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Chances are this week’s NextGen ATP Finals in Milan will manage quite nicely without Denis Shapovalov (and injured Félix Auger-Aliassime). And Shapovalov himself will be better off not playing the (no ranking points) event and having a couple of weeks off before representing Canada at the Davis Cup Finals in Madrid.
Including the Laver Cup team event the week of September 16th, the 20-year-old from Richmond Hill, Ont., has played seven weeks in a row in Geneva, Chengdu, Tokyo, Shanghai, Stockholm, Vienna and Paris.
The past two years Shapovalov has talked about being tired and homesick at this time of year but in 2019 he has used it to vault himself to the best ranking of his career – No. 15.
Here are some of the accomplishments of a period that saw him improve from No. 36 exactly four weeks ago to No. 15 as of Monday’s new ATP Rankings.
- He won his first tour title at the ATP 250 event in Stockholm.
- He reached his first final of an ATP Masters 1000 event – losing 6-3, 6-4 to Novak Djokovic on Sunday at the Rolex Masters in Paris.
- He became the second highest Canadian – at No. 15 – in the 46-year history of the ATP computer rankings behind Milos Raonic who made it to No. 3 in November, 2016.
- He ended Raonic’s nine-year (2010 – 2018) reign as the top Canadian in the year-end ATP Rankings. Raonic is currently No. 32.
- He is close to assuring himself of a top-16 seed for the 2020 Australian Open, which means he would not have to face another top-16 player until the fourth round.
- Because he and the No. 21-ranked Auger-Aliassime will both be seeded, he cannot meet his compatriot in the first round at Melbourne Park for what would have been a possible third time in the last four Grand Slam main draws that both have played.
- A good run with partner Rohan Bopanna of India has his ATP Doubles Ranking in the top-50 at No. 49, the best for a Canadian since Daniel Nestor was No. 40 on October 30, 2017.
- Being the top-ranked Canadian at the end of the year, he gets to pick the captain for the Canadian team at the ATP Cup event in Australia at the beginning of 2020. When Gael Monfils finished as No. 1 Frenchman last week, he revealed that he’s choosing his contemporary and good friend Gilles Simon as team captain.
Looking at Shapovalov’s season, following a semi-final in March at the Miami Open – losing 6-2, 6-4 to Roger Federer – he went through a prolonged slump. He was 2-9 during the clay and grass-court seasons in Europe – finishing with a humbling 7-6(0), 6-4, 6-3 loss to No. 77-ranked Ricardas Berankis of Lithuania in the first round at Wimbledon.
But he turned things around – from 2-9 from April to July, he went 20-9 for the rest of the year.
Considering the ability Shapovalov has to take control of matches with his explosive shot-making, it’s a bit of a mystery how he could struggle through that 2-9 phase. The 20-9 stretch makes a lot more sense.
But super-talented, young players such as him often take a little longer to figure out how to control their margins, their options and their emotions.
“There’s going to be ups and downs,” he admitted last week about his season. “And it’s not going to be finals of a Masters every week. So it’s normal to have some dips and rises. I’m still learning about my game too, improving every day.
“I think the most important thing was when I was struggling a little bit, I didn’t get discouraged. I just kept working hard. I knew things would come.
“And I truly believe in myself and my team. So it’s huge credit to them, not only me, for these last couple of weeks.”
His team includes his mother/coach Tessa, who has been with him from the start, his physio Stefano Depirro and, since August, coach Mikhail Youzhny (above). The latter, a 37-year-old Russian and former world No. 8 (2008), shares a language with Shapovalov and is just one year removed from the tour. So he’s familiar with all aspects of the game.
“I feel like with that title in Stockholm,” Shapovalov said about his final push to end the year, “it kind of gave me a sense of calmness, relief. And I’ve just been able to enjoy the last couple weeks of the season and, because of that, I feel like I’ve been able to play really well.”
