There was a packed house at Uniprix Stadium on Wednesday for Denis Shapovalov’s stunning 6-3, 7-6(4) victory over Juan Martin del Potro in Rogers Cup second-round action.
While the 18-year-old from Thornhill, Ont., scored a terrific win for the second day in a row, he still understood that the enthusiastic spectators weren’t all there because of him.
“I think Roger helped with that quite a bit,” Shapovalov joked, referencing star attraction Roger Federer’s previous afternoon match against Peter Polansky – a 6-2, 6-1 win in 54 minutes.
While just seeing Federer was sufficient for many, the bonus of the day’s centre court action was Shapovalov’s sparkling display against del Potro.
Following his heart-stopping (four match points saved) 4-6, 7-6(8), 6-4 victory over No. 64-ranked Rogerio Dutra Silva on Tuesday, it wouldn’t have been a surprise if Shapovalov had come out a little jaded against the 2009 US Open champion. But he started right on his game, breaking for a 3-1 lead in the first set. As on Tuesday against the 33-year-old Brazilian, he was immediately broken himself before getting a second break leading 4-3 and then serving out the first set to love to wrap things up in 34 minutes.
Now ranked No. 31, del Potro broke to lead 2-0 in the second set but Shapovalov broke right back to trail 2-1, showing his determination to stay with the 28-year-old Argentine.
There were scattered break points saved through the rest of the set until Shapovalov broke to lead 6-5 after a weak game – two double faults – from del Potro only to return the favour himself with a poor game of his own to lose serve and force a tiebreak.
Maybe the key point of the match occurred with del Potro ahead 3-1 in the tiebreak and into a long, athletic rally with Shapovalov. It ended with a forehand long by the Argentine.
Shapovalov followed that with a forehand winner on the next point and then an ace to take a 4-3 lead that he never relinquished – even if he double-faulted on the first on his three match points leading 6-3.
While he served better than he did against Dutra Silva, it was his ability to hang with del Potro in baseline rallies that was most impressive – and a big reason why del Potro only won 31 per cent (to 54 per cent for Shapovalov) of second-serve points.
Again the Montreal faithful were behind the youthful, rambunctious Shapovalov.
“I’ve never played in an atmosphere like this,” he said. “It was so loud. On match point, when I hit that double, right before it, I mean, my ears almost popped. They were cheering so loud, it was insane.
“It’s just so much fun to be out there, to be part of this atmosphere.”
With the win, Shapovalov will move his ranking up to about No. 123 – but for it to go higher he will have to beat 15-time Grand Slam winner Rafael Nadal in a late match on Thursday night.
“He’s another guy I grew up watching,” Shapovalov said about Nadal. “I’ve seen him win so many Slams. Every time I look at him, I think what a ridiculous athlete and what a ridiculous player he is. It’s unbelievable to watch.
“But I think it’s going to be very interesting for me to go up against him, just to see how my game style matches him. Obviously it’s going to be a really tough fight. But I’m going to try to make the most of it.”
At 18 years old, Shapovalov’s multi-talented and multi-dimensional game has taken the tennis world by storm.
When he was 19 in 1992, Daniel Nestor defeated world No. 1 Stefan Edberg in a Davis Cup match in Vancouver. So he knows a little about a precocious kid playing against the world’s best.
“He has an ability to play with the top guys, that’s obvious,” Nestor said about Shapovalov. “Getting through a match like yesterday (Dutra Silva) was huge. He probably could have lost that match easily. But now he’s relaxed, after winning that match, because he had a little pressure on him to win that match and now he can swing and that’s what he’s doing.”
Asked if his younger self had any of the same self-confidence that Shapovalov has shown, Nestor said, “I didn’t have self-confidence. I think the natural loose letting the shots go kind of thing is similar but he’s obviously got a lot more firepower and more athleticism. It’s great to see him playing with the best already.”
Nestor added about Shapovalov’s uninhibited on-court demeanour, “his personality is really good – the way he enjoys the crowd.”
After he completed a doubles match, a self-critical del Potro met with reporters while at the same time sharing some compliments about Shapovalov.
I didn’t have my good day,” the Argentine said.” I had a lot of chances to win at least one set, but I didn’t take my chances. I couldn’t hit my best forehands today – also my serve was working really bad. Denis has the motivation to go through and he played very smart in the important moments of the match. I think he has good potential for the future. I think he has a good game playing on this surface. He has all the shots.”
As for Shapovalov, he says he’s not the same individual and player than he was in February when he had the unfortunate incident during Davis Cup in Ottawa – striking a ball in anger and having it accidentally hit French umpire Arnaud Gabas.
“I’m a completely different person from what I was six months ago maybe,” he said. “It’s pretty crazy to say that but in the tennis world you’re forced to mature really quickly. I think me and Marty (coach Laurendeau) have been working extremely hard on my mental part of the game. I showed that yesterday and today. I’m still improving. I think that’s been the biggest benefit of my game, of my personality.”
In Nadal on Thursday, he will be measuring himself against the gold standard of the mental game in today’s tennis. No matter the outcome, he should emerge a more enlightened young tennis player after facing a man who is just two wins away from regaining the No. 1 ranking – a spot he has occupied for a total of 141 weeks but none since July, 2014.
It was obvious from the very first game against Adrian Mannarino on Wednesday evening in Stade Uniprix that Milos Raonic was not right. He hit a double fault on the first point and then made three forehand unforced errors to drop his serve to love on his way to losing the first eight points.
