Denis Shapovalov and Bianca Andreescu struggled early until their true colours showed and they recorded impressive second-round wins at the US Open on Thursday evening.
Shapovalov had to save two set points in the opening set on his way to a 7-6(7), 6-3, 6-0 victory over Roberto Carballes Baena after Andreescu overcame a sloppy start on her way to outplaying Lauren Davis 6-4, 6-4 – both matches played in Louis Armstrong Stadium.
Carballes Baena, who beat Shapovalov 8-6 in the fifth set last October at the French Open, provided a stern test for the No. 7 seed in a thoroughly entertaining first set.
It was a little too entertaining for Shapovalov when the enterprising Spaniard took a 6-4 (two set points) lead in the first set tiebreak – partly with the help of three shaky double faults from his opponent. On the first set point, the 28-year-old Spaniard had a great chance on a forehand passing shot but misfired into the net. On the second he cleanly hit a forehand down-the-line with Shapovalov well out of the picture – but it landed an inch or two long.
Immediately there was disappointment on Carballes Baena’s face – as if he understood there would be a price to pay for failing to capitalize on golden opportunities against as dynamic a player as Shapovalov. Sure enough the next two set points were Shapovalov’s and he converted the second when Carballes Baena succumbed to the relentless pressure of his opponent’s power game – double-faulting long.
Full marks to the super-hustling Carballes Baena, but once Shapovalov broke serve to 3-1 in the second set, the floodgates opened and the 22-year-old No. 7 seed reached a different level of free-wheeling tennis with winners coming from all directions – 50 in all to go with 29 unforced errors compared to 13 winners and 14 unforced errors by the 28-year-old Spaniard.
Later while Shapovalov admitted he was pleased to get revenge for the loss to Carballes Baena at Roland Garros, and he was also able to poke fun at himself about those terrible double faults in the tiebreak. “I wasn’t really focused on winning the tiebreak,” he joked, “at one point I was more focused on putting a serve in the court.”
He summed up about facing Carballes Baena, “it’s super tough to play him and I knew that going in. I think I’m really lucky to get out of it in three straight sets. I’m super pleased with the way I was able to fight and play today.”
Off the ground and in the air, Shapovalov thrilled the highly-partisan crowd, hitting blazing ground strokes and closing off points at the net – winning 24 of 30 points on the volley in the forecourt.
A year ago he reached the quarter-finals in New York before losing to Pablo Carreno Busta and then in July he went one better at a Grand Slam by getting to the Wimbledon semi-finals before losing in three highly-competitive sets to eventual champion Novak Djokovic. “I love the Grand Slam kind of set-up,” he said. “You kind of get in your bubble and then you take it day-by-day, match-by-match. For me, it’s so much fun.”
Along with coach Mikhail Youzhny and a childhood friend, avocational rapper Shapovalov had artists in his courtside seats whom he playfully referred to as “my whole music squad.”
To continue his roll at the US Open he will next have to get past No. 46-ranked Lloyd Harris, who beat him 6-7(5), 6-4, 7-6(6) in the semi-finals of the ATP 500 event in Dubai in March.
“He’s definitely a player that’s improved so much over the last couple years,” Shapovalov said about the 24-year-old South African. “Actually (he) is a friend of mine. He’s such a nice guy. I had a super tough match against him in Dubai, one that I was leading, kind of slipped away from me. It’s obviously going to be two players that like to go for it and hit big. There’s going to be a lot of big shot-making from both of us.”
Shapovalov spoke about how he appreciates the support of Canadian fans at Flushing Meadows and also about being in a group with Andreescu, Leylah Fernandez and Félix Auger-Aliassime to have reached the third round. “It’s honestly great to see so many Canadians going forward – just showing again how this is also a tennis country and a summer sport country.”
While Shapovalov will be playing an opponent he’s familiar with in Saturday’s third round, Andreescu, as well as many tennis followers, likely knows very little about Greet Minnen, the No. 104-ranked player from Belgium who is her next opponent.
