There are now four Canadians in the second week of the BNP Paribas Open after Bianca Andreescu and Denis Shapovalov won their singles matches on Sunday, following in the footsteps of Milos Raonic and Félix Auger-Aliassime who had victories Saturday.
Andreescu advanced with a one-sided 6-1, 6-2 decision over No. 109-ranked Swiss qualifier Stefanie Voegele, while Shapovalov defeated No. 38 Steve Johnson of the U.S. 6-3, 6-4.
Shapovalov was making his singles debut after arriving in Indian Wells a full nine days earlier. “I got here a week before, on Friday, expecting to play Thursday,” he said. “I didn’t remember that the seeds have byes. I had a couple of extra days to prepare which was actually good.”
He was sharp in the hour and 21-minute match – breaking Johnson’s serve leading 4-3 in the first set and again at 1-1 in the second while saving the only two break points he faced.
A quick assessment of the match would be that Shapovalov simply had too much firepower for Johnson, who mostly had to rely on his single-handed sliced backhand in the cross-court exchanges to Shapovalov’s forehand.
“Everything really,” Shapovalov replied when asked about what he was most pleased with in his performance in a packed 6,270-capacity Stadium 3 – with many of those in the crowd being Canadians supporting their compatriot. “I stayed really composed. I think the level was really high from both of us. It was a fun atmosphere. I felt like I was playing back in Canada.”
Johnson was little less composed than Shapovalov. He smashed his racquet after double-faulting to lose his serve in the third game of the second set.
During practice before the match against Johnson, our ace photographer Mauricio Paiz took the above shot of Garbine Muguruza and Shapovalov hitting serves in sync on adjacent courts.
So far this year Shapovalov’s match record is 8-5, a mark that some would find not quite up to the grand expectations for the super-talented lefthander.
Rob Steckley, who coaches Shapovalov along with Tessa Shapovalova, Denis’ mother, spoke briefly about his player’s year so far on Sunday. He admitted that there has been some inconsistency but insisted that things have been improving over the past six months and that it’s just a matter of being patient and letting his player’s tennis take shape. It’s not about rushing everything when Shapovalov is still 19 years old.
“He has to stay true to his game,” Steckley emphasized. Looking ahead, he said he’s convinced there will be a “slingshot” significant advance sometime in the not too distant future.
Next for Shapovalov will be a meeting with No. 10 seed Marin Cilic on Tuesday. The Croat has been limited by a knee issue this year and has only played the Australian Open and Dubai before Indian Wells. His win/loss record is of 4-2.
The 30-year-old Croat and Shapovalov have faced each other on just one occasion – with Cilic winning 6-4, 6-2 in Basel at the end of the 2018 European fall season, a time when the Canadian has usually been a little jaded. “I’ve played him once so I kind of have a feel of him going into the match,” Shapovalov said about Cilic. “He’s a tough player. What I saw today (a 6-3, 6-4 win over No. 45 Dusan Lajovic) he was playing really well.”
Andreescu belted a backhand down-the-line winner on the first point of her third-round encounter with Voegele – one of four outright winners in the first nine points on her way to jumping off to a 5-0 lead in just 17 minutes.
It was all downhill from there for the 28-year-old Swiss who looked anything like a player who was capable of beating No. 4 seed Sloane Stephens 6-3, 6-0 in the previous round.
“I tried to take control right from the start,” Andreescu said. “I know that’s what she likes to do so I kind of beat her at her own game.”
Voegele had actually beaten Andreescu during practice in Australia in January but the 18-year-old from Mississauga, Ont., had an explanation. “My back was hurting at the time,” she said. “I actually stopped the practice.”
About her charmed run to the round-of-16, Andreescu said: “It’s crazy really. If someone would have told me that I would have gone to the fourth round at the beginning of the year, I would have said ‘you’re crazy.’ This is one of the best tournaments in the world so I’m just really, really happy.”
In Tuesday’s round-of-16, she will face No. 18-ranked Wang Qiang of China. That information surprised Andreescu because she did not look ahead in the draw. “I like to focus on the present moment,” she explained.
She said she knew nothing about Wang, adding: “I’ll definitely check her out online or in practice tomorrow (Monday).”
