There’s no question the biggest story of the first week of the 2017 US Open was Denis Shapovalov. He became a fan favourite and, after winning his opening round on Court 7, played his last three matches in Arthur Ashe Stadium to enthusiastic reviews from both hardcore and casual followers of the sport.
As a reporter from Canada, tennis media types from all over the world came up to me and expressed their positive feelings about the 18-year-old from Richmond Hill, Ont., – both about his game and his personality.
The general sense is that Shapovalov is about as close to a ‘can’t miss’ future star as a player can get – but he and his team know there are no shortcuts to success so it’s important for him to keep his nose to the grindstone, keep working for higher goals in tennis than his likely post-US Open ranking of No. 51.
With absolutely no ranking points to defend between now and the end of the season, Shapovalov could finish 2017 considerably higher.
Canada’s two other singles players at Flushing Meadows failed to get out of the first round. Genie Bouchard lost her opening round 7-6(2), 6-1 to No. 89-rsanked Evgeniya Rodina of Russia. After leading 6-5 in the opening set, Bouchard lost eight points in a row and was never again really a factor in the match.
It was strange that the US Open, or the USTA with whom she is in litigation after her fall and concussion in the locker room two years ago, would have assigned her to Arthur Ashe Stadium against such an obscure opponent. That could have put a bit more pressure on her than if she’d been outside on Court 7 or Court 12 – a little more out of the spotlight. Even though she will have to start winning more matches soon, her current No. 76 ranking shouldn’t suffer too much in the immediate future because she has only 32 (of her 795) ranking points to defend over the rest of 2017.
The 27-year-old from Vancouver had to retire after one set of his opening round against Fernando Verdasco with a painful back problem. He’s planning to rehab the back in Florida this week and then be ready for Canada’s Davis Cup tie versus India in Edmonton from September 15-17.
Davis Cup has always inspired Pospisil and it’s to be hoped he can put a disappointing summer behind him and start to build his confidence to improve his No. 78 ranking with a strong performance in Edmonton.
The 2017 US Open has developed nicely on the women’s side, but the same cannot quite be said about the men. With three of the current top-5 – Andy Murray, Novak Djokovic and Stan Wawrinka – out with injuries, the event was further compromised by the remaining top-five players, No. 1 Rafael Nadal and No. 3 Roger Federer, winding up in the same half of the draw.
Federer, who started the tournament with a back issue, had to escape tense five-setters in his first two rounds (Frances Tiafoe and Mikhail Youzhny) but seems to have rounded into form and a Friday (likely night) semifinal with Nadal is widely hoped for and highly anticipated. Not so much so a potentially anti-climactic final with either Federer or Nadal possibly matched against Pablo Carreno Busta, ranked No. 19, or No. 21 Sam Querrey.
Federer elaborated on the back problem, saying last Saturday, “we did the right thing by taking a slow approach in the preparation week.” Still he did look eminently vulnerable against Tiafoe and Youzhny, and basically admitted as much about the rehabbing approach when he said, “I think this way we rolled the dice a little bit. Now we’re in the fourth round and things are looking much better.”
With obvious exceptions such as Juan Martin del Potro’s ‘bananas’ 1-6, 2-6, 6-1, 7-6(1), 6-4 thriller victory over Dominic Thiem on Monday, the women’s draw has provided more compelling match-ups and drama. That started with Maria Sharapova’s 6-4, 4-6, 6-3 win over second seed Simona Halep on the first night. The 30-year-old Russia was impressive but seems incapable of sustaining her fitness and went out in the round-of-16 to No. 17-ranked Anastasija Sevastova of Latvia. Sharapova is projected to rank No. 100 in next week’s WTA rankings, which is about two zeros too many for her always-high personal standards.
Much of the interest so far, and possibly right until the end of this year’s event, has been stirred up by three big-hitting Americans – Madison Keys, Coco Vandeweghe and Sloane Stephens – who have reached the quarter-finals. All three, with their exceptional power off the ground, have long been expected to breakthrough at some point. They’re in three of the tournament’s quarter-finals, with the fourth also featuring a U.S. player – the evergreen Venus Williams. With little sister Serena away and busy becoming a mother, the 37-year-old Venus is an inspirational story – exactly 20 years after reaching the 1997 final at Flushing Meadows and losing 6-0, 6-4 to Martina Hingis.
Add Czech standouts Petra Kvitova, making her emotional recovery from her lacerated hand after a home invasion last December, and world No. 1 Karolina Pliskova attempting to go one step farther than her runner-up finish a year ago, and fascinating plotlines abound in the final stages of the women’s event.
It would have been hard to imagine last year that the tournament’s No. 1 seeds – Serena (childbirth) and Djokovic (injured elbow) – would not be back in 2017 for divergent reasons. Now two legends of the sport – Federer and Nadal – and a lacklustre group of other challengers will vie for the men’s title while a diverse and more interesting, evenly-matched eight women will dominate the final stages of the women’s championship.
THE REMAINING CANADIANS
Gabriela Dabrowski and Rohan Bopanna, the reigning French Open mixed doubles champions and No. 7 seeds, were beaten 4-6, 6-3, [10-8] in US Open quarter-final action on Monday by third-seeded Chan Hao-Ching of Taipei and Michael Venus of New Zealand.
Dabrowski and Bopanna made a valiant comeback from 2-8 down to 8-9 in the deciding match tiebreak but Venus was able to hit a big serve to Dabrowski, followed by an even bigger forehand, on the last point to wrap up the match.
