Denis Shapovalov has completed his last match of 2018 and is not playing the Next Gen ATP Finals in Milan Italy this week.
The explanation given by the ATP World Tour in a media release was “exhaustion.”
It has been quite obvious to many observers the past few weeks that Shapovalov was looking jaded and worn out by having been on the road for seven weeks in a row – in order he was in Russia, China, Japan, China, Sweden, Switzerland and France.
That’s a lot of travel for a 19-year-old, even if he’s quite experienced for an athlete of his age.
It says here that Shapovalov made a wise choice in passing on the Next Gen ATP Finals. If he had gone on this week to play at least three matches – as guaranteed by the Next Gen format – and possibly injured himself, that could have put the beginning of 2019 in jeopardy. This way his last match will have been on October 29th and he won’t play again until the new season begins the week of December 30th.
There seems to be a sense that Shapovalov has somewhat stagnated this year but that’s misguided. From Eastbourne the week before Wimbledon in June until the ATP 250 in Stockholm three weeks ago, he went nine tournaments in a row without losing in the first round (or in his first match).
That’s remarkable consistency for a 19-year-old. When Roger Federer was the same age his longest streak of winning at least one round in each tournament was six in the fall of 2000. The Swiss also had a run between June and August of that year when he lost seven first rounds in a row.
The longest first-round losing drought by Shapovalov this year has been two tournaments on three different occasions – including to Marin Cilic 6-4, 6-2 in Basel and Richard Gasquet 6-4, 7-6(3) in Paris/Bercy the past two weeks.
Rafael Nadal was more precocious than either Federer or Shapovalov as a 19-year-old, so it’s not surprising that he once went 10 tournaments in a row without losing his first match – from January to May 2005. Further proof of what an early bloomer Nadal was – his 2005 match record was 79-10 while Federer’s in 2000 was 36-30 and Shapovalov’s this year is 35-28.
Shapovalov started 2018 at No. 51 and looks like he will end it at No. 27, good enough for a seeded position at the 2019 Australian Open.
He talked about winning his first ATP title as being a goal for 2018. That goal was unattained but he managed to reach the semi-finals of a Masters 1000 in Madrid on clay in May and the semi-finals of an ATP 500 on hard court in Tokyo in October.
Would it have been better to win an ATP 250 somewhere and end up ranked No. 47 – or to have had the even-keel season he has and be No. 27?
He also won at least a round at each Grand Slam and had an overall 2-1 record in Davis Cup ties versus Croatia in Osijec in February and in Toronto in September.
Here are his Grand Slam losses – and it has to be noted they each came after he won a round or two (US Open):
US OPEN: 4-6, 6-3, 6-4, 4-6, 6-4 to No. 5 Kevin Anderson.
It could hardly have been closer in Louis Armstrong Stadium against a tough opponent who was, at the time, runner-up at both Wimbledon and the US Open.
WIMBLEDON: 0-6, 6-2, 6-4, 7-6(3) to No. 47 Benoit Paire.
A whining and moaning Paire was completely overwhelmed and out of sorts in the first set on Court 3. Then Shapovalov may have let down his guard against the talented Frenchman who was playing with a heavily-wrapped left leg.
ROLAND GARROS: 5-7, 7-6(4), 7-5, 6-4 to No. 70 Maximilian Marterer.
The 22-year-old German left-hander played an excellent match. Shapovalov was close but just not quite good enough on Court No. 1 that day.
AUSTRALIAN OPEN: 3-6, 6-3, 1-6, 7-6(4), 7-5 to No. 15 Jo-Wilfried Tsonga.
A three-hour 37-minute thriller in Margaret Court Arena – Shapovalov outplayed Tsonga for most of it. He led by a break at 5-2 in the final set but got a little tight. “There were two phases,” the 32-year-old Frenchman would say later, “the last 10 minutes and the rest.”
Shapovalov is the youngest player in the top 100 – and the only teenager along with No. 31 Alex de Minaur of Australia who is two months older.
Maybe the most convincing thing about Shapovalov this season has been that he rarely looked out of place playing full-time at age 19 on the ATP tour. He can serve and hit from the baseline with anyone. It just seems like a matter of him maturing, getting a little more experience and letting his exceptional skills evolve before he reaches another level in the rankings.
