There are few players that can put their fans through an emotional wringer like Denis Shapovalov. Tuesday night on Court 10 at the US Open against No. 85-ranked Marc-Andrea Huesler, there was the worst and the best of the super-talented world No. 21.
From the first set until the ninth game of the second set, the six-foot-six Swiss was able to play up-tempo tennis and take advantage of a consistent barrage of errant shots off the Shapovalov racquet. It soon got him one point away from a service break that would allow him to serve for a two-sets-to-none lead. He had lost just one point in his previous fourth service games in the set but suddenly Shapovalov found his bearings at 4-all – after saving a break point in the previous game when his short ball brought Huesler to the net where he wasn’t able to finish off two volley chances, eventually allowing Shapovalov to blast a backhand passing shot winner.
Finally, after six deuces and three break points saved in that pivotal ninth game, Huesler double-faulted to lose the game and Shapovalov was immediately transformed.
He held serve to love to win the set and streaked through the third set. There was a sense that his crazy talent and powerful shot-making were on that higher plain that makes him so difficult to play against.
But he eventually gave Huesler an opening in the fourth set. He saved a break point with a 134 mph ace in the sixth game but then, two games later, conceded the break in bad-Denis style with a double fault.
That was all Huesler needed to level at two sets apiece after a love service game to 6-3. But the score wasn’t even for very long, Shapovalov broke to 2-0 in the fifth, held to 3-0 and was back to his high-flying best, riding it to the end to wrap up a 2-6, 6-4, 6-4, 3-6, 6-1 victory in two hours and 57 minutes.
Huesler, a personable 26-year-old, was at times a participant and at others an observer of Shapovalov at his startling worst and best.
“The first time I saw him play, I thought he was a guy I’d like to play like,” the Swiss said about his 23-year-old Canadian opponent. “I really liked his aggressive game. And even in the warm-up today I could see that he hits really hard.
“But I’m still disappointed with the loss because I felt I had a lot of chances, especially the first two sets because he really wasn’t really into it. I thought I had a good chance to win during those first two sets.
“Once he found the rhythm from 4-3 in the second set until the start of the fourth, it wasn’t easy…really tough for me. I thought I served well but every return came back. And he came to the net, he passed very well and hardly missed a ball with his forehand. I really didn’t know what to do. I sort of said to myself the same things Rafa says sometimes when he plays Rog (fellow-Swiss Roger Federer), ‘you just have to let him play and accept that it’s just too good.’”
That’s high praise and a reason so many tennis aficionados are fascinated with the gifted 23-year-old from Richmond Hill, Ont. The numbers for the match flattered both players – Shapovalov was 57/34 winners to unforced errors while Huesler was 32/27.
“That hold in the second set (in the eighth game) where I think I saved a break point, really close game,” Shapovalov said, “I knew that was a good turning point. If I could get the break the following game, it could turn the match around, which I think it did.”
About his rather flat start to the match and through until late in the second set, he said, “it’s normal to come to a tournament and not be cruising, especially at the beginning. It’s always tricky the first couple rounds, especially against a guy like today. He’s a big server, goes for his shots. It’s not an easy opponent to kind of settle in with and get your timing right.
“I just think the experience of playing a lot of these guys is building more and more. I know I have time to turn it around. I think I’m getting better at recognizing that and picking the moments where I could kind of try to make a difference in the match when things aren’t going my way.”
Shapovalov also spoke about former player Mikhail Youzhny rejoining his team, along with current coach Peter Polansky, saying, “why I like Mikhail is because we worked in the past, and he knows me really well. I think that my team and Mikhail, we all have the same vision on how to play my game and how to get better. So for me, Mikhail is just an addition.” He mentioned he sees the relationship extending well into the future.
In Thursday’s second round Shapovalov will face one of two Spaniards – either No. 57-ranked Jaume Munar or No. 80 Roberto Carballes Baena.
WEDNESDAY TEE-TIMES FOR THE CANADIAN FOURSOME
Bianca Andreescu faces a tough test in her second-round match Wednesday against No. 15-ranked Beatrix Haddad Maia. The 6-foot, late-blooming Brazilian, 26, won pre-Wimbledon grass-court events in Nottingham and Birmingham and was a National Bank Open finalist in Toronto earlier this month. She has played nine Grand Slam tournaments in her career but has never made it past the second round.
H2H: Haddad Maia 1-0: They have only played once – at an ITF event in Waco, Texas, in 2016 – and Haddad Maia won when Andreescu retired in the third set.
The Andreescu–Haddad Maia match is the second of the evening session in Louis Armstrong Stadium, following the opener at 7 p.m. between Félix Auger-Aliassime and Jack Draper.
Like Andreescu, No. 14 seed Leylah Fernandez will be matched against a tall opponent – 5-foot-11 Luidmila Samsonova. The 23-year-old Russian, ranked No 35, has won both Washington and Cleveland on the WTA tour this month, and is a player with a power-packed game.
This is her tenth career Grand Slam tournament but only one time – Wimbledon 2021 – has she been past the second round. The match is scheduled fourth on after an 11 a.m. start in the Grandstand.
H2H: First meeting
Rebecca Marino will attempt to reach the first Grand Slam third round of her career when he plays Daria Snigur on Wednesday on Court 11 in the second match (following a men’s) after an 11 a.m. start.
The 20-year-old Ukrainian caused a major upset on Monday by defeating two-time Grand Slam winner, and reigning National Bank Open champion, Simona Halep.
Marino is well acquainted with Snigur – having lost a 2019 ITF event final to her in Kasiwa, Japan, by a 6-2, 6-4 score. Snigur has an unconventional forehand that she kind of hits behind her. But it’s very effective and held up well at crunch-time versus Halep.
H2H: 1-0 Snigur
The years go by and now it’s Félix Auger-Aliassime, seeded sixth, who is the older more experienced player when he takes on Jack Draper of Britain in a second-round match first up of the evening session on Louis Armstrong Stadium at 7 p.m.
Auger-Aliassime turned 22 this month and No. 53-ranked Draper won’t be 21 until December. A 6-foot-4 lefthander, he has played his home event at Wimbledon four times – twice in qualifying and twice in the main draw – but this US Open is his first Grand Slam outside London SW 19.
H2H: First Meeting.