The Denis Shapovalov saga continued at the Rogers Cup in Montreal on Friday as he rallied for a 2-6, 6-3, 6-4 quarter-final victory over Adrian Mannarino.
His remarkable exploits this week have captured the attention of the tennis world and former player and current ESPN broadcaster Patrick McEnroe probably put it best when he said about the 18-year-old from Richmond Hill, Ont., “he’s a breath of fresh air for tennis – forget about Canadian tennis – for tennis.”
The 51-year-old McEnroe, who reached No. 28 in world in singles (1995), expressed a widely-held view of Shapovalov and his precocious performances at STADE IGA this week. “I was really impressed with his mentality,” McEnroe said about Friday’s match when Shapovalov started poorly after the big wins over Rafael Nadal and Juan Martin del Potro the two previous days. “Obviously he was a little fatigued early. Things weren’t working so he put some air on his shots, played with more margin. You could see he was thinking – he wasn’t just hitting. When you combine that with his skills – that’s a good package.
“His game is awesome to watch – a lot of variety and he defends well.”
At one stage early in the first set Shapovalov lost 14 of 15 points and it looked as if his heroic efforts in the preceding rounds had caught up with him.
But after losing a one-sided first set 6-2 in 39 minutes, he gradually began to make contact with the better angels of his tennis and, after a 12-minute, second-set rain delay with him leading 3-2, he broke Mannarino when play resumed. That marked the beginning of a truly competitive match. He took the second set and eventually broke Mannarino at 4-all in the third and served out from there for a fourth victory this week – one more than the total he had at the ATP tour level coming into the Rogers Cup.
In the third set Mannarino played conservatively from the baseline – with nary a thought of hitting big and going for winners. Shapovalov, by then, was doing the exact opposite. In this reporter’s notebook the following words were scribbled: “whenever Shapovalov can even sniff an opening, he goes for it.”
His winners to unforced errors stat was an unflattering 34/49 but it showed he wasn’t afraid to be the aggressor and it paid off.
“I started off pretty slow, just drained from yesterday,” he said after overcoming Mannarino. “Rafa took a lot out of me. But Adrian did a good job of playing fast with me in the first set, really taking it to me.
“During the rain delay, I kind of told myself, ‘you know this could be a really good turning point. It’s giving him a little bit of time to think about his game. He got a little bit cold. It’s always tough to come out and serve after having, you know, 11, 12 minutes off.
“I knew at that point it could be a turning point – (I) took advantage there. After I broke him, I kind of felt confidence again and I ran with it.”
Mannarino, 29, had none of the firepower of Nadal or del Potro but he was consistent, especially off the backhand, and appeared content to wait out his younger opponent. But that eventually turned out to be counter-productive against Shapovalov’s aggressive hitting.
“The rain break was tough,” the No. 42-ranked Frenchman said afterward, “because I got broken right after that. But basically he (Shapovalov) was just too strong.”
Earlier on Friday after his win over Roberto Bautista Agut, Roger Federer, who had watched the Shapovalov–Nadal match on television Thursday night, joined the chorus of praise for the Canadian, saying, “I think I watched his (2016) semis at junior Wimbledon against (Stefanos) Tsitsipas (of Greece). He was in all sorts of trouble – kept going for the biggest shots, forehands, backhands and serves. I couldn’t believe what he was doing.
”I guess it’s somewhat normal for him. Obviously it’s risky – doesn’t always pay off. Playing forward, doing that on Court 4 against a journeyman is a different story than doing it on centre court. We all know that. But not everybody can go up to that level. It seems that Denis has an extra gear.
“I said this before this win (over Nadal). I like his game. I think he’s going to be a wonderful player. Seems to have a good attitude, too. It was a joy to watch.”
Shapovalov’s success has taken his ranking from No. 143 to what will be approximately No. 67 in the new rankings out on August 14th, putting him in second place behind No. 10 Milos Raonic but ahead of No. 75 Vasek Pospisil in the Canadian hierarchy. At 18 and three months, he is also the youngest semi-finalist in ATP Masters 1000 history (1990) and the third Rogers Cup (Canadian Open) semi-finalist from Canada, along with Raonic and Pospisil in 2013, in more than four decades.
His success has sparked questions about whether he should get a main-draw wild card into the upcoming U.S. Open. There are technically eight spots available but exchanges with the French and Australian tennis federations for reciprocal wild cards and other commitments mean there may actually be as few as two or three spots available. All countries prefer to favour their own, but since Wimbledon gave Shapovalov a main-draw wild card, there could be a chance the U.S. Open would do likewise. At No. 67, he would be higher-ranked than roughly half the players in the 128-man field – and actually probably be even better than that because he now has zero ATP ranking points to defend until the end of the season and should continue to climb.
