LONDON, June 19, 2019 (by Sharada Rajagopalan)
The first-round match between third seed Juan Martin del Potro and Denis Shapovalov seemed like an intriguing precursor to the start Wednesday’s proceedings at the Fever-Tree Championships in Queen’s. However, del Potro’s 7-5, 6-4 win in an hour and 16 minutes did nothing assuage expectations and only added to both players’ woes.
In the initial moments of the match, the discussion – from the commentators’ perspective, at least – veered towards the players’ respective Nike apparels. The Argentine’s relatively conservative print was a complete contrast to the Canadian’s white t-shirt patterned with skeletons. However, their respective games mirrored that of their opponent’s.
Serves were telling as the match began. Of the two though, it was del Potro who offered little or no free points on his serve. On the other hand, Shapovalov was taken to deuce a couple of times and even had a double fault thrown in, as if he were trying to make it difficult for himself. As one watched, knowing that something would give in the match, it was not hard to think that the 20-year-old would be the first to lose his grip on the match.
Shapovalov’s serve slumped in the 11th game of the first set as he hit his second double fault of the match to go down a break. Having received the convenient opportunity to serve for the opening set and a lead in the match, del Potro got the job done. And while that may have relieved the pressure on his shoulders, the abyss looking up at Shapovalov had widened further at the other end.
Therefore, it was not entirely surprising when the younger player crumbled quicker in the second set losing his serve in the fifth game. Shapovalov’s inability to fight through did hit hard though under the circumstances. But it was inexplicable as to how the NextGen player went about trying to make reparations to put himself in with a chance in the match.
At times, Shapovalov looked flat and in certain points, he went for broke. In both scenarios, his unforced-error count multiplied giving del Potro more room to return as the winner on the day. Thus, while both Shapovalov and del Potro finished with a positive deficit in their winners to unforced errors’ tallies – +5 for the former (27 winners, 22 unforced errors) and +8 for the latter (19 winners, 11 unforced errors) – the 11 extra unforced errors made by the three-time Masters 1000 semi-finalist held him back thoroughly in the match.
Successful return to grass for @delpotrojuan 👌
— Tennis TV (@TennisTV) 19. Juni 2019
This result had other implications, too. For Shapovalov, the loss meant his win-to-loss ratio was a measly 2-8 since he reached the Miami Open semi-finals in March, in eight tournaments. Except for opening-round wins in Rome and Lyon, Shapovalov has had quite short stints in the other events he has played, including in London now.
However, if form were temporary, bad luck – especially the one dogging Del Potro – looks to be unrelentingly permanent. The Argentine slipped and awkwardly landed on his right knee while coming to the net in the eighth game of the second set but went on to finish the point (and the match). Reportedly, though, the slight slip resulted in the 2009 US Open champion’s knee swelling up forcing him to wait for tests to evaluate the knee’s condition.
With Alexander Zverev already hobbling about in Halle after a fall he took in his first-round match against Robin Haase, such spillage-induced injuries appear to be the bigger worry than rain affecting play.
Meanwhile, if Del Potro does thwart the bad luck looming around him like a personal dark-cloud cover, he would face former Queen’s champion Feliciano Lopez in the second round. The 37-year-old Spaniard has been dogged by match-fixing allegations after his and his former doubles partner Marc Lopez’s name came up in an investigation. The veteran from Toledo shrugged off the allegations by letting his racquet be relevant. The wild card entrant came from a set down to defeat Marton Fucsovics of Hungary 6-7(4), 6-3, 6-4 in two hours and a minute.