It’s not always easy to be candid about what happened on the tennis court – especially after a loss – but Denis Shapovalov manned-up after he was beaten 6-3, 6-7(7), 6-1, 7-6(3) by Marton Fucsovics in Margaret Court Arena on Monday.
“I think I played really nervous today,” he said straight-out at the start of his post-match media conference. “Obviously I was in really good shape and condition going into the tournament and I just played really tight today.”
Shapovalov, seeded 13th and ranked a career-high No. 13, had his serve broken in the opening game and never completely settled down after that.
“I think it’s normal,” he said about feeling the pressure in a Grand Slam. “I was really looking forward to this tournament, really excited. It just got the better of me. Marton started really well in the match and after that I just like…every point was just really tight.”
Putting things in perspective, he said, “it’s just a learning experience for me.”
The numbers for the match were pretty brutal – Shapovalov had 38 winners to 42 for the 27-year-old Hungarian, as well as 62 unforced errors to 35 for Fucsovics.
Only half joking when asked which parts of him were affected by the nerves, he replied, “my whole body.”
It’s not the first time that the 20-year-old from Richmond Hill, Ont., has experienced feeling tight on a grand stage.
“It’s happened to me a couple of times,” he said. “I know last year at Wimbledon [a first round 7-6(0), 6-4, 6-3 loss to 29-year-old, No. 77-ranked Ricardas Berankis of Lithuania] it was the same thing. (But) it was kind of different for me – the wins weren’t coming at that time and I wanted to do well at Wimbledon. I feel that grass really suits me and it was kind of the same story. It happens. I think it happens to every tennis player – it’s just about learning to deal with it.”
There were several junctures when it appeared Shapovalov might be able to shake free of nerves and change the momentum of the match. After saving a set point in the second set tiebreak trailing 7-6, he eventually levelled matters at one set apiece.
Then he saved two breaks points to hold serve in the opening game of the third set. He saved two more at 1-1 in his second service game but couldn’t save a third. That led to him slamming his racquet down and him getting a warning.
Fucsovics then ran away with the set, taking it 6-1. Again in the fourth set Shapovalov was well-positioned after breaking serve in the first game and then leading 3-1 and 4-2. But the Fucsovics broke back to 4-all. Still – and it was that kind of day – Shapovalov had a break point in the following game but misfired badly with a forehand.
In the eventual tiebreak, he trailed 4-2 on serve when he lost two almost identical points. At the net he seemed to have the opening for a point-ending volley but both times Fucsovics chased down the ball and hit a winning passing shot down-the-line. That was basically the final nail in the coffin as Fucsovics had a double mini-break lead at 5-2. It wound up 7-3.
“He just read me, did a good job of playing those two points really well,” Shapovalov said about his consecutive volleys that didn’t end up winning the point. “It was just a little bit unlucky. It’s tough when you’re in that situation. Anyone can play some great points and tiebreaks can go either way.”
It was probably a good thing for the No. 67-ranked Fucsovics that the match didn’t wind up in a fifth set because he has been beaten in his last three Grand Slam events in matches that went the distance – losing in five sets to No. 20-ranked Diego Schwartzman at Roland Garros, to No. 10 Fabio Fognini at Wimbledon and to No. 18 Nikoloz Basilashvili at the US Open.
“I think I played very consistent,” Fucsovics said. “I know he likes to hit big winners, come into the net, play aggressive and I think he didn’t like it.”
As for his tactics, the Hungarian Davis Cupper (a 27-15 win/loss record) said, “I tried to find his backhand and to come in and attack to his backhand. I know that he can hit unbelievable winners with the backhand but he was not missing the forehand. I tried to go on his backhand. That was my game-plan.”
When asked if there was anything he could have done to snap himself out the nervous funk he found himself in during the match, Shapovalov said, “there are things and tactics to try to calm down. And stuff I’m working on with Misha (coach Mikhail Youzhny above with Mirjam Bjorklund of Sweden) on the mental side on court – taking my time and all that stuff. But I was just not able to do it. I did a better job in the fourth set but obviously it wasn’t enough.”
It was anticlimactic end to what had been a very promising start to the 2020 season – beating No. 6 Stefanos Tsitsipas and No. 7 Alexander Zverev and losing close matches to No. 18 Alex de Minaur and No. 2 Novak Djokovic at the ATP Cup before going 1-1 at the Auckland ATP 250 event last week – defeating Vasek Pospisil and losing to eventual winner Ugo Humbert.
The Melbourne bookmakers had made him the eighth favourite at 40-1 to win the singles championship based on his strong start this year and an impressive end to 2019 that included his first title at the Stockholm Open and a runner-up finish to Djokovic at the Masters 1000 in Paris.
“Obviously I feel my game is there to beat any of the top guys,” Shapovalov said. “But of course there’s so many great players out there that, if I’m a bit off, if I’m a little bit nervous, anyone can beat me as well. It’s just about learning going forward and obviously it’s a really disappointing one but there’s nothing to do now except just learn from it.”
Different players agonize over defeats more than others. It appears Shapovalov will manage to deal reasonably well with the loss at such an important event.
“Normally, it might take me an hour or two to soak it all in,” he said. “And then I’m a pretty motivated person – it’s just going to make me want to work hard and do better in the next tournament.”
Beginning the week of February 3rd, he’s entered in three events in a row in Europe – Montpelier, Rotterdam and Marseille.
Rain wiped out the second half of the 2020 Australian Open’s first day on Monday. It affected Milos Raonic’s match with lucky loser Lorenzo Giustino, who replaced Radu Albot of Moldova. Raonic was one game away from beating the 28-year-old Italian when the match was postponed with the score 6-2, 6-1, 5-2 in his favour.
Tuesday order of play – start time on all courts is 10:30 a.m. (6:30 p.m. ET Canada) and estimates in ET Canada here are just that – very rough estimates:
(20) Félix Auger-Aliassime vs. No. 256 Ernests Gulbis – 1573 Arena: 9:30 p.m.
(32) Milos Raonic vs No. No. 150 Lorenzo Giustino to finish – Court 19: 9 p.m.
Vasek Pospisil vs. No. 124 Ivo Karlovic – Court 22: 2 a.m.
Leylah Annie Fernandez vs. No. 62 Lauren Davis – Court 5: 12:30 a.m.
When tennis fans arrive at the Rod Laver Arena stop on the Melbourne trams, they are greeted by these billboards promoting the Australian Open and its star players. This one is obviously all about world No. 1 Rafael Nadal.