It’s interesting to compare him with rival Stefanos Tsitsipas who’s eight months older at 20 and currently ranked No. 15.
At the Australian Open this year, Shapovalov totally outplayed a dispirited Tsitsipas 6-1, 6-2, 7-6(5) before losing 6-3, 6-4 to the Greek in his first outing on clay in Monte Carlo three months later.
Tsitsipas had a big breakthrough at the Rogers Cup in Toronto in August upsetting No. 10 Novak Djokovic, No. 3 Sascha Zverev and No. 6 Anderson before losing in the final to No. 1 Nadal. He won his first tournament at the ATP 250 in Stockholm in October, beating qualifier Ernests Gulbis in the final. His ranking has advanced from No. 91 to No. 15 this season.
But if Shapovalov has looked tired recently, Tsitsipas looked totally fried in a 6-3, 6-3 opening-round loss to No. 52-ranked Damir Dzumhur in Paris last week. It will be interesting to see how the top-seeded Greek, at the end of a grueling year, holds up in Milan. (He still looked a little ragged in managing to win his opening round on Tuesday 4-3(5), 4-3(3), 3-4(4), 4-2 over combative Jaume Munar of Spain.)
The Next Gen ATP Finals is a quaint idea but there’s really nothing at stake except money – no ranking points are awarded. Shapovalov’s mental and physical well-being this year were clearly more important than a trip to Milan. Mother/coach Tessa and physio Stefano De Pirro (below) have helped keep him fit and healthy through the fall period.
In the same way things changed for Tsitsipas since his initial Grand Slam encounter with Shapovalov back in January, things could easily be shuffled again in the course of the 2019 year.
At a time when the top-three positions in the ATP rankings are held by 31-year-old Djokovic, 32-year-old Nadal and 37-year-old Federer, there’s no hurry to rush a rare talent like Shapovalov who’s more than a decade younger than those three greats. There’s every reason for him to listen to his body and not push it at season’s end when there’s the risk of injury. Many more years remain for him to reach greater heights in the game.
Mike and Nicole Tevlin have been strong supporters of tennis in Canada going back at least 13 years.
They were omnipresent at this year’s edition of the $60,000 Tevlin Challenger held at the Aviva Centre in Toronto last week.
The event provides an opportunity for Canadian players to get valuable experience and ranking points playing at home. This year there were just five home nation players in the main draw and only Katherine Sebov and Bianca Andreescu made it past the first round.
They faced each other in the second round and Sebov, following her breakthrough victory at the $60,000 National Bank Challenger in Saguenay, Quebec, four days earlier, was not entirely fit and had to retire with a leg injury trailing 6-1, 2-0.
Andreescu, returning from a recent back issue, reached the semi-finals but ran out of gas after a strong start against Quirine Lemoine of the Netherlands, losing 3-6, 6-4, 6-2.
Lemoine, 26 and ranked No. 316, is a tall lefthander with penetrating ground strokes and she went on to take the title, defeating top-seed and No. 104-ranked Kateryna Koslova, 24, of Ukraine 6-2, 6-3 in the final.
One Canadian did manage to win a title. Making a comeback at age 27, Sharon Fichman went a step better than she had the previous week in Saguenay, winning the doubles event with partner Maria Sanchez of the U.S. They combined to beat Elitsa Kostova of Bulgaria and Maja Chwalinska of Poland 6-0, 6-4 in the final.
Mats Wilander is one of professional tennis’ the genuine characters. A winner of seven Grand Slam titles and a former world No. 1, the 54-year-old Swede, who lives in Idaho, remains a thoughtful and outspoken voice in the sport. He still has his ‘Wilander on Wheels’ instruction caravan that travels the world bringing his inimitable wit and wisdom to tennis keeners.
Here’s Jon Wertheim’s recent interview with him from a podcast on SI.com. The interview ends at about the 32-minute mark.
Chris Clarey of the New York Times and Kevin Mitchell of The Guardian are two of our favourite tennis writers. Here’s a wide-ranging chat with them just outside Gate 16 at the All England Lawn Tennis Club during Wimbledon.
(Feature picture: Mauricio Paiz)