A big-serving right-hander, a report from Belgium indicates the 24-year-old feels like she’s playing with house money after getting in the draw as a lucky loser when No. 27 seed Jelena Ostapenko withdrew. She’s apparently also thrilled to have finally broken into the top 100 after achieving a previous best of No. 103 in March, 2020. Minnen reached the final of a USTA $100,000 event in Landisville, Maryland, last month, and before that qualified for both the French Open and Wimbledon this year.
It’s a first meeting for the two players and an opportunity for Andreescu to stretch her unbeaten streak at the US Open (seven in winning the title in 2019 and two in 2021) to 10 matches.
On Thursday, Andreescu was all over the place in the first few games before gradually finding her range. Down 2-0 and then 4-3, a Davis double fault got her back to evens at 4-all before she closed out the first set 6-4.
On four separate occasions in the match, Andreescu trailed by a service break but she never looked dangerously vulnerable and was able to rise to the occasion when necessary.
Exactly like her match against Viktorija Golubic in the first round, Andreescu hit a breathtaking shot – this time a pulverized forehand cross-court, outright winner – to 30-all in the final game. That kind of put an exclamation mark on the match, which ended two points later.
“What I’m very happy about mostly is my serving.” she said, “because I’ve been working a lot on that. Also my movement. I’ve been putting a lot of work in the gym and it’s really paying off.”
In her on-court, post-match interview, Andreescu at first was coy about exactly what she has been working on with new coach Sven Groeneveld. But she eventually offered some details. “It’s honestly a big difference – little things here and there like on my serve and on my return, on deuce points. Stuff like that and it’s really showing on the court.”
She later added about Groeneveld, while not hiding her ambitions as a former (2019) US Open champion – “I had a good period after Wimbledon working with Sven. I think it’s just match play that I need really. It’s good – two (matches) down. I’m hoping I can go all the way, just keep getting better as the tournament progresses.”
In an afternoon match, Vasek Pospisil was beaten 6-3, 6-4, 7-6(5) by Ilya Ivashka. While the No. 53-ranked Belarusian played a solid match – 23 winners and 19 unforced errors as well as winning 69 per cent of his second-serve points (to Pospisil’s 38 per cent) – it was not against the Vasek Pospisil who played such inspired tennis in the final three sets of his five-set victory over Fabio Fognini on Tuesday.
The match was on the same Court 10, but this time in a completely flat atmosphere because Pospisil provided spectators with little to get revved up about. There was a positive sign in the third game of the match when he hit three aces in a row on his way to taking a 2-1 lead. But two games later he lost serve. Even though he broke right back, he then dropped his next two service games – three in a row – an unlikely occurrence when he’s playing well.
His forehand was unusually erratic for most of the first two sets and he really didn’t look like having a chance to win until he broke serve to 3-4 and then held to 4-all in the second set. Suddenly Ivashka seemed vulnerable but, after saving a break point with a forehand that wrong-footed a stumbling Pospisil, he held serve and broke in the final game to take what turned out to be an insurmountable lead.
There were no break points either way in the third set and, though Pospisil led 2-0 in the eventual tiebreak, Ivashka was soon ahead 3-2 and didn’t look back – finishing it off on at 6-5 with a service winner to the Pospisil forehand.
Probably as important as any stat or tactical analysis was the first point of the 12th game in the final set when Pospisil ran to his left chasing a ball angled short to the sideline and pulled up, immediately clutching his lower back.
“I wasn’t 100 per cent but I was good enough to compete at a decent enough level,” he said during his post-match news conference, referencing those grueling three hours and 18 minutes against Fognini on Tuesday evening.
He later mentioned a neck issue with a nerve that was blocked and reduced his serving efficiency to what he suggested was “80 per cent.” He also said his back was sore when he woke up Wednesday morning. When asked if the Kinesio tape was on the lower back as it had been for his first match, he just smiled ruefully and said, “it was not, maybe it should have been.”
Having reached the round-of-16 a year ago at Flushing Meadows, the second-round loss was going to be a hit to Pospisil’s ranking, but it wasn’t too severe – just a drop from No. 58 to No. 63.
FROM THE ARCHIVES
The two banks of fountains in the main plaza at the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center are a refreshing diversion on hot days for US Open spectators – including this chap who seems otherwise preoccupied.
Feature photo: camerawork usa