Shapovalov’s 2020 Season Comes To Crashing Halt In Sofia

WASHINGTON/SOFIA, November 10, 2020 (by Michael Dickens)

Denis Shapovalov arrived this week at the Sofia Open, the ATP Tour’s final regular-season event, as the No. 1 seed. It’s a draw position that he’s never held before, but nonetheless welcomed the challenge.

The World No. 12 from Canada came into his second-round match against Moldova’s 93rd-ranked Radu Albot Tuesday evening looking to shed a losing streak dating back to a semifinal loss he suffered last month against World No. 8 Andrey Rublev at the St. Petersburg Open in the imperial Russian capital city. Shapovalov followed it with back-to-back first-round losses in Cologne and Vienna, losing to Gilles Simon and Jurij Rodionov.

Perhaps, feeling a bit fatigued from non-stop playing – and with his win-loss record in a free fall after an energetic quarterfinal run at the US Open followed by a thrilling semifinal finish in Rome – the 21-year-old Shapovalov withdrew before the start of last week’s Rolex Paris Masters, citing a shoulder injury,  and took the week off in order to rest and recharge himself, mentally and physically.

Unfortunately for Shapovalov, the 30-year-old Albot had other plans. Albot equaled his best performance of his career and beat Shapovalov 6-2, 6-4 in one hour and 14 minutes to improve his ATP Tour-level win-loss record to 7-11 (9-18 in all competitions). With another disappointing defeat, Shapovalov ended his season with a four-match losing streak and a final win-loss tally of 17-15. Albot’s season continues at least for another match. He’s into the quarterfinal round and will face either No. 81 Egor Gerasimov of Belarus or No 5 seed Adrian Mannarino from France on Thursday.

As soon as Shapovalov’s final backhand return of 2020 sailed long on Albot’s first match point attempt, the young Canadian smashed his racquet in frustration. His attempt to crack the Top 10 came to a crashing halt in defeat. As for Albot, Shapovalov represented the highest-ranked player he’s beat this year. He won the final four games of the first set thanks to a couple of service breaks and never trailed in the second set.

It was the kind of evening Shapovalov would just as soon forget. He didn’t serve particularly well – placing just 45 percent of his first serves in play. Although he won 75 percent (18 of 24) of his first-serve points, his second-serve percentage dipped to 48 percent (14 of 29). His six aces were overshadowed by five double faults and his service was broken three times. Meanwhile, Albot won 81 percent of his service points and his serve wasn’t broken. He outpointed Shapovalov 59-41.

What a different 24 hours made because when Shapovalov sat for a virtual international media round table Monday afternoon, he said, “I feel great and I had a good break. I feel fresh, good, practicing well. So, I feel good and excited for the tournament.”

During his 12-minute interview session, Shapovalov took some time to reflect on his pandemic-interrupted 2020 season, which included three Top 10 wins – against Stefanos Tsitsipas and Alexander Zverev at the ATP Cup and David Goffin at the US Open – and a career-best No. 10 ranking, which he achieved in September.

“I feel like I have been playing some really good tennis [this year],” he said. “I am really happy with the way the season has went. I think I played really well throughout the season and I am really happy with where my game is. I feel like I have definitely improved and I feel like my level is with these [top] guys.

“If I am not able to reach Top 10 again this season, I will definitely try to go for it next season. The important thing is, I feel like my level is there with these guys and I am able to compete with anyone.”

When Shapovalov was asked what if felt like to be the No. 1 seed at an ATP Tour-level event for the first time, he said, “It is definitely amazing. I am trying not to look that much to this, of course. There are so many difficult opponents in the tournament. I think it is going to be a really tough tournament to get through.”

Already, one seed – No. 8 Marin Cilic– had fallen after the first round and now, Shapovalov was unceremoniously shown the exit in the second round.

Before the start of his match against Albot, the 6-foot-1-inch (185 cm) 165 pound (75 kg) left-handed Shapovalov acknowledged of his opponent:“Radu is a very tough opponent. The draw is very difficult. Every tournament this year has been pretty stacked, so it is definitely not an easy match.”

Finally, when a reporter asked Shapovalov what it felt like having his fellow NextGen and compatriot Felix Auger-Aliassime as the No. 2 seed in Sofia, he said “It is definitely great for Canada and for tennis in Canada. It is amazing to see us both in the top positions of the draw and hopefully this continues, inspires a lot of Canadian kids and keeps advancing the sport in the country.”

Sinner wins in his Sofia debut

World No. 44 Jannik Sinner of Italy made his Sofia Open debut a successful one with a 6-2, 6-4 win over No. 55 Marton Fucsovics of Hungary in one hour and 36 minutes in Tuesday afternoon’s featured match.

