For Denis Shapovalov, the rise up the ATP Rankings has been swift – but as he ventures forward in his first full year at the ATP World Tour level, he’s learning that not all progress follows the same steep curve.
In Budapest this week, where he was seeded for the first time at an ATP World Tour event at No. 4, the Canadian succumbed 2-6, 4-6 to the experienced Nikoloz Basilashvili. After the match, he commented on the tricky conditions and his struggles to find a rhythm on his powerful groundstrokes.
“I think Nikoloz played really well today. He came out firing. I had my chances early on and I didn’t take advantage and he took advantage of his,” said Shapovalov. “After that it was kind of hard to get a rhythm, it was really windy today so it was tough to play under these conditions, but [Basilashvili] did a very good job and credit to him.”
On clay courts, which are ostensibly the 19-year-old’s least familiar surface, one could argue that his education on the surface will be lengthy one. Historically, Canadians haven’t always favoured clay, and most have found their best successes on hard courts or on grass, such as Milos Raonic’s run to the Wimbledon final in 2016 — the same year Shapovalov won the boys’ singles title there.
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Although Shapovalov did manage to reach the semifinals of the boys’ singles event on the picturesque clay courts of Roland Garros in 2016 (compatriot Felix Auger-Aliassime finished runner-up and, conversely, is one of few Canadians whose best results have come on the surface), he hasn’t seen the same instant success on the surface as he did at on the speedy Rogers Cup courts in 2017, where he defeated Juan Martin del Potro and Rafael Nadal en route to a semifinal finish. Additionally, Shapovalov’s history on grass courts (going undefeated at junior events on grass in 2016, including junior Wimbledon) shows that his attacking game is most comfortable when the courts give him a little extra zip on his shots.
In 2018, the current World No. 43 has posted a 1-3 record on clay, with his sole win coming over Viktor Galovic in Canada’s Davis Cup tie with Croatia. As he takes one week off from competition before a potentially five-week clay-court circuit that will start off in Madrid and end in Paris, Shapovalov and his team will look to find answers to the puzzle of clay.
With a sharp lefty serve and heavy top spin, he certainly resembles one prolific player who has found success on clay – so perhaps it’s a matter of ‘when’ and not ‘if’ for Shapovalov.
(Feature photo: Julian Finney/Getty Images)