Denis Shapovalov wowed an opening night crowd at Sobeys Stadium with a scintillating 7-6(2), 3-6, 6-3 win over Nick Kyrgios in first-round action at Rogers Cup on Monday.
Playing for the first time at Rogers Cup and in the 11,000-seat Centre Court, the reigning Wimbledon boys singles champion displayed a poise and skill level well beyond his 17 years.
It was not the easiest of matches for Shapovalov because Kyrgios performed erratically, half-heartedly and unprofessionally throughout the encounter. At one point Sportsnet courtside reporter Arash Madani revealed that Kyrgios had said to him in an unlikely exchange, “I just don’t want to be here anymore.” A little later Madani reported that the 21-year-old Aussie said to his courtside support group, “I’m going home. I don’t know about you but I’m going home.”
Sportsnet commentator Jimmy Arias, with Kyrgios playing total hit-and-miss cavalier tennis (18 double faults mostly because his second serves were hit as hard as first serves) said, “Shapovalov should take a seat and let Kyrgios serve and see who wins the game.” That was the second game of the final set and eventually a drawn-out game went to Shapovalov – on yet another a double fault from Kyrgios to make the score 2-0.
Despite the outrageous effort by the Aussie, Shapovalov was very impressive. His combination of his wide lefty serve followed by a big forehand to the open court was worthy of a Top 100 professional player, not a guy who is now No. 370.
And as much as his backhand can sometimes seem vulnerable, he hit a few cracker cross-court winners from that side that were breathtaking.
Best of all, the 2016 Wimbledon boys singles champion kept his composure through all the antics by Kyrgios – including his rushing side to side to serve with virtually no hesitation between points and no bouncing of the ball. That composure was never more evident than in the final game of the match serving at 5-3 when he fell behind love-30. It was the perfect spot for a fold from the raw teenager playing in only his second ATP match.
But he hit a service winner, yet another of the wide serve followed by the forehand into the open court winner. That got him back to 30-all but he still had to save a break point at 30-40 and did it with a well-struck deep forehand that forced a forehand long by Kyrgios.
An ace and another forehand winner and Shapovalov had wrapped up his first ATP World Tour victory in an hour and 39 minutes and earned a spot in Wednesday’s second round against Grigor Dimitrov.
The 25-year-old Bulgarian, once a sure-fire future superstar of the sport, has tumbled to No. 40 and looked very shaky against No. 107-ranked Yuichi Sugita on Monday before pulling out a 5-7, 7-6(5), 6-4 win after trailing 5-2 in the second-set tiebreak.
“It’s been great,” Shapovalov said post-match about a month of July that has seen him become the Wimbledon junior champion and now score his first win on the ATP tour – and at an elite Masters 1000 event. “I’m playing the best tennis of my life. Maybe Nick’s not playing his best tennis but it’s still a huge win.
“I’ve had so much support the past couple of weeks and I’m playing with so much confidence just because of you guys (the crowd).”
Speaking to Madani about the effective serve and forehand combination, he said, “Nick is a very good player. I knew if I wasn’t putting the second shot deep or in the corner that he would be attacking me. So it was very critical for me.”
Shapovalov’s breakthrough win was preceded in the afternoon by victories by fellow Canadians Peter Polansky and Steven Diez.
Earlier, Peter Polansky of Thornhill, Ont., won his fourth match in 10 Rogers Cups, defeating qualifier Tim Smyczek of the U.S. 4-6, 6-3, 6-0.
“He had a few chances to go up a break in the second set, after I was up a break,” Polansky, 28 and ranked No. 260, said. “I kept fighting and I was feeling really good out there. I think he kind of ran out of gas in the third set. It was pretty hot, especially coming from his match yesterday in qualies.”
Smyczek rallied from a 5-1 final-set deficit, saving three match points, to defeat James McGee of Ireland 7-5, 4-6, 7-5 on Sunday. The sun came out full blast for the final set and that didn’t help a listless American.
Polansky has been on an impressive roll – winning two Futures events in Richmond, B.C. and Kelowna, B.C., and making the final at Saskatoon in June. He then made the quarter-finals of a Challenger event in Winnipeg earlier this month before bowing out to Andrey Golubev of Kazakhstan.
“I think it pumped me up because I was beating guys pretty handily,” Polansky said about his hot run. “I was playing well and winning a lot of matches 1 and 1, 2 and 2, in semis and finals. I think that did it for me more so than just winning the matches. And playing so many matches in a row, even before the Canadian events – I lost in the quarters and semis to the same guy (No. 197-ranked Darian King of Barbados) both times really long three-set matches. I carried that momentum into the Canadian events and I was just playing some solid tennis and confident that I can play how I want.”
Polansky, and Davis Cup teammate Philip Bester, are currently sporting fashionable gear from Vancouver-based Lululemon.
In the second round, Polansky will play the winner of Tuesday’s match between No. 28 Benoit Paire and qualifier Radek Stepanek.
