There are escapes, and there are escapes.
On Saturday in Stadium 2 at the BNP Paribas Open, Denis Shapovalov had one of the common varieties in tennis – lose the first set and then turn things around and gradually dominate your opponent as he did in his 4-6, 6-4, 6-2 victory over Alejandro Davidovich Fokina.
As for Leylah Annie Fernandez, her escape was of the much riskier kind as she saved four match points in a 2-6, 7-6(0) ret. win over Amanda Anisimova when the American stopped after the second set due to what the tournament officially listed as “illness.”
She bent over for a while and appeared uncomfortable after losing the last point of the tiebreak. At the time it looked more like frustration for failing to convert the four match points – including three in a row serving at 6-2, 5-4, 40-love – or maybe at getting shutout in the tiebreak amid a flurry of unforced errors.
Whatever the case there had to be a little of Fernandez in the Anisimova collapse. It’s widely known in tennis circles that the feisty Canadian never gives up. After her amazing victories over class players at the 2021 US Open, opponents are going to get a sinking feeling if they fail to put her away when they have the opportunity.
Anisimova took a 3-0 lead in the opening set when, at times, she seemed to be able to hit winners at will. Fernandez did settle in and had a point to get to 2-3 but failed to convert and from then on it was all Anisimova. At 5-foot-11, she has a powerful serve and an ability to hit big off the ground – off either wing. But Fernandez is no slouch herself and in the second set, she began to neutralize Anisimova with some fine ball-striking of her own – and particularly with an uncanny knack of knowing when to wrong foot her opponent.
Still, after trading service breaks in the opening two games of the second set, Anisimova broke serve again to 4-3 and held her own serve to love (for the second consecutive game) for 5-3 and seemed on the verge.
She held that first match point in the following game on Fernandez’s serve and then took that commanding 40-love lead – triple match point – in the 5-4 game. But she started to misfire long with her forehand, with nerves obviously affecting her. In the ensuing 5-5 game, Fernandez faced a break point of her own and handled the threat with poise, belting a full-out, backhand down-the-line winner.
The players eventually got to the tiebreak. Anisimova started out with two forehand unforced errors and a double fault, and that was all the separation Fernandez needed to steamroll the 20-year-old Floridian.
“We were playing a great match and she then told me that she was taken ill,” Fernandez said after the match. “I hope that she’s feeling better and we can have another match like this. I can’t wait to play Amanda again and have more fights like this.”
About managing to get through some of the delicate situations in the match, Fernandez said, “you’re down, you’re still in it. You’ve just got to find the solution and I’m just glad the solutions came at the right time.”
Next for Fernandez will be Monday and a matter of revenge when she plays No. 47-ranked Shelby Rogers of the U.S., the player who beat her 2-6, 6-1, 7-6(4) in the fourth round of last October’s edition of the BNP Paribas Open. Rogers upset No. 10 seed Jelena Ostapenko 7-5, 7-6(7) on Saturday.
Present courtside for Saturday’s second-round match were Fernandez’s support group – including her father/coach Jorge on the right and her fitness trainer Duglas Cordero on the left.
Sometimes it seems as if Shapovalov starts tennis matches off as poorly as he finishes them brilliantly. Saturday was one of those as his opponent Davidovich Fokina had three consecutive breaks points for a 3-0 lead in the opening set with Shapovalov spraying balls all over the place. But the 13th seed rallied to take the game and get back on serve.
He seemed to have found his form but then played a horrible game serving at 4-5, losing it (and the set) on four points – two unforced errors, a double fault and a set point when the ball teetered on the set and fell back on his side.
He started to find the range in the second set and Davidovich Fokina felt the pressure – losing serve to 3-4 and eventually the set 6-4.
Shapovalov broke serve in the opening game of the third set, proceeded to then lose his serve but broke again for a 2-1 lead.
From there it was one of those situations when freewheeling Denis is just too much to handle for almost any opponent. He had reached a cruising speed in terms of his hyper-aggressive tennis and Davidovich just couldn’t stay with him. When he’s in that kind of zone he seems like a prize fighter with a big knockout punch that makes guys across the net gun-shy and defensive.
The winners count helps tell the story of the match. Shapovalov had double the number of the Spaniard’s – 34-17. But Davidovich Fokina played a lot of good tennis and the break-point numbers gives an indication of that – Shapovalov’s conversion rate was 5/14 while Davidovich Fokina was 3/14.
Asked about what made him most proud in his performance against Davidovich Fokina, Shapovalov said, “just my fighting spirit. Obviously, things were not going my way early on but I stayed with it, tried to change a couple of things – tried some slices, tried to throw him off – just fought really well.”
The victory sets up a third-round match-up with American giant – seven-feet tall – Reilly Opelka on Monday. Shapovalov leads their head-to-head 1-0 – having defeated the American 7-6(4), 4-6, 6-3, 6-4 in the round-of-16 at the Australian Open in January.
Courtside for Shapovalov in Stadium 2 on Saturday were coach Jamie Delgado, friend Peter Polansky and girlfriend Mirjam Bjorklund.
MAKE ME AN OFFER
During a recent visit to Rocky’s in Palm Desert, two managers came up with the same answer when asked what was the strangest thing they had ever been asked to sell.
Both replied, “hearing aids.” That seemed a little odd until they went on to describe what disgusting condition they were in.
The globe below goes for $300 US, but who knows if it will ever sell. The are no markings of any kind on it. The question being who would want a globe that is simply shapes?