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Home   News   Tebbutt: Tough love on clay

Tebbutt: Tough love on clay

May 31, 2018
written by: Tom Tebbutt
written by: Tom Tebbutt
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Call it love, amour, whatever you like — the sensation comes in many forms and can grow over time.

That’s probably the best way for Denis Shapovalov to view the experience of his 5-7, 7-6(4), 7-5, 6-4 loss to Maximilian Marterer of Germany in the second round of the French Open on Thursday.

He had things going his way when he took the first set, with Marterer showing nerves in the final game – contributing two double faults to go with two points that Shapovalov won with nifty backhand slices. The first one completely flummoxed Marterer and he could only watch as the ball skidded by gently for an unlikely winner.

Shapovalov held and then broke serve to start the second set and looked to be building to a dominant performance as the 22-year-old German lefthander was clearly unsettled. But there was a change at that point as Shapovalov got a bit careless. Marterer broke twice and wound up serving for the set at 5-4 only to be broken himself. He suddenly looked vulnerable again but managed to take the ensuing second-set tiebreak with some good shot-making and serving combined with untimely misfires from Shapovalov.

No one knew at the time but the match had taken an important momentum shift. Essentially Marterer had begun to drag Shapovaolov into a longer-rallies, clay-court game. His heavy topspin shots pinned Shapovalov deep and extended the rallies, making it harder for him to take control and blast his trademark up-tempo ground strokes. The two hour mark was reached at 2-2 in the third set and Marterer was into a nice rhythm – off the ground and serving – that would eventually carry him to victory.

Shapovalov certainly had his chances, even in the penultimate game in the fourth set when he had a break point at 4-all but hit a loopy service return that drifted wide. In the final game, Marterer was feeling it – wrapping up the three-hour, 11-minute match by breaking Shapovalov to love as the 19-year-old seem to finally reach his breaking point.

“He plays a really heavy, heavy forehand,” Marterer said about Shapovalov, “so I tried to keep him a little on his backhand – not playing too much on his forehand because it’s pretty solid and has good bounce on it. I think I managed it really good especially after losing first set. It was good that I could raise the quality of my return. He had some problems in his service games after that.”

Shapovalov was succinct in his post-match analysis, saying, “I was struggling a little bit with my serve. I could have served much better. But aside from that, I feel like that was the only real difference between us today. We both played really well off the ground. He’s playing really good tennis, especially on the big points today. Credit to him – if he keeps playing like this I’m sure he can go far.”

Marterer, 6-foot-three, served more and more effectively as the match went on and his heavy ground strokes took their toll – while Shapovalov had 52 winners to just 20 for Marterer, the German’s consistent heavy hitting contributed to Shapovalov having 47 forced errors compared to just 31 for Marterer. And Marterer won the unforced error category – totalling 52 to a wasteful 82 for Shapovalov.

Marterer was an unknown to many before the match but the all-round, solid world No. 70 rose to the occasion after the first set, something that was probably unexpected by Shapovalov as well as many of those watching the match.

Among them was Tennis Canada vice-president for elite athlete development, Louis Borfiga. “First I want to give credit to Denis’ opponent who played a perfect match on clay…the guy surprised me,” Borfiga said. “So credit especially to his opponent who played a super match.

“Denis is learning about Grand Slams, about five-set matches – and I liked that he fought right to the end. And the match could have turned around at any moment but, when Marterer had a big point, he would hit a great serve or a return on the line – it was his day.”

Borfiga added, “I thought Marterer’s level might drop a bit in the third and fourth sets – but not at all.”

The German recognized the quality of his 19-year-old opponent’s game. “Denis is one of the players that play a really good first shot after his serve,’ he said. “He started already in the first two service games of the match. It was already pretty impressive what he was doing – so aggressive from the first shot with his forehand, especially with good angle on it. If I let him play many forehands, it was pretty tough for me.”