Next for Shapovalov (above with Djokovic and Marat Safin after the Paris final), following two well-deserved weeks off, will be Davis Cup as Canada starts off in Madrid on Monday November 18th in Stadium 2 against Italy and then faces the United States on Tuesday November 19th, again in Stadium 2.
Shapovalov was impressive in winning his two singles matches on clay in Slovakia last February and now will be on hard courts at the Caja Magica as he leads a team that also includes Auger-Aliassime, Raonic and Vasek Pospisil.
POSPISIL: A CHALLENGER ROLL
Vasek Pospisil has clear sailing all the way through until next July.
The explanation? – because he had back surgery in January for a herniated disc and was out of action until Wimbledon in July, he has zero points to defend beginning with this week’s ATP Challenger event in Knoxville, Tennessee.
His ranking has nowhere to go but up over the next eight months.
The 29-year-old is currently No. 153 and is seeded No. 13 in Knoxville. He has a bye and plays his opening match on Wednesday against either No. 298 Sebastian Korda (USA), 19, or No. 359 Ryan Peniston (GBR), 23.
Pospisil is on an impressive 11-0 unbeaten run after winning Challenger tournaments in Las Vegas three weeks ago, and in Charlottesville on Sunday with a 7-6(2), 3-6, 6-2 victory over compatriot Brayden Schnur. That was his ninth career Challenger title.
Including winning two qualifying rounds and two main draw rounds at the ATP Masters 1000 in Shanghai last month, Pospisil’s recent record is 15-1.
His ranking has risen from No. 248 to No. 153 in the past four weeks. That may not seem that big, but it has to be noted he had 106 points to defend from a year ago. He earned 275 over the same period this year.
Schnur, who was on a four-match losing streak at ATP Tour events heading into Charlottesville, moved his ranking up to No. 93 – one off his career high. The 24-year-old from Pickering, Ont. is seeded No. 2 in Knoxville and, after a bye, will play the winner of an all-Dutch first round between Gijs Brouwer and Jelie Sels.
BIANCA SIGNS OFF ON 2019
It would have been great if Bianca Andreescu had been able to win the year-end WTA Finals in Shenzhen – not the least because she would have pocketed over $4 million (US) for the victory.
But her back wasn’t 100 per cent in a highly-competitive and entertaining 3-6, 7-6(6), 6-3 [after holding a match point] loss to Simona Halep in her first match. Then a knee injury forced her to retire in her second – her limb well-wrapped – after losing the first set 6-3 to Karolina Pliskova.
It was a nice story to see Ashleigh Barty cap a terrific year by winning the year-end championships, taking home $4.42 million (US). But it was also unfortunate that probably the four biggest marquee names – Halep, Osaka, Andreescu and Petra Kvitova – failed to make the semi-finals.
Over the years, especially players from North America, have found it tiring to travel to Asia for the fall season. Now, with the WTA Finals in Shenzhen, players have to go there twice, which could be a partial explanation for the four players this year who either had to withdraw or stop during matches – Osaka, Andreescu, Kiki Bertens and Bencic.
Despite the disappointment of Shenzhen, it was a stupendous year for Andreescu – starting at No. 152 and finishing at No. 5, winning her first WTA Premier 5 (Rogers Cup), Premier Mandatory (Indian Wells) and Grand Slam (US Open) titles.
She finished with a 48-7 record, with two of those losses being retirements – Miami Open and the WTA Finals. And, except for one match at Roland Garros, she missed four months and the entire clay-court and grass seasons with a shoulder injury. World No. 1 Barty played the whole year and had no losses due to retirement and wound up with a 56-12 record.
Looking ahead – just for fun and to get excited about next year, here are the odds the London bookmaker Ladbrokes has for the women’s singles at the 2020 Australian Open:
Serena Williams: 11/2
Bianca Andreescu: 13/2
Ashleigh Barty: 7/1
Naomi Osaka: 15/2
Simona Halep: 10/1.
(Feature photo: TennisTV)