There were several of those youthful effervescence errors that have become part of Denis Shapovalov’s game of late, but on the whole the 20-year-old was in terrific form on Monday night in a 6-3, 7-5 first-round victory over Pierre-Hugues Herbert at the Coupe Rogers.
From the get-go Shapovalov was letting loose with his ground strokes and service returns – his power rushing Herbert into positions he didn’t want to be in. On Sportsnet after the match, there was a stat that Shapovalov’s ground strokes – on the average – were 20 km/h faster than Herbert’s.
Shapovalov broke serve in the third and ninth games of the opening set and fended off three break points with bold shot-making.
It had to be a challenge for the 20-year-old from Richmond Hill, Ont. – coming back to Montreal and the scene of his sensational semi-final break-through two years ago, especially because he carried with him the burden of a five-match losing streak dating back to a clay-court event in Lyon, France in May. But he rode the wave of crowd support and was willing to keep playing aggressively despite scattering unforced errors.
He ended up with 22 winners and 32 unforced errors but his consistent pressure never gave Herbert a chance to settle. While he had eight double faults, he won 80 per cent of first-serve points and was more opportunistic on break points – going 4/8 to 1/4 for the No. 40-ranked Frenchman.
“This match was huge,” Shapovalov said about ending his run of disappointing results. “It was a bit of a struggle not tennis-wise but a little bit mentally. I was a little bit drained. I found the spark again but the crowd and playing in Canada definitely helps.”
Herbert is a forward-moving competitor who likes to try to control things at the net. Shapovalov knew that and kept the 28-year-old Frenchman off balance with some heavy hitting in the early going. “Tactically speaking, I was just trying to play aggressive,” he said about his approach. “I knew he was going to try to come in (to the net) so I was trying to pass as well as I could. At the beginning I hit a couple of good ones off the backhand. That kind of set the tone for the match.”
Next for Shapovalov will be No. 2 seed Dominic Thiem in Wednesday’s second round. The current world No.4 won the ATP 250 event in his Austrian homeland at Kitzbuhel on Saturday on clay, and he also won his only previous meeting with Shapovalov in Acapulco last year. But the 25-year-old, two-time Roland Garros runner-up has a history of futility at the Rogers Cup – he’s 0-5 – losing twice in the first round and three times in second round after a bye.
In the day’s opening match on Centre Court at Stade IGA, Milos Raonic reached the second round of the Rogers Cup for the eighth year in a row with a 6-4, 6-4 victory over No. 30-ranked Lucas Pouille of France. It was a straight-forward outing for the 28-year-old from Thornhill, Ont. He got service breaks early in both sets and didn’t face a break point in the 72-minute first-rounder.
The No. 17 seed had 16 aces, and more than 70 per cent of his serves were not returned, which made for a pleasant, un-stressful afternoon.
“Overall today, I have to be happy with the way I did things,” Raonic said. “I knew it was going to be a difficult match and I found a way to get a hold of it and play on my terms.”
Next for Raonic will be a second-round encounter with the winner of Tuesday’s matinee match between his compatriots Félix Auger-Aliassime and Vasek Pospisil.
“Me and Vasek played here in the semis (2013) but now, especially with six of us being in the main draw, it was bound to happen to some extent,” Raonic commented about the Canadian vs. Canadian match-ups. “The odds are much higher than they have been in the past. I wish that everybody could be more evenly spread out but now that they (Auger-Aliassime and Pospisil) play first round and I await the winner – that’s just how it plays out. It’s unfortunate it played out that way at home.”
As far as Raonic and the younger generation of Canadians, he is 1-1 with Shapovalov (2018 – lost in Madrid and won in Cincinnati) and 1-0 with Auger-Aliassime (2018 – won in Indian Wells). There’s a similarity with that Indian Wells situation – Auger-Aliassime faced Pospisil [winning 6-2, 7-6(4)] in the first round and then went on to play Raonic, losing 6-4, 6-4 to his 10-years-older compatriot.
Raonic has struggled with a back problem since the beginning of the grass-court season. He withdrew from a semi-final against Auger-Aliassime in Stuttgart in June and had a cortisone shot in the back before playing the Queen’s Club event the following week. Even last week in a second-round 6-4, 6-4 loss to Peter Gojowczyk in Washington, he was treated for the back on court after the third game of the second set.