The match had highs and lows – as well as an undeniable lull in the third set after the players had split the first two. “The first two sets were just so high quality, you know for sure at some point the match was going to drop in level and quality,” Shapovalov said. “It always happens in tennis. Obviously I could have taken advantage, but we were serving pretty well. It was going pretty easily (on serve).”

So the 2018 French Open ends with a second-round loss for Shapovalov – and aggregate record of 7-5 on clay for the European spring season. He gained valuable experience against Marterer, who grew up on clay in Germany as opposed to him being basically a hard-court kid from the very beginning in Canada.

Still, except for some minor adjustments, he isn’t about to change his game dramatically for tennis on the ochre dirt.

“I have always had that in me to go for the winner,” he said. “It’s always been about working the point so that then you have the shot that you can go for the winner. On the other surfaces, maybe it’s a bit easier.

“On grass I can serve and volley more. I can come in. But at the end of the day, I think I still have to keep my identity, keep my game-style.”

He will now get a chance to showcase his grass-court game-style as he moves on to play the ATP 500 event in Stuttgart in two weeks and the ATP 500 tournament at Queen’s Club in London the following week.”

Maybe the most important take-away from Roland Garros, especially with so many players ailing in one way or another at the moment, is Shapovalov’s fitness. “I’m pretty happy how my body held up,” he said. “I felt if the match went the distance that I would have been fine – really happy with that. It’s really good news.”

Summing up his feelings about leaving Roland after a second-round defeat, he said, “obviously I’m disappointed with the loss, but I’m only 19 – so not every week is going to be a semi-finals of a big tournament. It’s going to be ups and downs, and I just have to keep enjoying it, keep enjoying the journey.”

That journey has now allowed him to rise to a ‘live’ up-to-date ranking of No. 22 after this week. But with Kei Nishikori, Novak Djokovic and Richard Gasquet still in Roland Garros and potentially accumulating more points, Shapovalov’s end of French Open ranking will probably be closer to his current No. 25.

The journey has now culminated in him playing in the main draw of all four Grand Slam events over the past 11 months – compiling an overall 5-4 record.

The only Grand Slam where he has not won a match is Wimbledon. But many people in tennis believe that won’t be the case for much longer – stay tuned beginning July 2 at the All England Lawn Tennis Club.

Pospisil exits in doubles

Vasek Pospisil and his American partner Ryan Harrison were eliminated in the doubles in their first-round match Thursday – beaten 6-4, 6-3 by the unseeded pairing of Federico Delbonis of Argentina and Benoit Paire of France.

Pospisil and Harrison were up a break early in the first set but Delbonis and Paire quickly got it back and gradually took control. They broke Pospisil twice in the second set as the Canadian/American duo played far below their best.

“It was tough,” Pospisil said afterward, “they played pretty well and we were not completely into it. Also maybe Ryan felt some pressure – obviously he’s the defending champion (with Michael Venus of New Zealand) and hasn’t been playing a lot of doubles. I don’t think he felt very comfortable either. We played together in Australia (losing first round to Rohan Bopanna and Edouard Roger-Vasselin) and it was a very similar match. We didn’t play well.”

At least some of Pospisil’s poor play on Court 15 on Thursday was probably related to an injury concern.

He was treated after the third game and seventh games of the second set by ATP trainer Stefan Vivier. “I just hit one serve and I got some sharp pain in the first game of the second set at deuce,” Pospisil said, “and it was hurting the rest of the match. I’ll get some ultra-sound. I don’t think it’s anything serious. It was in the rotator cuff, supraspinitis area.”

Pospisil said he plans to stay around Paris for a few days and his next event will be the ATP 250 grass-court event in s’Hertogenbosch, the Netherlands, in two weeks.

As far any possible doubles during the grass-court season, he would only say, “Wimbledon perhaps – I won’t have time anywhere else.”

Paris post card

Parisian waiters can be arrogant, condescending and aloof – and a bunch of other things as well. But they’re generally hard-working professionals as is visible in the picture here of four guys serving tables at a café near the rue Cler market in Paris 7ieme.

NOTE: No blog on Friday but back with a first-week wrap on Saturday.