“It was quite tough,” Sinner said during a virtual international media round table after the match. He recalled the last time the two played back in January at Melbourne, when Fucsovics prevailed 6-4, 6-4, 6-3. “I had lost to [Marton] in the Australian Open in three sets. So, I knew he’s a solid player who serves well.”

Fast-forwarding to Tuesday in Sofia, Sinner reminded everyone: “First round matches are not easy. I tried to be solid.”

Sinner broke Fucsovics in the second game of the opening set on his sixth break-point opportunity, which capped a 16-point game. Although the 19-year-old NextGen ATP champion was promptly broken at love in the ensuing game, it didn’t seem to faze him in the least. Instead, Sinner went on to break Fucsovics twice more to win the set. Then, ahead 4-2 in the second set, he lost the break advantage but got it back and won on his first match-point opportunity with a nice forehand winner.

“Obviously, in the beginning of the match, we were both playing quite well, moving well. When I went up with one break, it was a little bit easier to play. But you always have to be focused. In the second set, I was a break up, but he recovered. It was just two or three points in each set that decided the match.”

Sinner converted five of 18 break-point chances and outpointed Fucsovics 77-61 to earn his 15th tour-level victory of the season in 26 matches. The Italian teenager from San Candido in South Tyrol was successful in winning 69 percent (22 of 32) of his first-serve points and aided himself tremendously by garnering points on more than half (53 percent) of his returns against Fucsovics.

Although the players are confined by a bubble-like atmosphere during their week in Sofia and unable to enjoy soaking up the cultural atmosphere of Bulgaria’s capital city, Sinner said, “I like here. I like the courts. It’s a little bit funny to be playing in front of crowds, which I’ve missed to be honest. Even if it’s not much, it’s nice to see.”

On Wednesday afternoon, Sinner will face 82nd-ranked Salvatore Caruso of Italy, who advanced Monday with a 4-6, 6-4, 6-4 win over Bulgarian wild card Dimitar Kuzmanov.

Around the Sofia Open

• No. 49 Richard Gasquet defeated No. 103 Roberto Carballes Baena of Spain, 6-3, 6-4, by winning 75 percent of his service points. Wednesday evening, Gasquet will face 399th-ranked Czech wild card Jonas Forejtek, who upset No. 8 seed Marin Cilic during Monday night’s first-round play.

• Qualifier Gilles Simon of France, ranked 62nd, defeated No. 105 Andrej Martin from Slovakia, 6-2, 6-2, taking advantage of four service breaks. Next, Simon will face No. 6 seed John Millman of Australia on Wednesday afternoon.

• No. 74 Vasek Pospisil of Canada beat No. 4 seed and 36th-ranked Jan-Lennard Struff of Germany, 6-3, 6-4, in the final match of the evening session to advance to Thursday’s quarterfinal round. Pospisil won 90 percent (28 of 31) of his first-serve points and saved the only break point he faced. Next, he will face either Simon or Millman.

• No. 1 doubles seeds Jurgen Melzer of Austria and Edouard Roger-Vasselin advanced to the quarterfinals with a 62-minute 6-2, 6-4 victory over wild cards Dimitar Kuzmanov of Bulgaria and Viktor Troicki of Serbia. However, there were upsets among seeded teams.

No. 3 seeds Max Purcell and Luke Seville, both from Australia were upset by Cilic and Tomislav Brkic of Bosnia-Herzegovina, 7-6 (4), 6-2. Then, No. 4 seeds Sander Gille and Joran Vliegen, both from Belgium, lost to Marcelo Arevalo of El Salvador and Matwe Middelkoop from the Netherlands, 6-3, 6-4.

What they’re saying

No. 2 seed Felix Auger-Aliassime of Canada, who makes his tournament debut Wednesday against 82nd-ranked Salvatore Caruso of Italy, told reporters during a virtual media press conference Tuesday afternoon that he hopes to not only play well but to also enjoy himself in his final tournament of 2020. “Being second seed here – and I have already reached three finals [this year] – I want to give myself a chance to [play for] the title again. I want to give myself a shot to win. But I have to start by winning the match tomorrow. 

“It is the end of the year and one more tournament. I will try to give everything I can,” he said.

Just two days ago, Auger-Aliassime won his first ATP Tour title in singles or doubles when he and Hubert Hurkacz of Poland won the Rolex Paris Masters title, upsetting No. 2 seeds Mate Pavic of Croatia and Bruno Soares from Brazil, 6-7 (3), 7-6 (7), 10-2.

Said Auger-Aliassime: “Physically, I am still good; I am healthy – and I am confident in my game, that I can play well and good things this week.”