What has Happened to Denis Shapovalov?

Denis Shapovalov

After watching Denis Shapovalov play Juan Martin del Potro at Queen’s Club, he hung his head in despair. Yet, another first-round loss for Shapovalov. Yet, another opportunity by the wayside. Shapovalov looks as if he has zero confidence in his shots and, at this point, he can’t even win a set, let alone a match, or a tournament. His game appears to be in complete disarray.

Where is the Denis Shapovalov we knew?

When Shapovalov first appeared on the scene, he was brimming with confidence. Powerful ground strokes, and that wicked lefty serve which confounded his opponents. He had a wonderful, competent, knowledgeable coach, in Martin Laurendeau. Suddenly, about a year ago at this time, everything seemed to fall apart. Martin left due to back problems, and Shapovalov’s Mom took over. It seemed to be her decision to revamp or revise Denis’ serve. That was a disaster which took months to fix. It’s amazing that Shapovalov even remained in the top 30 in the world.

Enter Rob Steckley

Towards the end of last year, Shapovalov made an out of the box coaching choice with Rob Steckley. But, they seemed to relate well to each other. Shapovalov’s serve returned with a vengeance, and he seemed completely comfortable with Steckley’s techniques. Shapovalov didn’t do well at the AO, but then drawing Novak Djokovic in the third round didn’t help. He continued making inroads until that marvelous run in Miami where he reached another Masters SF. The next day it was announced Steckley and Shapovalov would be parting ways. No explanation has ever been given.

The Slide

Since Steckley’s exit, Shapovalov has been 2-10 with a completely dismal clay-court season, and now half of the grass court season is done, and he’s been poor in singles yet again. Surprisingly so, he did well at Stuttgart in doubles with Rohan Bopanna with whom he reached the finals. In doubles play, Shapovalovs appeared confident, happy and capable. In singles it’s been the complete opposite.

As he faced del Potro yesterday morning, there were flashes of his old brilliance, but they were few and far between. He gave up his serve twice, and that was enough. The ‘old’ Shapovalov would have fought much harder, and at least pushed the match to three sets.

What’s Happened?

One can only speculate on what’s happened with Shapovalov. From the outside, it appears to begin and end with coaching. While his junior coach was great for the junior circuit, it may have been a mistake to bring him on at this point in Shapovalov’s career. Shapovalov’s results bear that out. It’s clear he has significant issues with a consistently poor return of serve, and a tendency to maintain the same tactics in match, even when they’re not working.

Online discussions range from maintaining belief in Shapovalov’s talent, to sharing opinions that this will be Shapovalov’s career. Although his slide is disconcerting, it is not yet time to declare his singles career over.

Part of his decline is definitely due to an undisciplined style of play that relies on flashy shots rather than steady, practical play. Shapovalov seems to relish in pulling off the dynamic shots, but less interested in playing disciplined points. The latter wins matches. The former does not.

What must Denis Shapovalov do?

He must find a coach to help him turn this around. It’s clear his current coach has no idea how to guide, or help Denis Shapovalov. Some top-level coaches might be the answer. Here are some suggestions:

• Darren Cahill
• Boris Becker
• Stefan Edberg
• Frank Dancevic

Out of the box ideas:

• Daniel Nestor
• John McEnroe
• Martina Navratilova
• Rob Steckley

No one outside of Shapovalov’s team truly knows what’s going on. But, whatever it is, Shapovalov needs to fix it fast. There are too many good young players coming up and he could be left behind very quickly. For someone with his raw talent, that would be a shame. I firmly believe Tennis Canada should do what they can to help Shapovalov. This is not just for him, but for tennis in Canada. Let’s hope this diamond in the rough can find his way.

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15 COMMENTS

  1. Wow.
    What a heartfelt article! And there is a ready-made recipe for success!
    The list of coaches is just amazing! Only one name is missing – RF 😉.
    And TennisCanada already has Felix, others are not needed.

  2. I’m close with a friend of Denis and played with him back in the day:

    Denis and Rob split because each week his mother was paying him less and less. Rob eventually left. Current “coach” Adriano isn’t much of a tennis coach. He was basically Denis’ servant in his junior years who would do whatever his mother told him to do with Denis. Denis can’t afford those top tier coaches like Becker so the fact you even listed them is ridiculous. He must bring apologize to Rob and bring him back and pay him what he deserves.

