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Tebbutt: Denis makes his mark

May 30, 2018
written by: Tom Tebbutt
written by: Tom Tebbutt
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The left arm putting away a forehand in the picture here is not the frail, magical limb of legendary southpaw John McEnroe but more the Popeye bicep bulge of all-time great lefty Rod Laver.

In all the analysis and acclaim that has come Denis Shapovalov’s way since his semi-final breakthrough last summer at the Rogers Cup in Montreal, there’s one aspect of his remarkable ability that’s sometimes forgotten.

“I’m really impressed with his physical strength at 19,” says Davis Cup teammate Vasek Pospisil. “It’s unbelievable. I don’t know if I’ve seen many guys like that – maybe Nadal when he was coming up – but he’s super fit, very strong. I think that’s a big part of the reason for his success. It’s very, very rare in my opinion. I haven’t seen many guys that strong physically at 19. That’s maybe something that’s overlooked.”

Clément Golliet of Tennis Canada in Montreal (seen on left above shaking hands with coach Martin Laurendeau) is Shapovalov’s fitness trainer, the man who works at keeping Shapovalov’s body in top shape for tennis.

Possibly after his runs to the semi-finals in Madrid (a loss to No. 3-ranked Alexander Zverev) and the third round in Rome (beaten by No. 1 Rafael Nadal) Shapovalov showed a touch of fatigue but essentially so far in his career he has been an extremely fit warrior on court.

His rise over the past year in some ways resembles what Milos Raonic did in his breakthrough year of 2011 when, at age 20, he reached the round-of-16 as a qualifier at the Australian Open – beating world No. 10 Mikhail Youzhny – along the way.

But Shapovalov was even more precocious, reaching the semi-final of the Rogers Cup last summer at only 18 and defeating No. 2-ranked Rafael Nadal in the third round.

In terms of ranking – Raonic went from No. 156 to No. 31 in 2011 while Shapovalov went from No. 250 to No. 51 last year. In his second year, 2012, Raonic jumped from No. 31 to No. 13 and then reached a career high of No. 3 in late 2016. This year Shapovalov has moved up from No. 51 to his current spot at No. 25.

But he actually has an opportunity to climb much higher than his current ranking because the only significant chunks of points he has to defend over the next few months come at the Rogers Cup in August (360) and the US Open in September (205).

After winning Tuesday’s opening-round match at Roland Garros, Shapovalov’s ‘live’ up-to-date ranking is up to No. 22 and he has an excellent chance, by advancing another round or two, of moving into the top 20 after Roland Garros because the three players ahead of him – Philipp Kohlschreiber (21), Hyeon Chung (20) and Tomas Berdych (19) are all already out Roland Garros for one reason or another.

The only man to be on the other side of the net from Shapovalov so far at this year’s French Open – No. 59-ranked Aussie John Millan (above) who was beaten 7-5, 6-4, 6-2 by the Canadian on Tuesday – was generous and insightful in his praise of the teenager generally regarded as the best young prospect in tennis.

“I think the big points he actually plays pretty well and that’s a key in tennis,” said the 28-year-old from Brisbane on Tuesday about Shapovalov. “I thought he played the big points really well. He’s got great weight of shot. And I think probably the biggest thing is he backs his ability. He doesn’t mind taking the ball early and taking it up the line and I thought today he executed extremely well. The way he executed today he was ruthless.”

Next for Shapoalov will be a second-round contest against No. 70-ranked Maximilian Marterer. The 22-year-old German, who beat Ryan Harrison in three sets on Tuesday, is playing in his third main draw at a Grand Slam – his first at Roland Garros. His highlight so far has been winning over No. 83 Cedrik-Marcel Stebe of Germany and No. 40 Fernando Verdasco [6-4, 4-6, 7-6(5), 3-6, 6-3] at the Australian Open in January before losing 5-7, 6-3, 7-5, 7-6(5) to No. 97 Tennys Sandgren. This spring on European red clay the 6-foot-3 lefthander is 5-5 in all his matches – having reached the semi-finals in Munich with victories over No. 16-ranked Diego Schwartzman and No. 61 Marton Fucsovics before losing to his compatriot, No. 34-ranked Kohlschreiber.

In terms of 2018 stats – Shapovalov’s match record is 18-12 while Marterer is 12-9. Shapovalov has won 83 per cent of his service games to 82 per cent for the tall German. In return, games won its Shapovalov with 19 per cent won and Marterer at 15 per cent.

It will be a first meeting for the two and Shapovalov isn’t very familiar with the native of Nuremberg. “I haven’t seen too much of him,” he said about Marterer. “It’s going to be a difficult match.”

The second-round confrontation will be played on Court 1 first match at 11 a.m. on Thursday (5 a.m. ET in Canada).

Polansky loses second half

Peter Polansky went to bed on Tuesday night at a set apiece with Pierre-Hugues Herbert of France in their first-round match but was unable to carry over his momentum from winning the second set when the match resumed Wednesday.

He won the first game on serve but then dropped five in a row on his way to losing the set 6-2 and was never really in the match with the No. 87-ranked Herbert. The final score read 6-3, 4-6, 6-2, 6-2.

