Photo : Corinne DUBREUIL/ATP Tour
It’s already been a week. You watched the match and read all the comments on the clash that ultimately proved to be a sad misfire for two Tennis Canada titans.
Let’s revisit it.
Just like you, at 5 a.m. on April 22, I settled in with a pot of hot coffee to watch the fifth ATP shootout between the two friends in Barcelona.
The first set was Félix at his best. Confident and consistent.
As for Denis, he was broken from the outset on a double fault.
After a few rallies that warranted getting up at dawn, it was clear that if Auger-Aliassime could stay the course, he’d outclass Shapovalov—so much so that as he was staring down a second set point against him, Denis tried (and failed!) an underarm serve before capitulating at 6-2.
Oddly enough, there were none of the emotional outbursts we’ve come to expect from Shapo when he needs to let off some steam and which, by and large, have always served him.
In the second set, after left shoulder treatment, Denis couldn’t make anything happen. Between serves, he dragged his feet—an innocuous habit that was glaringly apparent on the freshly leveled court.
I’ve never seen Shapovalov so defeated. He was barely recognizable.
Despite a few displays of frustration (finally!), he dejectedly pulled up stakes after 79 minutes (6-2, 6-3).
Of course, nothing would have topped a sublime three-hour 7-5 blockbuster culminating at 7-6 in the third, but we witnessed the complete opposite.
Since their first showdown at the 2018 US Open, which is memorable for all the wrong reasons, their battles have always been captivating, regardless of allegiance or outcome.
But last week’s match was pretty tragic.
I can’t wrap things up without giving Félix his due. Considering the rivalry, he could have flinched when his buddy started underperforming. Players often lose focus when their opponent is injured, angry or just plain out of gas. Anyone who knows anything about tennis will tell you that Félix could have easily let things slip, but instead he was tremendous.
I must also commend him for his restrained reaction to winning. Knowing his opponent as well as he does, he probably had a good idea of how exasperated, baffled and crestfallen he was feeling. Especially considering who he lost to.
It’s all to Félix’s credit.
Next up for Félix was another longstanding rival whom he’s met nine times: Stefanos Tsitsipas. Auger-Aliassime dominated their head-to-head until the winds changed in fall 2019.
In last week’s quarterfinal, Tsitsipas was the favourite.
How did things go? Félix had a golden opportunity to undermine his opponent down 0-40 in his first service game, but the Montrealer couldn’t capitalize on it and the rest was pretty predictable: 6-3, 6-3 on an ace, no less.
A few weeks ago, Tennis Canada’s Louis Borfiga mentioned right here that if Félix wants to break into the Top 10, he’s going to have to win long rallies and get meaner—two objectives he still needs to chip away at.
As I watched the Greek prodigy vanquish our homegrown talent, I couldn’t help but think back to June 21, 2019.
In the run-up to Wimbledon on the hallowed grass of the Queen’s Club Championship, Félix overpowered Stefanos for the fifth time (three times as juniors in 2015 and 2016 and twice as pros in 2019). After them match, Tsitsipas took us all by surprise when he said: “There’s not much to come up with when you play against him. He’s pretty much solid from everywhere. I mean it’s upsetting obviously that he’s better than me. (…) I have to accept that he’s better than me. I might never beat him, but I think that way, I just need to wait, years maybe, for the chance to come. If not, then not. If yes, then fantastic. I’ll donate, I don’t know, $10 000 for that win to a charity!”
Fast-forward to a few weeks later. As I was talking to Félix about his very first Rogers Cup match on TVA Sports, I casually mentioned this rather (overly?) flattering statement. Félix, of course, wasn’t fooled by the ploy to lull him and catch him off guard enough to beat him one day.
Even so, Stefanos’ tactic may have paid off. That’s in addition to the fact that he’s an incredible player and perhaps even a future World No. 1 within the next two years.