Her coach, Sylvain Bruneau, is well aware of the late-blooming 27-year-old Chinese, who upset No. 16 seed Elise Mertens 7-6(4), 6-7(4), 6-3 on Sunday.
“She’s a good player, very dangerous,” Bruneau said. “She played very, very well all the fall season in Asia last year (going 17-3 while winning Guangzhou and being runner-up in Wuhan and Beijing). I remember when she played Rebecca (Marino) in Montreal last summer and she was ranked about No. 60. It was a good match (7-5, 6-4 for Wang). But she’s progressed a lot since and like most of the Asians she’s very solid on both sides, counter-attacks well and moves well. It’ll be a good fight.”
A win for Andreescu over Wang and she will break into the top-50.
As Andreescu gains prominence, so some of her personal minutiae attracts interest on social media – in particular these days it’s the hair tie she wears on her arm.
“During the pre-season I bought a couple and I was just wearing it around my wrist,” she explained. “And then I was noticing that when I was hitting my forehands it kept flying off. So I just put it up there (near the elbow), and it looked decent. So I just kept it.
“I guess I’m starting a bit of a trend because a lot of people actually have messaged me about it saying they’re wearing it now too.”
Last Friday, Andreescu had said she was super keen to watch the Félix Auger-Aliassime – Stefanos Tsitsipas match on Saturday. She did and her reaction on Sunday was: “That was an incredible match. He (Auger-Aliassime) made Stefanos look pretty bad.”
Aged 18, just like Auger-Aliassime, Andreescu said about her compatriot: “He’s such a hard worker. I see him in the gym all the time, on the court, working hard. It’s really nice to be around because that also gives me a lot of motivation too. If he keeps improving his game he can be really, really good.”
Shapovalov is not surprised to see Andreescu and Auger-Aliassime doing so well. “I’m not shocked,” he said. “I was telling everybody it’s just a matter of time until Félix and Bianca show up. They both had unbelievable games in juniors and I grew up with both of them. I’m really happy for them – they’re both really good people.
“It’s always great when another Canadian is doing well, but especially Félix or Bianca. We are all really good friends.
“It really motivates me when I see Félix doing well – first of all because we are so close. Second of all, he is also a rival of mine, so it does motivate me and just inspire me to do as well as him – like today win my second-round match like he did yesterday.”
After winning on Stadium 3 on Sunday, Shapovalov pointed to the sky remembering former Davis Cup player and Tennis Canada coach Bruno Agostinelli, 28, who died in 2016 in a motorcycle accident. “Bruno passed away, I think it was yesterday three years ago,” Shapovalov said. “He’s definitely a huge role model of mine. He taught me so many great things. I remember working on my backhand a lot with him.
“This time of year I always get emotional a little bit with it. Honestly, I just wish he was around to see how far I’ve come. I just hope he would have been proud of me.
“I definitely dedicate today to him. There’s not a day that goes by that I don’t think of him and don’t wish that he was still around us.”
There are always questions about the intensity of top singles players when they enter the doubles event at a big tournament such as the BNP Paribas Open.
That was the case on Sunday night in Stadium 2 when Novak Djokovic and Fabio Fognini faced Denis Shapovalov and doubles specialist Rohan Bopanna in a second-round match.
It started at 8 p.m. and Fognini later complained about it being cold but the Serbian/Italian combo still managed to pull through – winning a thoroughly entertaining match before an enthusiastic crowd by a 6-4, 1-6, [10-8] score.
Both teams gave it their all in the decisive match tiebreak and when Shapovalov missed a forehand into the net on match point he slammed his racquet down in disgust.
As for World No. 1 Djokovic, he said in the on-court interview: “It was fun. Fabio is one of the funniest guys on the tour.”
Milos Raonic will meet qualifier Marcos Giron of the U.S. in a third-round match on Stadium 1 beginning at 11 a.m. (2 p.m. ET in Canada). Félix Auger-Aliassime will be in Stadium 2 for his third round against Yoshihito Nishioka of Japan – fourth match after the 11 a.m. start.
There’s a wide range of dress on display at a tournament like the BNP Paribas Open – including this former modestly-ranked American player from the 1980s who was spotted last week in the pricey seats right behind the court in Stadium 1. We suspect that jacket would make the cut for the Royal Box at Wimbledon.
Feature Photo: Mauricio Paiz