Denis Shapovalov is relieved the clay and grass court seasons are behind him. After all, it was where the Canadian experienced the inevitable slump of any young tennis player. In his last five tournaments, including Roland Garros and Wimbledon, Shapovalov lost in the first round.
On Monday night in Montreal for the Rogers Cup, it was a homecoming of sorts for the young Canadian. It was this exact court two years ago where the World No. 31 made his breakthrough, defeating Juan Martin Del Potro and Rafael Nadal in the same event. Shapovalov’s powerful groundstrokes and timely serving were put on display against Pierre-Hughes Herbert, who. he beat 6-3 7-5.
“I always love coming back to Montreal,” stated Shapovalov. “I am grateful for the crowd’s love and support.”
Denis Shapovalov Needed to Rediscover Love for Tennis
Many young athletes, like Shapovalov, go through peaks and troughs for the love of their respective sport. Stellar results at a young age predicate a wave of fame, popularity, and expectations.
At 20 years old, Shapovalov is already a star in Canadian sports. After his thrilling three-set victory over Rafael Nadal in Montreal, he propelled into tennis stardom. He was showing promising results on the hard courts, from a fourth-round exit in the 2017 US Open to losing to Roger Federer in this year’s Miami Open semifinal.
But once the clay-court season commenced, the Canadian’s performance started to decline. Coming into Montreal, Shapovalov had lost nine of his last 11 matches. He had failed to make it past the first round in four straight tournaments, with his last victory coming on May 22nd.
Shapovalov admits that during this stretch, a lack of motivation led to inexorable progress. Taking time away from the game was much needed so that he can rediscover his love and passion for tennis.
“I’ve been missing something else, something from inside. For me, it was the passion for the sport,” stated Shapovalov. “It’s normal … you’re playing so many weeks out of the year, you’re traveling so much. Sometimes it gets too much.”
Glimpses of Shapovalov’s Peak Showcased in Rogers Cup First Round
Once Denis Shapovalov was able to take some time off from tennis, his desire to train and get better was apparent. In preparation for the Rogers Cup, Shapovalov would rewatch the video of his epic victory over Rafael Nadal at Montreal.
“That moment told me that I can play at that level and beat these guys,” Shapovalov noted. “And to see the way I was. I was so fearless, so confident, going up against a beast like Rafa.”
Against Herbert, the rising Canadian star consistently hit his groundstrokes with pace and fearlessness. In the first set, faced with break point chances and deficits in three straight service games, Shapovalov conquered the adversity with precise, effective serves. Given his recent history of underperforming in matches, Denis’ toughness shown against Herbert will serve him well in later rounds.
“I wasn’t serving the best, so it was huge for me to save those break points,” says Shapovalov. “I was just trying to fight out there and enjoy the moment, win or lose.”
It is evident Shapovalov possesses an affinity for the hard courts. The monkey is off the Canadian’s back with this straight-set victory to enter the second round. But for Denis, he wants to exhibit consistency and raise his level over the course of the tournament. If he wants to be in the conversation with tennis’ next-generation players, he will need to follow up a solid victory with an even stronger one.
With a crowd of raucous Montreal fans behind him, don’t put it past young Shapovalov to harness his regained passion for tennis into a deep Rogers Cup run.
Lukas Weese is in Montreal for the Rogers Cup on behalf of Tennis Canada.
Embed from Getty Images