As for Félix, he departed Barcelona as mature and wise as ever, citing Spanish poet Antonio Machado, who, in 1912, wrote “Se hace camino al andar”: the road is made by walking.
He knows he can’t duplicate another player’s success. He’s heading down his own road, one only he can map out for himself.
¡Buena suerte, Félix!
That’s the term coined by broadcasters to describe the matches presented without analysts or commentators.
Tennis is one of the very few sports that makes pretty good TV, even without commentators.
Is stadium experience an editorial choice? Is it about staff shortages or budget constraints? Is it all of the above?
I can’t answer for broadcasters, especially since you may think I can’t be objective after spending eight years in the booth as a tennis sportscaster.
Let’s start with those of you who prefer stadium experience tennis.
Some say it’s the way to go because it feels like you’re in the stands watching your favourite sport without the travel and ticket fees. Others are happy to be rid of commentators and analysts who talk too much, go off on tangents or pass for pompous know-it-alls.
What about those of you who miss the comments?
At the end of the day, the stadium experience deprives us of so many details, like statistics, inside information about the players, their coaches and their families and more.
We also miss a lot of visual information, since, as I learned during my time with analysts, the off-camera voices you hear often ask producers for statistics and replays to better explain the game. The different camera angles, close-up and slow-motion views and shots of the player boxes and fans are all part and parcel of the viewer experience. It’s the best of both worlds.
Here’s hoping commentators and analysts aren’t a dying breed.
Stefan Simeunovic, pride of Niagara Falls
I want to correct an error in last week’s post.
Stefan Simeunovic, the young player from Ontario who travelled to Israel with three other Tennis Canada hopefuls, isn’t from Toronto as I stated. He’s from Niagara Falls.
I’d like to thank Rosemary Goodwin, a fellow Niagaran, who sent me a friendly email to let me know.
The honest mistake is partially due to the fact that, before he was recruited by Tennis Canada’s National Training Centre, Stefan honed his skills in Toronto because high-level infrastructures aren’t available in Niagara Falls. Also, by complete coincidence, there’s another talented player named Stefan Simeunovic who lives in Toronto (Oakville, to be exact).
And so, I think it’s only appropriate that Rosemary Goodwin should have the last word: “We’re very proud of our tennis heritage here in Niagara. Davis Cup captain Frank Dancevic is from Niagara Falls, as was the late Bruno Agostinelli, a national coach. Stefan continues that tradition.”
Going the distance on the court
You may be wondering if you’re looking at my grandson’s earliest attempt at art (I don’t have a grandson, btw), but the image is actually an illustration of the distance I covered a few days ago on a court at IGA Stadium.
I’ve often been intrigued by energy out after an hour of tennis. Because I can’t check Hawk-Eye and don’t own a Fitbit, I used the popular Strava tracking app I usually take with me when I go biking.
After 60 minutes (30 minutes of rallies and 30 minutes of tiebreakers), I had covered 2 410 metres (2.4 km).
But, as the app so clearly asserted, I spent only 20 minutes, 30 seconds moving. That’s actually not surprising since players use up more time at a standstill in terms of percentage of minutes. But in terms of burning energy and bursts, tennis is still great cardio.
Even if the distance travelled is limited to a relatively small area.
OK, but what about the pros?
You may have noticed the figures Hawk-Eye provides on the distances covered by your favourite WTA and ATP stars. In fall 2020, Runner’s World published the results of a study based on data from the 2015 Australian Open compiled by IBM and SI.com.
After the first three rounds, the speedy David Ferrer had travelled 10 km—the longest distance—while the Djoker had only 4.5 km under his belt. Several factors explain the difference, including how well their respective opponents played and the length of their matches.
As for us mere mortals, in 2020, Fitbit released user data revealing that a player could take over 10 000 steps, the equivalent of six kilometres, and burn some 550 calories (for a 68-kg player) after an hour of singles tennis.
So perhaps my GPS wasn’t the best method. Or maybe I just spent a lot of time at the baseline hitting whatever came at me.
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