Photo: ATP Tour
Denis Shapovalov was denied a place in a second Masters 1000 final of his career – and a shot at facing World No.1 Novak Djokovic for the title – after he was beaten by Argentina’s Diego Schwartzman in a thrilling semi-final at the Italian Open in Rome on Sunday.
This was the first meeting between the two players and only one ranking place separated them heading into what was a highly-anticipated showdown. Schwartzman (No.15) went into the match high on confidence following a shocking upset victory over Rafael Nadal, ranked No. 2, on Saturday.
Shapovalov (No. 14) also wasn’t short on self-belief after a first Grand Slam quarter-finals appearance at the US Open earlier this month and a win over 15th seed Grigor Dimitrov in the previous round in Rome.
It was the Argentine who made the better start in the match, forcing Shapovalov into a series of uncharacteristic errors and racing out to a 3-0 lead. But the Canadian kept his nerve and brought the set back on serve by breaking Schwartzman, who hit a return long at 30-40.
Schwartzman, though, was determined to claw back his advantage – and he did just that with the set finely poised at 5-4. The Argentine broke Shapovalov for a second time as the Canadian hit a forehand into the net on a set-clinching break point.
The second set started much more positively for Shapovalov, who broke Schwartzman to take a 3-2 lead before holding his serve to extend his advantage to 4-2. However, the Canadian had trouble serving out the set and double faulted at the worst possible moment to allow Schwartzman to pull level at 5-5.
It could have been a fatal blow for the Canadian, but instead he did another 180 in the very next game, rallying from a 40:15 deficit to force deuce before breaking Schwartzman’s serve as the Argentine hit a backhand wide. The Canadian was then forced to save a break point on his way to claiming the set 7-5.
Shapovalov received some routine treatment during a medical timeout prior to the start of the third and final set. Schwartzman put immense pressure on the Canadian from the outset with Shapovalov having to save four break points in just the second game while showcasing some breathtaking tennis.
Then ensued a real rollercoaster of play in which six breaks of serve were exchanged, making for a nervous experience for tennis fans across the country who were cheering for the backwards cap-wearing Canadian.
In the resulting tiebreak, luck was not on Shapovalov’s side as he dropped four points on his serve to hand Schwartzman the chance to serve for the match. The Argentine made no mistake, pressuring Shapovalov into hitting into the net, and securing his place in a career-first Masters 1000 final.