  3. You are making an assessment that is too early. For someone who watches a lot of tennis, you didn’t notice a number of the changes in his stats (particularly in the last match with Delpo), didn’t mention the difficult first round draws he was facing, and expect the excitement of his style to mean that he rockets to the top. In the Delpo match, his wild ue’s were fewer but were still decisive (4).
    Also, it is too early for him to get a top coach. A player should get a top coach only when he is already in the top 10 – that is my opinion – and if his further progress has been arrested. Denis has some basic work to do to move on from his current (actually maintained, overall, so not bad) ranking to top 20 and better: the dips in service focus, and the chosing when to unleash for a winner or keep playing the percentages. Those are mental things but they are too basic to expect guidance from the top coaches.

  4. As a fellow professional who has witnessed Adriano work with several top juniors since finishing with denis, I couldn’t disagree more with your comments about changing coach. Adriano is a top professional and I have no doubt that in the next few months, and on the hard court especially, you will see a big up turn in results. To suggest he needs to change coach after some tough matches on his least favourite surface (clay) is unfair and premature. Even in Madrid, where he made semis last year, he would have had to beat rafa in the second round! Losing 5&4 on grass against Del Potro is not exactly a poor result considering he’s pushed rafa and Novak to 5 sets on the surface in recent years!

    And to the guy who’s commented above suggesting Adriano was like a servant to denis previously, that is a ridiculous comment. I’m sure with denis’s status now, he would not be short of people willing to be his servant; the fact that he’s trusted Adriano enough to re-hire him is testament to his previous work and your comments are nothing more than disrespectful hearsay.

      • Actually he just won his first ATP title…good things take time. Changing habits, improving confidence…not a fast process, but 3 or 4 months is normal. I hope it continues.

  5. Adriano is a good man, and his greatest asset is his dedication to his player. He was not a high level tennis player and he cannot exchange with even young junior players, but he knows the game and knows how to feed and drill. What he provides is a mature presence and loyalty to whatever Denis and Denis’s mom, Tessa feel is best. Make no mistake about it – it is Tessa who runs the ship.

    Rob Steckley’s primary value as a coach is his emphasis on keeping the entire journey fun.

    It was Martin Laurendeau who was pivotal in Denis’s rise. He helped Denis improve technically in all areas, and they spent significant time improving his all-court skills. The detail that Marin brought to Denis’s skill development is what Denis needs again in order to have a chance to be a long term top 10 player. This is exactly what Felix Auger has in his team of coaches – people who emphasize skill development.

    Tessa would be wise to ask Martin to return as Denis’ coach and take a big step back to give Denis and his coach room to breathe. And pay whoever coaches Denis generously – this is vital, to take great care of the people most important to your son’s success.

    We are rooting for you, Denis!

  6. Great article! I always thought Denis’s success at Madrid last year was a bit of a fluke (with a very lucky draw); so I was not too concerned about his terrible clay-court results this year. At least he had a few bright spots on the hard courts. But I totally agree that coaching is the missing ingredient here, and I love your list of suggestions. I think Martina Navratilova would be a great fit: a lefty, a powerhouse despite her surprisingly short height, an Eastern European no-nonsense approach (which Denis should be accustomed to, from Tessa), a fitness guru, and a grass-court legend. Instead of tinkering with his serve, the coach might focus instead on the return of serve, as well as overall point construction. No one can win consistently while making 30-40 errors per 2-set match. IMO Denis has superior weapons to Stefanos Tsitsipas, but the young Greek star plays much smarter matches that maximize his considerable talents. Denis is in danger of becoming another Fernando Gonzalez or James Blake, two shot-makers who filled up the highlight reel but never won a Grand Slam. Already Felix has passed Denis with his better mix of explosiveness and consistency.

  7. Denis is struggling mentally and should hire Rob Steckley back. It’s obvious he has the wrong coach. He’s losing every match. Also coming from a Jewish family. Jewish is determined by your mother. Denis wearing a cross is bad luck and disgraceful. My 3 sons and I are big fans. We want to buy him a Star of David. It will bring him luck and confidence.

  8. Denis isn’t Jewish. His Mom is Jewish but his Dad isn’t. He wears a cross around his neck which proves his devotion to Christianity. That is his choice and we must respect it. After watching him play two nights ago in Montreal, I saw the same problems; too many unforced errors, and too many double faults. Now, some of that could be a lack of matches. We’ll see how he does against Thiem. Wishing him the best.

  9. Denis is going for too much way too early in any point. Zero point construction. Court movement regressed since August 2017. Tennis IQ is depressingly bad – going for the lines every shot will always make him a sitting duck to any Top 100 player. I mean, ok, Struff is a good player but Denis should be toying with this guy. Yet he loses 2 straight GS matches to this 29-year old journeyman.

  10. Today, he’s 37 in the live rankings. This means he’s lost 17 points since breaking with Steckley. I notice that Adrian is no longer with him. Why does Denis stay with a coach who’s obviously not helping him?

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