In the meantime, spectators in Montreal have firmly taken up residency on the Shapovalov bandwagon. Asked on court after Friday’s match how he finds the energy to keeping performing so well, the lanky teenager said to the crowd, “it came from within myself, but it came from you guys too.”
Earlier on Friday he saw the above picture of himself as a nine-year-old at the 2008 Rogers Cup in Toronto with Rafael Nadal and Igor Andreev of Russia before they were about to play a match.
Shapovalov said he hadn’t thought of that at all before playing Nadal on Thursday night but became aware of it on Friday. “I remember the day,” he said, “but it just didn’t come to my head until someone posted a picture.
“I remember that day really well. Actually, me and Judd (phonetic), who is the other kid in the picture, were actually supposed to play for five minutes before the match. (Dmitry) Tursunov and I think it was James Blake. They took such a long time to finish the match, it was ridiculous, their match. So we didn’t get a chance to play. I was a little bit bummed out because I thought Rafa was going to watch me play before his match.
“We got to take a picture with them, which was very cool for me.
“I actually remember that Andreev match. He rolled his ankle a couple games into the match. Yeah, it’s crazy how vividly I remember that day.”
Shapovalov’s breaking onto the scene so dramatically has given rise to theories about why it has happened at this time.
There’s no question he has exceptional talent, that he has been well-formed by parents who are tennis coaches, that he has other-worldly maturity on court for an 18-year-old and that he has worked hard.
Most people have heard about his unfortunate incident in February during Davis Cup in Ottawa when he whacked a ball in anger and it accidentally struck French umpire Arnaud Gabas in the eye socket, fracturing an orbital bone.
That had to be a traumatic experience for a 17-year-old Shapovalov but he subsequently handled it well, immediately talking to Gabas and then facing the media to apologize and take full responsibility.
It was surely a sobering time for him but it may also have provided an opportunity for perspective and growth to be able to overcome future difficult situations. Going through and surviving that ordeal may have enabled him to better manage mundane matters such as winning tennis matches – even if they’re played out in public with thousands watching in person and hundreds of thousands or more on television.
Shapovalov’s next tennis challenge will be No. 8-ranked Sascha Zverev, the 20-year-old, 6-foot-6 German who is frequently talked about as a (near?) future world No. 1. With Shapovalov’s amazing play so far this week in Montreal, Saturday’s evening semi-final could be the beginning of a beautiful (head-to-head) relationship between two of the bright young talents in the sport today.
VANOPEN ATTRACTS SOLID FIELD
The Odlum Brown VanOpen takes place from August 12-20 at the Hollyburn Country Club in Vancouver.
Past champions at the highlight of the western Canadian tennis summer season have included Johanna Konta (2015 and 2013), Aleksandra Wozniak (2011) and Maria Sharapova (2002) on the women’s side and Dudi Sela (2008 and 2005), Marcos Baghdatis (2014 and 2009) and Vasek Pospisil (2013) among the men.
Situated in West Vancouver with the picturesque North Shore mountains as a backdrop, Hollyburn is set to welcome a field that has more than 20 women players from the WTA’s top-150 and 12 men in the ATP top-50.
Madison Brengle (No. 72) of the U.S., Nao Hibino of Japan (No. 75), Pauline Parmentier of France (No. 97) and Ons Jabeur of Tunisia (No. 101) are among the international players in the women’s $100,000 ITF Pro Circuit draw while No. 70 Yen-Hsun Lu of Taipei, No. 77 Sela, No. 78 Jordan Thompson of Australia, No. 86 Marius Copil of Romania and No. 131 Taylor Fritz of the U.S. are in the men’s field.
Promising Canadian juniors Bianca Andreescu, Katherine Sebov and Carson Branstine are slated to play as is Wozniak. Among the Canadian men Rogers Cup sensation Denis Shapovalov was set make his VanOpen debut but that is slightly more uncertain after his remarkable success in Montreal. Others entered in the $100,000 ATP Challenger Tour event include Peter Polansky and Philip Bester of Vancouver who is making his farewell appearance before retiring.
Some players who have played the event in the past include Andy Murray, Genie Bouchard, Milos Raonic, Karolina Pliskova, Kevin Anderson, Madison Keys, Sam Querrey and Jelena Ostapenko
The VanOpen website is http://vanopen.com/.
MONTREAL POST CARD
In a city with many fine patisseries, Paltoquet on Van Horne St. in Outremont is one of the best. Its croissants have a succulent buttery flavour and devotees of the patisserie/café have been known to travel from as far away as New York state.
Here’s how enticing one of Paltoquet’s croissants looks:
Feature Photo: Pascal Ratthé/Tennis Canada