Denis Shapovalov was beaten 7-5, 6-2 by Robin Haase in the third round of the Rogers Cup on Thursday evening – and it wasn’t pretty.
Both he and Haase used the same term to describe the 19-year-old Canadian’s ineffectual outing – “an off day.”
How, and why, does an off day happen? In the case of Shapovalov at this year’s Rogers Cup, there could be any number of reasons such as: 1. he’s feeling the pressure of expectation after a sensational 2017 in Montreal when he reached the semi-finals beating Juan Martin del Potro and Rafael Nadal, 2. he was sensing a real opportunity this year when his slated third-round opponent – No. 3 seed del Potro – withdrew with an injury and 3. he just wanted it too badly because he was playing in his hometown.
Whatever might or might not be an explanation, the fact is Shapovalov was out of sorts almost from the beginning against the No. 39-ranked Haase. Or at least from fifth game of the first set when he lost his serve – even if he broke back in the following game. Things basically fell apart for good when he got broken at 5-all – a forgettable game in which he hit two double faults.
In the next game Haase served out to 15 to wrap up the set and then broke serve in the third and fifth games of the second set to seal a one-sided victory in an hour and 15 minutes.
It wasn’t a case of the 31-year-old Dutchman playing out of his mind – in fact one wag in the media room joked that his main quality on the night was that he was hitting the ball “inside the court.”
Shapovalov hit 42 outside the court – his total of unforced errors that wasn’t compensated for by 20 winners. Haase had a modest seven winners to go with 18 unforced errors.
“It was tough conditions,” the 6-foot-3 Dutchman said, “a little bit of windy and because of the clouds it was already pretty dark and then it got lighter and then it got darker again. So conditions were not easy and we were both not playing our best.”
“The way he plays,” Haase added about Shapovalov, “he can hit you off the court but sometimes this happens and that’s normal. Today I was the lucky one to be on the other side of the net. I think the way I played (varying the pace and returning well) I didn’t give him any rhythm to actually play better again.”
About any game plan he might have had going in against Shapovalov, whom he lost to 7-6(3), 6-7(5), 6-3 in the second round on clay in Rome in May, Haase said, “I make notes, every match I play. It doesn’t matter against who and of course that gives me some information. Also he’s been playing really well. He’s been playing on big courts so you follow him. He’s a friendly guy off the court and he’s a nice guy to watch play – so of course you see a few things that might help you in a match and I think that helped me today.”
A final note on Haase, who reached a career high ranking of No. 33 in July, 2012, he’s the polar opposite of Rafael Nadal. He a naturally left-handed but plays tennis right-handed.
As for Shapovalov, he didn’t have a specific explanation for his poor play but did say, “nothing really felt clean for me today. It was also pretty windy out there so I wasn’t adjusting my feet very well. It was a combination of things.
“He (Haase) likes these courts. He made the semis [losing 6-3, 7-6(5) to eventual runner-up Roger Federer] last year. So he’s playing very confident.”
Showing admirable perspective for someone who’s still a teenager, Shapovalov summed up, “it’s one bad day. And it’s sport so things like this happen all the time. I’ve just got to learn from it and keep moving forward.”
Next for him will be the ATP Masters 1000 in Cincinnati next week followed by the US Open beginning on August 27th.
Shapovalov has no points to ‘defend’ in Cincinnati but did reach the round-of-16, after qualifying, at Flushing Meadows last year and has 205 points to defend at the US Open.
The loss to Haase in the third round, after reaching the semi-finals a year ago, will drop his ranking to No. 32. That puts him behind Milos Raonic, at No. 26, as the second-highest ranking Canadian. In recent months Shapovalov has spoken about recently finding himself in the role of favourite in many matches – and saying he actually prefers being the underdog. So the loss of his top Canadian status, for as short or long a period as it may be, shouldn’t bother him.
Finally, after playing impressively in wins over veterans Jeremy Chardy and Fabio Fognini in the first two rounds, he dismissed any suggestion of a possible injury or fitness issue affecting him against Haase.
