks) October 19, 2019
This is a cool video of 75-year-old tennis legend Billie Jean King shooting a puck from centre ice at the United Center in Chicago during a Blackhawks game last week. It’s necessary to watch this right to the end.