In doubles, Dabrowski and her partner Xu Yifan of China, seeded No. 9, will face third-seeded Lucie Safarova and Barbora Strycova of Czech Republic in a quarter-final on Wednesday.
Junior girls action Monday saw No. 5 seed Carson Branstine of Montreal and Orange County, California, defeat qualifier Maja Chwalinska of Poland 4-6, 6-3, 6-4. Branstine, who turns 17 on Saturday, now meets highly-touted American 13-year-old prodigy Cori Gauff in the second round.
In other singles action on Monday, 16-year-old Layne Sleeth of Markham, Ont., was beaten 3-6, 7-5, 6-1 by Emilia Arango of Colombia.
Both Branstine, second-seeded with Sofia Sewing of the U.S., and Sleeth, with Maria Lourdes Carle of Argentina, are in the girls doubles event.
ROGER’S FOUR 0-FORS
What do (ranking at the time in brackets) Sergiy Stakhovsky (116), Federico Delbonis (114), Daniel Brands (55) and Evgeny Donskoy (116) have in common? They have all beaten Roger Federer at some point in the past five years.
What do (career highest ranking in brackets) David Ferrer (3), Mikhail Youzhny (8), Feliciano Lopez (12) and Philipp Kohlschreiber (16) have in common? They have never beaten Roger Federer.
Following yesterday’s 6-4, 6-2, 7-5 loss to Federer at the US Open, Kohlschreiber is now 0-12 against Federer, joining Ferrer at 0-17, Youzhny at 0-17 and Lopez at 0-13.
It’s amazing that in Federer’s last eight matches – starting with the second round of Rogers Cup against Ferrer – he has played the only four active players he has double-digit ‘0-for’ records against.
The other player who has a career double-digit, 0-for against Federer is Jarkko Nieminen, the 36-year-old Finn who retired (except for three Davis Cup matches) in 2015.
Nieminen, who like the others had a career high ranking in the top-20 at No. 13, was 0-15 against Federer.
It’s remarkable that such good players could never manage even a single victory over Federer – something that just adds to the myth of the incomparable Swiss.
The total lifetime futility of these five players against Federer is now 0-74.
DAVIS CUP – LOOKING AHEAD
It looks like the Indian Davis Cup team was very anxious for its World Group Play-off against Canada at the Northlands Coliseum in Edmonton from September 15-17.
Canada and India didn’t have to nominate their teams until Tuesday September 5th but the Indians submitted their list of players on August 15th – a full three weeks before the required date.
There were no real surprises for the visitors – No. 155 Ramkumar Ramanathan, 22, and Yuki Bhambri, 25 and No. 158, look like the singles players while doubles veteran, No. 17-ranked Rohan Bopanna, 37, is their principal doubles player.
Not named was doubles stalwart, 44-year-old Leander Paes, who has had a checkered relationship with some of his compatriots on the Davis Cup squad.
Also named to the four-man Indian team is No. 490 Saketh Myeni, 29, and two 27-year-old reserve players – No. 224 Prajnesh Gunneswaren and No. 288 N Sriram Balaji.
The nations find themselves at interesting crossroads – Canada is trying to extend its six-year run in the World Group while Indian is hoping to return to the World Group after a six-year absence.
Handicapping the tie is difficult because of the fitness status of the Canadian players. Milos Raonic is out after a procedure on his left wrist, and Vasek Pospisil had to retire from his first-round singles match at the US Open with a back ailment but hopes to be ready by the first day of action on Friday the 15th.
Denis Shapovalov along with Vasek Pospisil, Brayden Schnur and Daniel Nestor were named as the Canadian team on Tuesday. Nestor, 45, will be playing his record-extending 51st tie.
In Ramanathan and Bhambri, the Indians have two potentially dangerous singles players – especially on a fast indoor surface. Indian players have traditionally been good on grass and the fast court at Northlands will probably be to their liking.
In this year’s US Open qualifying event, Bhambri lost 4-6, 6-1, 6-3 in the first round to Go Soeda of Japan while Ramanathan defeated Paul-Henri Mathieu of France 6-4, 6-4 before losing 6-3, 6-7(5), 6-2 to another Frenchman, Nicolas Mahut.
Shapovalov beat Bhambri 4-6, 6-0, 6-3 at the National Bank Challenger in Granby in July but then the 25-year Indian upset No. 22 Gael Monfils 6-3, 4-6, 7-5 at the ATP 500 event in Washington in early August before eventually losing 6-4, 4-6, 6-3 to Kevin Anderson in the quarter-finals.
Ramanathan also had a good recent result – upsetting top seed Dominic Thiem 6-3, 6-2 in the first round of the grass-court tournament in Istanbul the week before Wimbledon.
India has reached the World Group Play-off with 2017 Asia/Oceania Zone wins over New Zealand and Uzbekistan. Canada lost 3-2 to Britain in the World Group opening round in Ottawa in February.
Captain for the Indian team is retired doubles ace Mahesh Bhupathi, a former No. 1 in the ATP doubles rankings. Martin Laurendeau is in his 14th year leading the Canadian team.
For ticket information check here.
NEW YORK POST CARD
These padlocks are on a fence beside the road over the tracks at the Bayside, New York, station on the Long Island Rail Road. They appear to be a variation on the ‘love locks’ attached to the sides of the Pont des Arts bridge in Paris.
The idea in 2014 was that lovers would attach locks to the sides of the Pont des Arts and then throw the keys into the Seine River below. French authorities have introduced new designs so locks can no longer be attached. So, who knows what’s next in Bayside?