Daniil Medvedev entered the Court 7 stadium hesitantly on Monday at the US Open – apparently unsure whether he had found the correct way in. Denis Shapovalov followed shortly after the Russian and looked at ease as he walked out onto the 1,494-seat arena, acknowledging the applause of the SRO crowd with a relaxed wave.
His match with the No. 54-ranked Medvedev was competitive for one set and then he was simply a class above and rolled to a 7-5, 6-1, 6-2 victory in an hour and 36 minutes.
There were a couple of hiccups – the only two times he was broken (fifth game of the first set and second game of the third) was right after he had broken the 21-year-old from Moscow. But essentially it was a fine showing by Shapovalov as he played with an assurance and a poise beyond his years.
He won far more rallies than his older opponent – frequently bossing them and then finishing with a flashy backhand or forehand winner or forcing shot.
“I think I played extremely well today,” he said. “I don’t think any specific stroke was better than normal. I was just feeling the ball really well off every wing. I was just playing really good.”
His stats confirmed that as he made 73 per cent of first serves, won 72 per cent of first-serve points and 54 per cent of second serve points. Medvedev was a dismal 32 per cent on second serve points, partly due to fine returning by Shapovalov.
Medvedev appeared to be a worried man from the moment he began the match. He had his moments but there was always a tension about him – as if he knew he was over-matched against a player three years his junior and was not comfortable. The low point for the 6-foot-6 beanpole came in the third set when he lost his serve trailing 3-2 with three consecutive double faults, topped off by a forehand unforced error.
Reviewing the play of his protégé, coach Martin Laurendeau said, “I think Denis played pretty well at the level he had in Montreal (Rogers Cup) – meaning he was very solid from the back of the court and he played smart tactically. Medvedev likes hard-hit shots so he varied with a bit more loopy shots before hitting with power. He especially volleyed super-well. That’s something we’ve been working on since Montreal and I don’t think he lost a point at the net.
“He played like the kind of player he is – solid from the baseline and always looking to move his opponent around. He did that to perfection today.
“He’s feeling good – since he got here in New York he keeps winning so he feels good on serve and returning. He broke Medvedev’s serve seven times – so that’s another aspect of his game he has improved.”
Following his breakthrough at Rogers Cup in Montreal, Shapovalov is getting a lot of crowd attention and support at the Billie Jean King USTA National Tennis Center, even for his practice sessions.
“The environment has been pretty crazy all week,” he said. “It’s been a lot of fun to play under these conditions. I didn’t expect to be in the States and have so many supporters coming out.
“I heard some of the fans talking to me – they come from Calgary, from Montreal, from Toronto to come out and support me. And all the other Americans that are looking after me.
“It’s so much fun to be on the court under these conditions. Like I said before in Montreal, the crowd really helps me play my best tennis.”
There was some negotiating between Tennis Canada and the USTA but ultimately American officials elected not to offer (as Wimbledon did) a US Open wild card to Shapovalov.
“Not getting a wild card, it didn’t affect me at all,” he said. “Obviously America is looking after their players, just like Canada would look after theirs. They’re not obligated to give me anything.
“It would have been a huge privilege to get one. Going through qualies, it actually kind of motivated me. I had a great week in Montreal, but I knew I had to back it up with qualifying. I was really ready for it. It gave me that extra bit of confidence that I can do it.
“I’m very happy to go through qualifying. Now I feel extremely privileged to be through to the second round, have a chance against a top player like Jo (Tsonga).
Court 7 was something of a bare bones arena with no Hawk-Eye electronic line-calling and no service speeds posted on the scoreboards for the first main-draw victory of Shapovalov’s young career. (As an aside – on Sunday a reporter was in Court 7 and heard a conversation between two men who seemed to be Hawk-Eye types. One said, “we’re not on this court,” and the other replied, “that’s strange because this is one of the bigger courts.”)
It will certainly be a much larger stadium than Monday (above) when Shapovalov faces No. 8 seed Jo-Wilfried Tsonga on Wednesday.
Monday, the eight-seeded Frenchman won his first match since going out of Wimbledon in the third-round to Sam Querrey – defeating No. 87-ranked Marius Copil of Romania 6-3, 6-3, 6-4.
“I grew up watching him play, just like I did with Rafa and DelPo,” Shapovalov said about Tsonga. “It’s a match I’m going in with nothing to lose. Obviously the pressure is more on him.
“I’m just hoping to have a good fight, a good match. It’s going to be very tough. He’s an incredible player. He’s achieved so much in his career. It’s going to be a good test for me once again.”
That’s been the case frequently of late for Shapovalov– a big-time player with an affinity for the big stage, which is where he will find himself on Wednesday.
As for Tsonga, he’s well aware of Shapovalov. “It’s fun to play the guys from the new generation,” said the 32-year-old Frenchman. “It’s good to see that there’s a changing of the guard going on. I’ll have to use my experience against him.”
There was a touch of humour at the end of Shapovalov’s media interview when he was asked why the adjustable flap – usually in evidence at the back of his cap – was not there on Monday.
“I don’t know,” he smiled. “I have a small head. When there’s sun, I wear it forwards. When it’s dark, I just wear a hat so my hair doesn’t get in the way. Guess the flap gets in the way but I deal with that fine.
“It’s funny. Some people started joking around about it. One comedian in Montreal took a selfie with me. They are calling it ‘Shapo-fashion.’ I don’t know about that.”
BOUCHARD, POSPISIL DEBUT ON TUESDAY
Genie Bouchard begins her fifth US Open singles event on Tuesday – starting with a match on the Grandstand against No. 89-ranked Evgeniya Rodina of Russia.
Bouchard has an 8-4 record at Flushing Meadows while her 28-year-old opponent, also playing the US Open for a fifth time, is 2-4.
The match will be second on court after an 11 a.m. men’s match between Alex de Minaur of Australia and No. 6 seed Dominic Thiem of Austria.
It’s a first meeting for Bouchard and Rodina with the winner possibly playing No. 4 seed Elina Svitolina.
Vasek Pospisil will also be playing second match after 11 a.m. – against Fernando Verdasco on Court 14 following the encounter between Lesley Kerkove of the Netherlands and Sorana Cirstea of Romania.
Verdasco, now ranked No. 43, defeated Pospisil 7-5, 6-0 in Doha in February in their only previous meeting.
Pospisil, pictured above greeting Ivo Karlovic following a practice session on Sunday, is ranked No. 78. Facing the left-handed Verdasco, Pospisil was hitting on Sunday with Justin Boulais, the 15-year-old son of former Canadian No. 1 Patricia Hy-Boulais and Yves Boulais, currently working at the Ontario Racquet Club in Mississauga, Ont., and coaching Alison Riske of the U.S. Justin is 15 and has also warmed up Wimbledon champion Garbine Muguruza the past two days – including before she played and defeated lefty Varvara Lepchenko on Monday.
As for Verdasco, he was heard on Monday asking one of his team members to bring the socks “with the colours of Spain on them.” One assumes they will be part of his wardrobe for match against Pospisil.
NEW YORK POST CARD
The US Open site at Flushing Meadows is located near the Flushing section of the Borough of Queens. Flushing is one of many Chinatowns in the five boroughs of New York – with this one being located near Roosevelt Avenue.