Mindful of the back, Raonic said Monday in his on-court interview after the match, “with the struggles I’ve had throughout this year, it’s one of the reasons why I requested to play on Monday, knowing that I’d have a day off before the next match.”
About his frustrating 2019 (21-9) season so far, Raonic summed up, “I’m still trying to find the first tournament I can get through healthy this year. That alone is pretty tough to swallow.”
Looking ahead to Tuesday’s afternoon contest between Auger-Aliassime, 18, and the 29-year-old Pospisil, the numbers would appear to be in the younger man’s favour. He has wins over Pospisil in Indian Wells last year and this year 5-7, 6-2, 6-4, 6-3 at Wimbledon. Impressively, since Buenos Aires in February, Auger-Aliassime has lost in the first round just once in his last 13 tournaments (Borna Coric in Rome).
Pospisil, out of action until Wimbledon after back surgery in January, has only played one tour event – Wimbledon – since last November. But he does have an experience advantage playing in Canada’s premier event – it’s his ninth Rogers Cup in a row and he has an overall 8-8 match record.
Playing together in doubles on Monday, Auger-Aliassime and Pospisil were beaten 7-6(7), 7-5 by the French pairing of Jeremy Chardy and Fabrice Martin.
Pospisil had his lower back treated on court after the first set, but later downplayed the issue, saying “it was affecting me a little bit unfortunately during the match. But then midway through the second set, it really released after the treatment. Kind of wish I had done something like that a little bit more maybe before the match.
“But in the end, it didn’t affect me that much. I think for tomorrow I’ll be fine.”
Another Canadian in action of the opening day in Montreal, wild card Brayden Schnur, got off to a poor 0-4 start against qualifier Tommy Paul and never really recovered in a 6-1, 6-2 loss. Schnur would normally hope to impose his bigger game on the No. 128-ranked Paul but the 22-year-old American was too accurate and consistent from the backcourt. The serve stats told the sad story for Schnur – he won just 53 per cent of first-serve points and 39 per cent of second-serve points to 76 per cent and 63 per cent for Paul, who isn’t known as a big server. Paul, from Greenville, North Carolina, was 5/8 on break point conversions while Schnur was 0/3.
The 24-year-old from Pickering, Ont., didn’t have much to say after his match, admitting he was “disappointed” with his performance and that he was “kind of lost for words,” to explain it. Schnur is still in the doubles with Peter Polansky and they will play Marcus Daniell of New Zealand and Laslo Djere of Serbia in the first round.
Now ranked No. 98, Schnur is entered in next week’s Odlum Brown VanOpen, a $108,320 Challenger event held at the Hollyburn Country Club in West Vancouver, and then will play the ATP 250 in Winston Salem, N.C., and the US Open.
In Monday’s late evening match, No. 16 seed Gael Monfils defeated Peter Polansky 6-7 (4), 6-3, 6-3.
MONTREAL MEMORY LANE
The first tennis event in the renovated Jarry Park Stadium, former home of Major League Baseball’s Montreal Expos, was held in the summer of 1980.
It was basically to prepare for the Toronto – Montreal rotating men’s and women’s Canadian Open tournaments that began in 1981. A women’s event, known as the Player’s Challenge, was won by Martina Navratilova of the U.S., 6-2, 6-1 over Greer Stevens of South Africa. One of the most memorable aspects of the final was the large, very conspicuous brace that Stevens had on her knee. She was 23 years old at the time and reached a career-high ranking of No. 7 in 1980 before the injury led to her retirement by year’s end.
Interestingly in the 32-player draw, there were 20 Americans and only one Canadian – Marjorie Blackwood of Vancouver. That’s her under the towel in the programme cover at the top here. She won a round before losing 6-1, 6-2 to Navratilova.
The actual 1980 Canadian Open then called the Player’s International, a mixed event, was held in Toronto later that summer and was won by second-seeded American Chris Evert who beat Virginia Ruzici of Romania 6-3, 6-1 in the final. Top-seeded Navratilova had to retire due to a neck and back issue leading American Anne Smith 5-4 in the opening set in the third round.
In the men’s final that year in Toronto, Ivan Lendl, 20, defeated 24-year-old Bjorn Borg 4-6, 5-4 ret. when the great Swede (above) had to stop with a knee problem. It was Lendl’s first win over Borg, who would end their career with a 6-2 head-to-head advantage.