It’s probably safe to say that Denis Shapovalov is the tennis player on the tour most capable of the extremes. He can hit shots that are sublime in their inspiration and execution and then make the most elementary of unforced errors, almost just as spectacular in their own right.
The ace in the hole for Shapovalov is his physical strength – he is bull strong. He surely trains hard but it has to be a natural gift to be able to strike the ball in the magical ways he does – and equally to seemingly have a constitution that runs and runs like the Energizer Bunny without feeling excessive fatigue.
Roberto Carballes Baena is the embodiment of a dogged competitor who gives every ounce in him in search of winning. He did that last year in the same US Open round against Shapovalov and the current world No. 21 wore him down with his powerful, body-blow ball striking. The final score tells the story in and of itself – 7-6(7), 6-3, 6-0 for Shapovalov.
The 29-year-old Spaniard gave just as gritty an effort on Thursday and, while he was able to win a set, the result was another Shapovalov victory – 6-4, 4-6, 6-3, 6-2. He did what he could but it’s a special kind of challenge against the unpredictable Shapovalov.
Here’s the sequence of points in the final set starting with a forehand inside/out blast, out-of-nowhere by Shapovalov to break serve to 3-2. Then the next points in order in the sixth game were his 13th double fault, an ace, a service winner, a bad miss forehand swing volley into the net and a nicely-played net point by Carballes Baena and then finally a 123 mph service winner by Shapovalov to stave off the break point.
He eventually held that game to 4-2, broke Carballes Baena to 5-2 and served out to 6-2, finishing with his 11th ace. There was a rare whimsical statistical anomaly after the fourth game of that final set – Shapovalov’s winners to unforced ratio was 47/47 and Carballes Baena’s was 14/14.
A game later after Shapovalov broke serve it was 48/47 for Shapovalov and 14/15 for the Spaniard. The kind of fine margins that have gone Shapovalov’s way so far in wins over Swiss qualifier Alex Ritschard in the first round and Carballes Baena. The aforementioned physical strength of Shapovalov works against a player like Carballes Baena who attempts to wear down an opponent with his relentless counterpunching – something that’s predicated on his opponent feeling that pressure and physically wearing down.
Asked after his win on Thursday if he ever got tired, Shapovalov jokingly answered “never,” before saying more seriously, “of course I do. I think it’s normal, we’re all human. We go through fazes of being tired in matches and sometimes your second wind kicks in. I like to say for the most part I’m pretty fit but you have some dips in matches. I think it’s normal.”
Shapovalov talked Tuesday after beating Ritschard about being better at controlling his emotions and able to turn things around when things aren’t going well. He did that against Carballes Baena despite a meltdown after losing the second set, sitting courtside spouting a string of frustration in Russian toward courtside coach Mikhail Youzhny. “I need to get better at finding the balance, and finding when to turn it on and shut it off,” he said. “Obviously I’m getting better as you saw today after losing the second set – to shut it down almost completely, focus on the tennis and take all the emotions out. It’s been a learning process and I do think it helps me.”
On Saturday he faces a fellow-Russian speaker in No. 9 seed Andrey Rublev, a player who is probably closer in style to Carballes Baena than the 6-foot-6 bomber Ritschard.
Their head-to-head is 2-2, with the most recent meeting being in the fall of 2020 in St. Petersburg, Russia – Rublev winning 4-6, 6-3, 6-4.
It should be a fascinating match-up, with one thing guaranteed – ups and downs from the dashing Canadian lefthander, with the ups leaving spectators shaking their heads in disbelief and gasping at his ability to end rallies with bold, concussive shots that leave opponents flat-footed at first, then shell-shocked in the long run. For more information about how that feels – the reference is the twice-burned Carballes Baena.
There’s definitely a case to be made that Shapovalov is currently the most spectacular shot-maker in men’s tennis, both in terms of the variety and explosiveness of his shots.
Asked during a media session following Thursday’s match if he was indeed the most spectacular, he responded with a laugh, “There’s definitely a lot of great shot-makers. Right now I think the best shot-maker has got to be Nick (Kyrgios). He has been playing ridiculously and coming up with crazy points. He’s got great hands, every shot in the book. And of course all the top guys they play big and can come up with big shots. Of course, it’s sort of natural to me too but hopefully, I can also learn to harness it and find some consistency.”
LEYLAH AINT GOIN’ NOWHERE
Leylah Annie Fernandez found the perfect recipe for getting over the disappointment of her second-round loss in singles on Wednesday. Thursday night in the Grandstand before a packed crowd, she and partner Daria Saville of Australia upset the second-seeded pairing of Cori Gauff and Jessica Pegula of the U.S. 3-6, 7-5, [10-5]. In the second round, they will play Dalma Galfi of Hungary and Bernarda Pera of the U.S.
TWO ON COURT FRIDAY
Caroline Garcia has a 20-3 record (including qualifying) at her last six tournaments on clay and hard courts since Wimbledon, highlighted by the title at the WTA 1000 in Cincinnati two weeks ago.
Her only previous meeting with Friday’s third-round opponent, Bianca Andreescu, was in the final of the grass-court Bad Homberg event in June. The 28-year-old Frenchwoman won that hard-fought match 6-7(5), 6-4, 6-4 in two hours and 40 minutes. Andreescu led 7-6(5), 4-2 and later Garcia had kind words for her. She declared during the awards ceremony, “I don’t know how we were able to fight so hard for every single point.”
Since Wimbledon Andreescu is only 4-2 at tournaments in San Jose, Toronto and now the US Open. But she seems to be on a good run after beating No. 15 seed Beatrix Haddad Maia 6-2, 6-4 on Wednesday (actually after 1 a.m. on Thursday morning) in Louis Armstrong Stadium. Her improving form, the closeness of that Bad Homburg final and the fact that Garcia is bound to be feeling some of the fatigue and pressure of her fantastic summer, pretty well makes the match a pick’em in terms of prognostication.
Andreescu – Garcia will start the night session at 7 p.m. in Louis Armstrong Stadium.
H2H: Garcia 1-0.
Not the rarest of match-ups in these days of women playing into their 40s – guess who? – but Rebecca Marino (31) and Zhang Shuai (33) are thirtysomethings getting get set to play on Friday for a first-ever spot in the US Open round-of-16.
Zhang played the first of her 41 Grand Slam events at the US Open in 2008, with her best showings being reaching the third round in 2016, 2017 and 2019.
Marino’s first of 13 Grand Slams singles events was at the 2010 US Open. It was memorable for her second-round loss, at 19, to a then 30-year-old Venus Williams in Arthur Ashe Stadium. The score was 7-6(3), 6-3.
Until this year, in just three previous appearances, her best result was that second round in 2010.
Friday’s match is scheduled for Court 5 with a start not before 12:30 p.m.
H2H: First meeting.