Photo: Martin Sidorjak

Denis Shapovalov made his clay-court season debut last week in Madrid, winning his first match against Ugo Humbert of France before falling to three-time Grand Slam champion Andy Murray in the second round.

Despite the loss to Murray, there were a lot of positives to take away from Madrid for the Canadian. In both matches, Shapovalov managed to keep at least 70 per cent of first serves in play – something he’s struggled to find consistency with in the past. He also managed to save 16 of 20 break points.

Now in Rome playing at the Internazionali BNL d’Italia, Shapovalov’s first test was against Italian Lorenzo Sonego. The two former semi-finalists – Shapovalov in 2020 and Sonego in 2021 – have never met on the ATP Tour prior to today’s contest.

While there was a drop-off in Shapovalov’s service game today, the Canadian constructed a number of great points in key moments to get the better of the home-court favourite Sonego in three sets, 7-6(5), 3-6, 6-3.

Playing on Grand Stand Arena, Shapovalov had a slow start and was broken early by the Italian. Shapovalov eventually found his footing in the second half of the first set and was rewarded when a Sonego volley sailed long, evening out the set at five games apiece.

Both players held their next service games to send the opening frame to a tiebreak. Shapovalov came out stronger and sealed the set on his third set point opportunity. He’s now 11-4 this year in tiebreaks.

In the second set, there was a controversial moment that didn’t go the way of the Canadian. On serve in the eighth game, Shapovalov crossed the net to check a ball mark on Sonego’s side of the court and was given a code violation. It resulted in a point penalty which gave Sonego the break of serve. The Italian successfully served out the set in the next game to send the match to a decider.

After spending two hours and 24 minutes on court after the first two sets, it appeared that Shapovalov had the most energy left in the tank in the third set, as he broke Sonego early and cruised through each of his service games. He would clinch the match with a hold to love in the ninth game.

Shapovalov’s will now face Georgia’s Nikoloz Basilashvili in the second round. The Canadian currently trails his head-to-head against the world No. 25, 2-0.