All the momentum that Denis Shapovalov had carried into the Australian Open came to nothing as the Canadian fell back into bad habits in the Round 1 of the year’s first Grand Slam. In an exciting, exhausting and ill-tempered match against Hungary’s Marton Fucsovics, Shapovalov went down 3-6, 7-6 (7), 1-6, 6-7 (3) on opening day at the Melbourne Park.
Joining him on the way out was fellow Next Genner Borna Coric, who seemed to have no answer to Sam Querrey’s big game. Beset by multiple injuries in 2019, the Croatian No 1 hasn’t quite hit form yet and continued to struggle during the 3-6, 4-6, 4-6 first-round defeat.
Two of the more promising young talents, Coric and Shapovalov had distinctly different runs coming into the Australian Open. While the 23-year-old Coric finished 2019 with six straight losses, Shapovalov, 20, who won his first ATP title in October in Stockholm, made the finals of the Paris Masters and beat contemporaries Alexander Zverev and Stefanos Tsitsipas at the recent ATP Cup.
Doubles legend and tennis commentator Todd Woodbridge had predicted that the Canadian might make his breakthrough at the Australian Open this year. “His game is starting to come together,” Woodbridge had told the tournament’s official website. “There will be the five-set issue for him that will come into play. That’s where the issue has always been (for young players) – the consistency, the concentration, and the dips within five-set matches have cost them. But Shapovalov is maturing at a nice rate and is starting to play some better tennis in terms of choosing the right shot for the right time – before that it was a bit random.”
Since appointing Mikhail Youzhny as his coach in August, there has been a sense of discipline in Shapovalov’s game that took him to a career high ranking of 13. Gone are the golden flying locks, and on Monday Shapovalov entered the Margaret Court Arena wearing a baseball cap, the right way around.
What the flashy Canadian wasn’t prepared for, was the frustratingly solid play of world No 67 Fucsovics. In the last few months, Shapovalov had done well to reign in the all-out aggression that sometimes made him seem wasteful. The expansive shots off both wings, which give levity to his game, were being tempered with enough control.
But at the Australian Open, the older (at 27) and steadier Fucsovics kept chipping at this new-found maturity. An aggressive baseliner, the Hungarian controlled the rallies, and found just enough pace and depth to unsettle his opponent. Shapovalov’s frustration boiled over in the third set and he got into a heated argument with the umpire.
After going down an early break in the third set, the Canadian struck his racquet against the blue courts. He received a code violation for it, and that did not go down well.
“I'm not breaking any rules,” he told the umpire. "It's my racquet I can do whatever the hell I want with it. What are you talking about, I didn't break it. If I broke it, give me a code, 100 percent. I didn't break my racquet. It was a terrible call, do your job.”
Shapovalov conceded that set with a double fault.
While Fucsovics hit 42 winners and 35 unforced errors, Shapovalov, who got increasingly desperate to finish every rally with a flourishing shot, ended with 38 winners and a whopping 62 unforced errors. Unlike most of his peers, Shapovalov is a natural volleyer, but on the day, the Hungarian beat him at that too. While ‘Shapo’ won 35 of 55 net points, Fucsovics had a greater conversion rate, winning 31 points from 41 trips to the net.
“I think I played really nervous today,” was Shapovalov’s assessment of the three hour 13 minute contest. “Obviously I was in really good shape, really good condition going into the tournament. Just played really tight today.”
The scenes were less dramatic at the 1573 Arena, as Querrey rolled over 25th seed Coric in an hour and 44 minutes.
Even though the American has slipped to 45 in the world, Querrey is a tricky customer for most and beaten the likes of Novak Djokovic at Grand Slam events. Standing at 6’6, he dictates through his serve, has a powerful forehand and good instincts at the net.
That proved to be a recipe of disaster for the counter-punching Croat.
After a forgettable last few months, Coric would have been looking for a better start to the year. The 23-year-old had pulled out of Wimbledon in 2019 with an ab injury and withdrew from the second round of US Open with a lower back strain after starting the year with a round of 16 appearance at the Australian Open. ATP’s Newcomer of the Year in 2014, Coric had shown signs of return to form during his victory over Dominic Thiem at the ATP Cup.
But on Monday, there just wasn’t enough zing in his game to test Querrey’s movement or temperament. The tall American fired 18 aces and won 82% of the points on his first serve, making sure he kept the pressure up on Coric’s service games. Querrey earned 11 break points for his efforts and converted just enough – four—to take the match away from Coric.
Though not the flagbearers of Next Gen in men’s tennis, Shapovalov and Coric are among the new wave of players hoping to push the older generation out. But, as Woodbridge stated, consistency in five sets is still a skill that is eluding them.
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Updated Date: Jan 20, 2020 16:57:09 IST