Improving Shapovalov takes a big step forward

Canadian eases into quarter-final clash with Nadal after impressive win over Zverev

Denis Shapovalov  celebrates after winning his fourth  round match against Alexander Zverev at the Australian Open in Melbourne. Photograph: Dean Lewins/EPA

Denis Shapovalov celebrates after winning his fourth round match against Alexander Zverev at the Australian Open in Melbourne. Photograph: Dean Lewins/EPA

 

Between his pure shotmaking, his dynamic athleticism and the all-court style that ties his game together, there are few sights in men’s tennis as spectacular as Denis Shapovalov at the height of his powers.

The question surrounding the Canadian and his future prospects has never been about his ability, but rather whether he can harness those talents and consistently replicate a high level on the biggest stages.

On Sunday afternoon Shapovalov took a step forward in his progression as he produced statistically the best win of his young career by toppling Alexander Zverev, the third seed, 6-3, 7-6 (5), 6-3.

It was a notable performance not because of any delirious shotmaking, but rather the calm, disciplined manner in which he dismantled a top player.

Afterwards Shapovalov, 22, stressed his satisfaction about the patience and intelligence with which he played. His discipline was reflected in the statistics. Shapovalov won only one more point than Zverev in nought-to-four-shot rallies, 66 to 65. However he outscored Zverev by a combined 15 points in rallies played between five and eight shots, and nine-plus shots.

“It’s definitely something I’ve been learning to do,” he said of his patience. “Hasn’t come natural to me, unfortunately. I’ve always wanted to play quick and go for my shots. But it’s difficult when you play a guy with the calibre of Sascha [Zverev]. You can’t go through him in one or two shots. You have to stay in the rallies, you have to work for the points. Then when you have an opportunity you can swing in and go for it.”

Shapovalov’s success in Australia is even more impressive considering the ordeal that preceded it.

He was one of the players who tested positive for Covid-19 in December, his pre-season seemingly ruined. He emerged from quarantine and played in the ATP Cup shortly afterwards, joining forces with Félix Auger-Aliassime to win Canada’s first ever top-level team tournament.

Shapovalov says he had picked up some niggles as a result of his unhelpful preparation and he did not practise much in the days before the Australian Open. Despite those obstacles, he is 7-0 in 2022.

“Obviously every day is different,” he said. “But I feel with every match I have gained a little bit of confidence and comfort playing on these courts. I’m just pleased overall with my game so far and my fighting spirit. Yeah, just battling out in every single match. Hopefully I can continue going this way.”

Dire performance

Across the net, it was a dire performance from Zverev, but it fitted into one of the most notable patterns in his career. Despite reaching the US Open final in 2020, he has never beaten a top-10 player at a Grand Slam tournament and he tends to struggle against elite players in these events. Beating Shapovalov, ranked 14th, would have been the second best Grand Slam win of his career by ranking. He did not come close.

Zverev is still under investigation by the ATP after his ex-girlfriend, Olya Sharypova, alleged that he was physically and emotionally abusive to her. Zverev denies the allegations.

With Zverev’s loss, the implications for the men’s draw are significant. He was the second favourite to win the tournament, meaning Daniil Medvedev is now an even heavier favourite. In his quarter-final match, Shapovalov faces the unenviable task of playing against the new second favourite, Rafael Nadal.

Nadal advanced to the last eight in straight sets, but only after enduring some genuine tension early on. His manic first-set tie-break against Adrian Mannarino turned into one the moments of the first week as they ended up duelling for 28 minutes. Mannarino saved six set points, mostly with supreme shotmaking, while Nadal saved four set points himself.

The tie-break ended with an appropriately absurd final point, at 15-14 to Nadal. Mannarino was in complete control but he tried to finish the point by attacking a forehand behind Nadal. Nadal had held his ground and he reflexively responded with a winning drive volley to snatch the set. Nadal eventually won 7-6 (14), 6-2, 6-2.

“It is a victory with a lot of value, especially the first set, so very happy for that,” Nadal said. “I was able to resist the tough moments in the first set. So, yeah, a very important victory for me.”

Guardian

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