denis shapovalov prepares backhand australian open 2022

Photo: Martin Sidorjak

On Friday in Margaret Court Arena, Denis Shapovalov played a stellar third-round match and defeated American Reilly Opelka 7-6(4), 4-6, 6-3, 6-4 to advance to the round of 16 at the Australian Open for the first time in his career.

Shapovalov, who is playing some inspired tennis so far in 2022, extends his career-high winning streak to six. His career Grand Slam record improves to 28-16, and he will look to add to the win column when he faces World No. 3 Alexander Zverev in the next round.

The Canadian had a difficult matchup today against the big-serving, 6-foot-11 American. Through their first two matches this week, Shapovalov hit 42 aces and won 84 per cent of his service games, while his American opponent had 41 aces and won 97 per cent of his service games, losing only one to Dominik Koepfer of Germany. It was clear that the serve was going to have a massive impact on today’s outcome.

Fittingly, Shapovalov and Opelka started the match with a hold to love. They both looked comfortable on serve, up until a strong return game from Shapovalov surprised the American in the seventh game. Shapovalov managed to break Opelka with a beautiful cross-court backhand but, his lead wouldn’t last long. Three double faults from the Canadian in the next game gifted Opelka the break and tied the set at four games all. Neither player dropped another service game, and a tiebreak was required.

Opelka committed his first double fault of the match in the tiebreak, giving Shapovalov the first mini-break. After exchanging mini-breaks later in the tiebreak, Shapovalov – leading 6-4 – managed to clinch the set with a perfectly placed serve that Opelka couldn’t handle.

The second and third sets were similar to each other. Shapovalov and Opelka struggled to keep their first serves in play but they were still finding ways to hold their serves. Both sets had a single break point opportunity, Opelka converted in the second set to level the match at 1-1, and Shapovalov came up clutch in the third set to regain the lead.

Shapovalov was able to carry that momentum into the fourth set where he won 88 per cent of points on his first serves and 37 per cent of points while returning Opelka’s serves. The Canadian had no issue serving for the match in the 10th game and successfully punched his ticket to the round of 16.