Playing with an injured left wrist which severely restricted his two-handed backhand, he really only had one moment when he looked like he might make a match of it against the No. 42-ranked Frenchman. Trailing 4-3, he broke Mannarino to level the set at 4-4 but then proceeded to lose his serve immediately – erring with a forehand volley long on the break point.
Mannarino served out the set and used a single break in the ninth game of the second set to sew up a 6-4, 6-4 victory.
Raonic hurt the wrist on Monday.
“It was hard for me to really put any pace on a backhand,” he said. “I tried using the slice a little bit more. But it didn’t really come together as well as I would have hoped.”
Mannarino went into the match knowing the wrist might be an issue for his opponent and it didn’t take long for Raonic to realize that. “At the beginning, because he knew I was going to stand all the way over there (on the backhand side), he actually started going more to my forehand, started serving more to my forehand than he normally would,” Raonic said about Mannarino. “You could see when the important moments were, when it was sort of the critical points, that he would harp down on that (backhand) side. I really couldn’t do much there.”
“I’m happy to have won because it wasn’t easy even if I saw that Milos was really diminished on the backhand,” Mannarino said. “I’d heard that he wanted to play as late as possible so I figured that he wasn’t 100 per cent. It was hard to tell at the start of the match that he was in trouble because he has a backhand that he slices a lot. But I could see by the middle of the first set that he couldn’t hit over his backhand and he was hurting.”
Raonic only had one ace – a highly unlikely number for a two-set match for one of the best two or three servers on the tour. Mannarino offered a plausible explanation for why other aspects of Raonic’s game were affected. “I think when you’re diminished like that it’s tough to concentrate,” he said. “You always got that somewhere in your head and it’s hard to be at 100 per cent.”
Here are Raonic’s answers in his post-match media conference about the wrist issue:
Q. How confident are you that this will heal and you will be in top form, say, by US Open?
MILOS RAONIC: Quite confident. It’s an injury that a lot of — to some extent a lot of tennis players have. To me it’s just really flared up over the last few days. I wasn’t able to even hold the racquet two days ago. That’s why I did request if I could have as many hours as possible before I stepped on court to play.
So I hope that today wasn’t really a setback, and that I can over these next days continue to calm it down and try to get it under control as much as possible.
Q. You keep talking about pain. Did you play with painkillers? Did you take anything before?
MILOS RAONIC: I’ve been just on anti-inflammatories to get the swelling down, not specifically painkillers. More just because my wrist at this moment, from the scanning I did, has quite a bit of fluid in it.
Q. Do you know how you did it, what caused it? Have you had this problem before?
MILOS RAONIC: I’ve had it to small extents. Not like this. Normally I’ve had it where the next day, if I hit a few off backhands, the next day I just don’t hit backhands and I’m okay, let’s say, within 36 to 48 hours.
The recent time it happened to me was actually before the quarters at Wimbledon, between that long match with (Sascha) Zverev and the quarterfinal. But it calmed down quite quickly. This time it’s stuck around quite a bit longer.
Q. If you weren’t playing here at home in Montreal, would you have withdrew from the tournament before playing?
MILOS RAONIC: I don’t know if I could say that with a definite answer. But I think I would have had definitely a different level of consideration to it, that’s for sure.
His next scheduled event is the ATP Masters 1000 event in Cincinnati next week.
Roger Federer made his Rogers Cup debut before welcoming Montreal fans on Wednesday afternoon and put on a dominant performance to beat Peter Polansky 6-2, 6-1.
There was not much more to the match than Federer dazzling his opponent with a variety of shots – axed increasingly on moving forward as he saw that it was paying dividends.
The post-match media conference after such one-sided match didn’t even begin with a question about the match. Instead he was asked if he could imagine doing so well in 2017 (Australian Open and Wimbledon titles) when he had left knee surgery in February, 2016 and after the Australian Open and gave the following Federesque, full disclosure response: “When I went into surgery, I was rather sad last year. I was rather worried about how I was going to come out of it. When I did come out of it, I was happy I woke up again. I was sad that I had an operated knee. It was actually quite emotional for me. I was scared, as well, at the same time just to be in pain, of the unknown, I guess.
“I guess for me the key is that I’m actually healthy. I knew that when I was healthy, I was going to be able to have chances to win Slams again, to play against the best, beat the best.
“That’s also reasons why I’m still playing today. If I felt like I couldn’t do all these things, it would not be enjoyable or I wouldn’t be doing it any more. I would accept it, say, Look, I had a great career, but thanks very much, I’ll do something else.”
Maybe it’s best left to Polansky to describe the daunting challenge of facing the man who is a virtually unanimous choice as the greatest tennis player of all time.
“He’s the only guy I’ve played against who makes you feel like you have no time,” Polansky said about Federer. “You hit a ball that’s kind of average and the next thing you know he’s got a forehand – you blink your eyes – and he’s at the net. He’s just constantly moving forward – a tricky player.”
Polansky has been playing in Lululemon clothing this year and has received positive reviews for the colourful gear because it’s refreshingly different from the standard fare of most players. When was asked on Wednesday if he felt he didn’t get recognition for being the coolest-dressed guy on the tour, he smiled and replied, “I think I don’t get a lot of recognition for a lot of things, but that’s one of them, yeah.”
As for Federer, he will renew acquaintances with David Ferrer in an afternoon third-round on Thursday, a player against whom he is 16-0. Another win for Federer and Ferrer will go to 0-17, breaking a futility head-to-head record against Federer he currently shares with Mikhail Youzhny.
This was last Sunday night in Parc St-Viateur in the leafy Montreal suburb of Outremont. These folks of a certain age were waltzing their hearts out to the beat of Latin rhythms.