Denis Shapovalov was not at his best for his US Open third-round match against Kyle Edmund on Friday but he still came away with a 3-6, 6-3, 6-3, 1-0 ret. victory. His British opponent stopped after one game in the fourth set with an upper thoracic injury.
He had first called for the trainer after holding serve to 3-2 in the third set. After treatment, when play resumed he lost 12 points in a row. It became evident that he would not be able to beat Shapovalov in such a diminished condition.
While the retirement might be seen as taking away from Shapovalov’s win, he had turned things around after having his worst patch of play so far in the US Open. He dropped his opening service game in the first set to 30 – with all four lost points being unforced errors.
While Edmund stumbled and gave the service break back on a double fault in the fifth game, Shapovalov had another subpar game to lose serve to 5-3 before his opponent served out the set after surviving two break points.
Things looked promising for the No. 42-ranked Brit but Shapovalov was gradually finding his game and broke serve for 3-1 in the second set, eventually winning it 6-3. While Edmund stayed competitive until his upper back injury in the fifth game of the third set, there was a definite sense that Shapovalov was the better player, that the aggressive, dominating tennis that has served him so well over the past four weeks was destined to take him to a win.
“I picked it up in the second (set),” Shapovalov said later. “I stayed calm after the first (set). I knew I would have my chances. I converted the second set when I had the chance.”
The same confident, enterprising tennis that has marked his recent rise (No. 143 before Rogers Cup to No. 51 in the current ‘live’ rankings) had gradually taken hold and Edmund, who is not known for having the sternest nerves in match situations, was vulnerable against an increasingly full-throttle Shapovalov.
It has been an amazing journey – “life-changing” is an adjective that he himself has frequently used – since he saved four match points and won his opening-round match over Brazil’s Rogerio Dutra Silva at Rogers Cup in Montreal four weeks ago.
“It definitely all started from that match,” Shapovalov said during his post-match media conference on Friday. “I don’t know. It’s just the way the sport is. It happens so many times when guys save match points and they go on to win tournaments or do well. Or sometimes they lose and then they get in as Lucky Loser and they go on a run.
“It happens a lot. I feel like I kind of played with a second chance, a second life after that match, because I was so close to losing. From there, I just picked up my level and just started playing well, just started getting a couple good wins, getting my confidence and momentum. And I’m playing free and playing loose.”
His freewheeling tennis has taken him to a round-of-16 match-up on Sunday with world No. 19 Pablo Carreno Busta of Spain. Carreno Busta famously defeated Milos Raonic in a barn-burner 4-6, 7-6(2), 6-7(6), 6-4, 8-6 high-quality encounter in the round-of-16 at Roland Garros.
Shapovalov didn’t see the match and said about facing the 26-year-old from Barcelona, “I don’t know much about him. I know he’s aggressive, goes for his shots – but I’m going to discuss that with Marty (coach Laurendeau).”
With the eliminations of No. 5 seed Marin Cilic (by Diego Schwartzman) and No. 10 John Isner (by Mischa Zverev) on Friday, the bottom half of the draw has opened up even more and now No. 12 Carreno Busta is the highest seed remaining. And that is after No. 2 seed Andy Murray and other four other top-12 players withdrew or were unable to play the tournament in the first place.
Not surprisingly several reporters made Shapovalov aware of the situation and his reaction was “it opens up the draw and it helps players like myself or Andrey Rublev (a 19-year-old Russian on the top half of the draw) who is doing well (beating Grigor Dimitrov in the second round) to kind of have a chance and not play – well Roger (Federer) is here – but Novak (Djokovic) and Andy Murray in the early stages. So it definitely helps.”
Shapovalov, obviously a very confident 18-year-old, has become the youngest player to reach the US Open round-of-16 since Michael Chang in 1989 and the youngest in a Grand Slam fourth round since Marat Safin at the 1998 French Open.
“We’re definitely making an impact,” he said about his generation, which currently has no more prominent flag-bearer than himself. “Rublev, he’s been doing really well. But there are a lot of young guys coming up and doing really well.
