Photo : @ATPTour
Something about the far east agrees with Denis Shapovalov’s tennis. For the second week in a row, he is through to the semifinals of an event in Asia without dropping a set.
On Friday, the Canadian booked his spot in the final four of the Rakuten Japan Open Tennis Championships with a straight-set win over Cincinnati Masters champion Borna Coric.
Apart from a brief blip late in the first set, the match was all Shapovalov, who cruised on serve and took advantage of every opening that came his way in the 6-4, 6-3 win.
“It was definitely one of the best matches of my season,” said Shapovalov in his post-match interview. “[Coric] is an opponent I’ve struggled against in the past so it’s a great win for my confidence”
If the Canadian is to reach a second final in as many weeks during the Asian Swing, he is going to have to take down a second 2022 Masters 1000 winner in the form of Indian Wells champion Taylor Fritz in the Tokyo semis.
Shapovalov converted three of his four break points in the match, while only facing one on his own serve. He put two-thirds of his first serves in play and won 89 per cent of those points, only losing four in total. The Canadian also feasted on his opponent’s second serve, winning 70 per cent of points when Coric missed his first delivery. He added 29 winners to his opponent’s 11.
It was the Croatian who looked stronger at the start, holding his first two games to love. But Shapovalov’s big-hitting quickly turned the tables as he struck back-to-back winners, including a clean forehand return winner on break point, to take a 4-2 lead.
The only time Shapovalov let his foot off the gas in the match came as he served for the set at 5-3. A double fault followed by forehand error gave Coric the break back. But the Canadian responded perfectly, continuing to hop on the Croatian’s second serve and breaking right back to claim the opening set.
A break early in the second set was all Shapovalov needed to put a stranglehold on the match. After breaking for a 3-1 lead, he rode his serve to the finish line, winning 12 of his final 13 points on serve.
Shapovalov takes a 4-1 head-to-head advantage into his semifinal with the world No. 11 Fritz. Their most recent meeting was last year in San Diego, won by Shapovalov in straight sets.
“He’s been playing unbelievable this season. He’s improved a lot, we’ve had some really title battles in the past. I’ve won four out of five but they could have gone either way,” said Shapovalov of the matchup with Fritz. “It’s going to be 0-0 from the beginning and I just have to focus just like today and hopefully I can continue to play my game.”
All five of their previous matches were on hard courts, including a five-set win for the Canadian at the 2020 US Open.