“I just struggled with his serve,” Polansky said about the difference in the match when it started up again in the brand-new 2,158-seat Court 1 stadium on Wednesday. “The conditions were a little bit different,” he said. “Today it was

sunny and the balls were bouncing – his serve kicks up quite a bit. I couldn’t return from the back because he would just come in and volley. He’s got great volleys. Trying to return early, you’ve got to be extremely skilful to do that the whole match. I was able to do that yesterday when the conditions cooled down a bit toward the end of that second set (in the evening). Today to consistently take his serve early, it was a very, very difficult task and that basically put him at advantage in every single point of the match. He was returning well and serving well and starting the point on the offence.”

Polansky was playing in his eighth Grand Slam main draw – but now still has only one first round (2010 US Open) victory to show for his efforts. “You obviously want to win these matches,” he said, “but it has to be the right moment as well. It’s not like I put so much emphasis like I need to get a Grand Slam win at Roland Garros. It’s not like that – you take every win one at a time.”

Court 18, at the extreme western end of the grounds, is new this year and a very fan-friendly addition to the site. “It’s actually a really nice court,” Polansky said. “I know in the past playing on that side (the far side of Court Suzanne Lenglen), there’s not normally a lot of spectators that come out to that side of the grounds. The court is actually super nice. I didn’t play the best match, he dominated most of it. I tried to do what I could to get into it. But overall I enjoyed playing out there even with the crowd on his side. It’s nice to play those kinds of matches regardless who the crowd is cheering for.”

With his ‘live’ up-to-date ATP ranking up to No. 116 – one below his career high of No. 115 – he will next play the 127,000 euro ($150,000 U.S.) Surbiton (England) Challenger on grass starting next week.

What were his plans for Wednesday night in Paris after his loss at Roland Garros? “A few bottles of wine tonight and a couple of days off,” Polansky said. “I’ve only taken one day off in about four weeks.”

Asked if he was enough of a connoisseur to know which kind of wine to drink, he smiled and replied, “I’m not really a connoisseur – red is good. It’s hard to go

wrong here if you get a moderately, not expensive bottle. Fifteen euros ($22.50 Canadian) is a good bottle.”

The doubles day

Nestor Says ‘Au revoir’

Four-time Roland Garros champion Daniel Nestor played the final match of his career at the French Open on Wednesday. He and his partner Jeremy Chardy of France were beaten 7-5, 6-2 by the 11th seeded pairing of Pablo Cuevas of Uruguay and Marcel Granollers of Spain.

There were no service breaks until 5-all in the first set and then Cuevas and Granollers broke Nestor and held in the following game to take the set.

Nestor lost his serve in the opening game of the second set and the Uruguayan/Spanish pair never looked back.

What kind of emotions did he feel knowing it was his final match at the French Open? “Did I feel any emotions?” said Nestor, who is never comfortable in hot, humid conditions. “I wasn’t even thinking about that. It was hotter than normal in Paris, and more humid so that didn’t help. You can’t really perform that well. I was really happy to play with Chardy. He was playing great. Maybe if I would have played better we would have had a chance. But those guys are tough. I was happy to be able to play for sure.”

“I wasn’t moving well enough and wasn’t adjusting on some (service) returns,” he summed up about his performance on Court 15 Wednesday, “and wasn’t controlling the ball well.”

His ranking is down to an unflattering No. 107 and he said about his year so far, “it’s hard because you’re not playing a proper schedule and you’re going back and forth – tournament-home, tournament-home – and with different partners. Don’t know when I’m going to play, I find out at the last second. I’m trying to stay in

shape – especially at my age. If I know exactly what’s happening then I could prepare a little better – but some of these tournaments are last second.”

About his future plans, the 45-year-old said, “Wimbledon and then Rogers Cup (Toronto) and the US Open hopefully and then Davis Cup (vs. the Netherlands September 21-23 in Canada).” He’s uncertain about who he will play with at Wimbledon but said he is “hopeful” he will find someone.

Dabrowski into second round

Gabriela Dabrowski and her Chinese partner Xu Yifan advanced to the second round of doubles on Wednesday with a 6-3, 6-1 victory over the French wild card pairing of Tessa Andrianjafitrimo and Fiona Ferro.

It was a pretty matter-of-fact 56-minute outing for the No. 5 seeds and Dabrowski later said, “we played well and executed our game plan, played aggressively.”

The 26-year-old from Ottawa added, “I was looking to take lobs (with swing volleys) out of the air and that’s new for me. I did that well.”

Back at the site of her mixed doubles victory a year ago with Rohan Bopanna of India, Dabrowski casually said about returning to Roland Garros, “it feels great, no complaints.”

In this year’s mixed doubles event, she’s top-seeded with current world No. 1 in men’s doubles, Mate Pavic of Croatia. They will go for their second Grand Slam mixed doubles title in a row – having beaten Timea Babos of Hungary and Bopanna in the Australian Open final in January.

Shamasdin out vs. No. 2 seeds

Adil Shamasdin (in light blue shirt) of Pickering, Ont., and his Dutch partner Sander Arends were beaten in their opening match on Wednesday. It was no real surprise as they were matched against the No. 2 seeds – Oliver Marach of Austria and Mate Pavic of Croatia – and came out on the short end of a 6-2, 6-2 score.

Paris post card

“The Queen is Back” is the theme for a Nike campaign as Serena Williams returns at Roland Garros from childbirth and 16 months away from Grand Slam tennis. She was successful on Monday – defeating Kristyna Pliskova 7-6(4), 6-4 in the first round. The ads (left and right) here, near Roland Garros at the Porte d’Auteuil, are on the sides of a newspaper kiosk.