“I said it before – I think in a year or two, the rankings are really going to change. There are a lot of young guys coming up, and the tour has got a lot of veterans right now. It’s kind of a transition time for the ATP, but, yeah, I think there is a lot of talent coming up.”
That talent, largely these days in the person of Shapovalov, is being recognized by a lot of people. Two days ago in this blog Frew McMillan, a 75-year-old broadcaster who won three Wimbledon doubles titles in the 60s and 70s, had praise for him. On Friday, McMillan said he had amended a description of Shapovalov’s one-handed backhand as being like John McEnroe’s. He said it was more like the great Australian Rod Laver’s. McMillan explained he had used McEnroe as an example because younger generations aren’t as familiar with the 79-year-old Laver, who did indeed roll over the backhand with a kind of magical thrust very much like Shapovalov.
A contemporary of Shapovalov, and a Davis Cup teammate, Vasek Pospisil (above far right in front row with Shapovalov’s support team on Friday) also had glowing words about his compatriot’s remarkable emergence.
“It’s impressive because he’s so young, he’s just 18,” Pospisil said Friday about Shapovalov. “What’s more impressive than coming up with a big win or two is the fact that he’s backed them up. That he’s been able to change that dynamic that suddenly. He’s going into some of these matches as the favourite, which is amazing to think about. He’s come out and had some big wins and how he’s handled it. That’s what has impressed me.
“Ever since I hit with him the first time – it was pretty obvious the potential he had. I was telling coaches right away that he was kind of going to breakthrough soon – but I did not think it was going to be this fast because at 18 it’s a tough thing to do.
“Honestly, the fact that he’s backed it up like this shows that he’s…pretty much there!
“It’s impressive, I can’t believe it. Physically he’s very strong – he hasn’t had any physical issues which just goes to show he’s doing the right things. Then from the standpoint of his game, I think more than anything he’s gained some confidence from a few wins and he’s letting go and he’s riding the wave right now. He’s riding a wave of confidence for sure but that’s his level at the same time because he’s has been able to back up those wins with more wins. He’s playing loose, maybe a little bit looser than will be the norm because he’s just having that first wave. But he will also just be improving because he’s only 18.”
While many people are impressed with, and rooting for, Shapovalov at this year’s US Open, there’s is one man who is not – former player Filip DeWulf. Now 45 years old and a working Belgian journalist at the US Open, he joked on Friday that he’s hoping that Shapovalov will not make the semifinals. DeWulf, at the 1997 French Open shares a record with Aussie Bob Giltinan (1977 Australian Open), John McEnroe (1977 Wimbledon) and Vladimir Voltchkov of Belarus (2002Wimbledon) as the only player to go through the qualifying at a Grand Slam and then all the way to the semifinals.
Maybe that is getting a little ahead of ourselves with regards to Shapovalov, but the way he has been playing makes it hard not to have outsize expectations for him at this year’s US Open.
DOUBLES ACTION ON DAY FIVE
Gabriela Dabrowski and her Chinese partner Xu Yifan advance to the third round of the US Open doubles on Friday with a 6-4, 7-6(4) victory over Spaniards Lara Arruabarrena and Arantxa Parra Santonja.
The ninth seeds will next play either will No. 6 seeds Ashleigh Barty and Casey Dellacqua of Australia or the team of Shuko Aoyama of Japan and ZhaoxuanYang of China.
First thing on Friday on Court 10, Genie Bouchard and her partner Jelena Ostapenko of Latvia were beaten 7-5, 6-2 by Elise Mertens of Belgium and Demi Schuursof the Netherlands in a first-round match.
Bouchard and Ostapenko seemed to be enjoying playing together – at least that’s the way it looked in the first set (above).
In men’s doubles, as expected, Vasek Pospisil had to withdraw (back) so he and partner Nenad Zimonjic were replaced in the draw by Aussie John Millman and Ken Skupski of Britain. The Australian/British pair won their opening match 7-6(3), 6-2 over Adil Shamasdin of Pickering, Ont., and his Argentine partner Andres Molteni.
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No one can know for sure what a Nathan’s hotdog tasted like 101 years ago – but if they have been around that long they better be good.
NOTE: No blog Saturday – back on Sunday for Shapovalov – Carreno Busta.