“I feel great,” he said. “Luckily I’m still young. I’m able to recover quickly from my matches. I feel good and ready to go.”
Felix Auger-Aliassime left an indelible mark on the 2018 Rogers Cup. Making his debut as a 17-year-old on Tuesday, he defeated world No. 18 Lucas Pouille 6-4, 6-3 before losing 3-6, 7-6(4), 7-6(7) to No. 68 Daniil Medvedev minutes after midnight Thursday morning at 18 years old plus a day.
It’s been an auspicious first Rogers Cup for the Montrealer and the tennis world has taken note of his aggressive play and mature demeanour.
“He’s another young kid that plays well, everyone can see that” said 12-year veteran Robin Haase of the Netherlands about Auger-Aliassime. “What is impressive, which is the same with Denis (Shapovalov), they’re really athletes – they’re strong, they move really well and they’re fearless. That’s a dangerous combination and these guys have it and they can show a lot of good things in the future.”
Magnus Norman, the Swedish former world No. 2 and 2000 French Open runner-up, had positive things to say about Auger-Aliassime; “he just turned 18 the other day and his composure on the court is impressive – being able to play on a big court like this (at the Rogers Cup) against good opponents. Also physically, the way he’s moving for his age, is something very unique.”
Auger-Aliassime entered the Rogers Cup ranked No. 133 and will now move up to about No. 119. A year ago Denis Shapovalov was No. 143 at the start of the Rogers Cup in Montreal before a semi-final finish vaulted him to No. 67.
Currently No. 26 (but about to drop to No. 32), he ended 2017 at No. 51. It’s unlikely Auger-Aliassime will rise that much over the next few months But it’s useful to note that he’s 16 months younger than his good friend so, in that sense, he has until next May to try to get his ranking up to the top-50 range.
Maybe the best sign after Auger-Aliassime (in the late stages against Medvedev above) lost the heartbreaker to Medvedev was just how devastated and disappointed he was. It was similar to when he was beaten in the 2016 French Open junior boys final by France’s Geoffrey Blancaneaux after having three match points. He was almost inconsolable at that time – but three months later rebounded to win the boys championship at the US Open.
Tennis fans in Vancouver should been in for a treat next week when he plays in the Odlum Brown VanOpen – with the men’s event there being a $100,000 (US) ATP Challenger.
Daniel Nestor ended his 30th and final Canadian Open (a.k.a. Rogers Cup) late Wednesday when he and partner Vasek Pospisil were beaten 6-7(6), 6-2, [10-6] by the veteran Spanish pairing of Feliciano Lopez and Marc Lopez.
The match took place on the Grandstand while Felix Auger-Aliassime was engaged in his dramatic three-set encounter with Daniil Medvedev in the main Centre Court.
Nestor and Pospisil trailed 5-1 in the match tiebreak but got it back to 7-6 before Lopez-Lopez finally pulled away.
There was a certain irony in the players’ ages – with Nestor, 45, and Pospisil, 28, totalling a combined 73 years while the Lopez men, both 36, added up to 72.
“It’s just pretty much what’s been going on the last year, year and a half,” Nestor said about the match. “I thought we played okay. Vasek played well and I played pretty well. They were just better. That pretty much sums up the last little while – my opponents were just a little bit better.”
As far as the emotion of his final match at the Rogers Cup – and especially in his hometown at a tournament he used to take the bus to watch in his youth – Nestor said, “I pretty much got all of the emotions out in my speech on Sunday night (at a tribute to him at Roy Thomson Hall in Toronto). So I felt fine.”
He hopes to possibly get a wild card in Cincinnati next week and also at the US Open at the end of the month – and then play for Canada (his 53rd tie) versus the Netherlands in a Davis Cup World Group Playoff from September 14-16 at the Coca-Cola Coliseum in Toronto.
“I’m still here to prepare myself to play Davis Cup,” Nestor said Wednesday. “And tonight I was ready. I played three weeks of World Team Tennis, and the plan was to play that just to make sure I stay in shape for here.”
“I felt good out there. As I said, those guys were just a little bit better. I don’t really have regrets.