Based on his recent form, Polansky was expected to give Smyczek a close match but that was not the case with No. 192-ranked Steven Diez, a Toronto native who now resides in Spain. In four previous appearances at Rogers Cup, Diez, 25, had not made it out of the first round of qualifying. But on a humid, overcast late morning and early afternoon, he upset No. 67-ranked Kyle Edmund of Great Britain 3-6, 6-2, 6-3.
Edmund, 21, was the hero of Britain’s quarter-final Davis Cup victory over Serbia in Belgrade the weekend of July 15-17. Touted as someone to finally be a solid second fiddle to Andy Murray for the Brits, Edmund took the first set from Diez but promptly fell behind 5-0 in the second. The lanky Brit then lost his serve in the opening game of the final set and Diez dominated the rest of the way with some inspired tennis.
He was so overwhelmed at the moment of victory that he dropped his racquet and remained motionless for close to 10 seconds.
“I still don’t have a lot of words to describe what just happened,” he said shortly after winning. “It’s probably my biggest win.
“I think he was the favourite one to win, but you never know. Tennis is tennis and anything can happen in a match. Everyone knows that.”
Edmund, who has been in Toronto since mid-week last week, struggled with consistency in the last two sets and looked very frustrated with his inability to summon his best tennis – particularly his big forehand. But Diez played very well, serving surprisingly effectively for a short player and seeming to have a knack for the timely shot – whether it was a net approach, a big service return or a drop shot.
He will next face No. 22-ranked Bernard Tomic, who beat qualifier Alejandro Gonzales of Colombia 6-4, 7-6(1) on Monday.
Leading by a break and 3-2 in the final set, Diez called for the trainer because he felt some nausea and a slight headache. “They gave me two red pills,” Diez joked. “I don’t know what it is. I hope it’s not doping. If they gave it to me, I guess it’s good.”
Canadians in qualies
No Canadians made it through the Rogers Cup qualifying but there were nonetheless promising performances by juniors Félix Auger-Aliassime and Ben Sigouin and newly-turned pro Brayden Schnur.
Auger-Aliassime, 15 and runner-up in the boys event at the French Open last month, was beaten by 7-5, 7-6(3) by No. 203-ranked James Duckworth. The 24-year-old Aussie has been on tour since 2011 and has played 20 Grand Slam events – 10 of them in the main draw. His high ranking was No. 88 and basically he was just a little too solid for Auger-Aliassime. Still the 15-year-old Montrealer was at 5-all in the first set and stretched the second to a tiebreak after trailing it 5-3.
Benjamin Sigouin was beaten 7-6(2), 6-4 by No. 160-ranked Alejandro Gonzalez of Colombia. The 17-year-old Vancouverite actually served for the first set at 5-4 and felt the pressure a bit, which is probably what is to be expected from a junior playing in his first ATP event qualifying.
Schnur, 21 and now leaving the University of North Carolina to play the pro tour, had his chances too. He held two set points at 6-4 in the second-set tiebreak against an increasingly agitated Radek Stepanek but couldn’t convert before losing 6-4, 7-6(6).
Auger-Aliassime, who practiced with Milos Raonic on Monday afternoon, is still in the doubles event via wild card. He and Denis Shapovalov will face Bernard Tomic of Australia and Viktor Troicki of Serbia in the first round.
Ball hockey Sunday
The annual ball hockey game involving NHL players, ATP players and a sprinkling of media types took place on Sunday afternoon in Centre Court at Sobeys Stadium.
In the picture above Novak Djokovic is tapping gloves with Connor McDavid after the Edmonton Oilers sensation scored a goal. That’s Djokovic’s coach Marian Vajda of Slovakia in the middle.
Djokovic claimed that it was the first time he had ever played hockey but despite that he looked pretty good (above) when he took penalty shots during the pre-game festivities.
Canadian junior Ben Sigouin scored a nice goal for the white team in a game that wound up in a 3-3 tie.
Afterward, the players went through the ritual handshakes and above Canadian junior Félix Auger-Aliassime can be seen about to shake hands with McDavid.
Arms and the man
Ernests Gulbis, who will be in action on Tuesday vs. Rajeev Ram of the U.S., is on his way to having a more normal-looking forehand. Gulbis, 27 and ranked No. 66, spent three weeks in San Diego with new coach Larry Stefanki learning to no longer stick out his left arm when he hits his forehand.
Stefanki said that he has been putting the accent on Gulbis “bending his arm.”
The picture here shows what he is striving for. A year ago in Montreal, Gulbis qualified and reached the quarter-finals against Novak Djokovic before losing 5-7, 7-6(7), 6-1 after holding two match points at 6-4 in the second-set tiebreak.
Genie at home
Genie Bouchard posted this on her Instagram account. She mentioned having a new haircut. In case anyone wondered where she was – take a look at the team logo on the parking sign in the upper right corner – Club de Hockey Canadien.
(Feature photo: Peter Figura)