Shapovalov Feeling It On The Court In Dubai

Denis Shapovalov (photo: DDF Tennis)

DUBAI/WASHINGTON, March 17, 2021 (by Michael Dickens)

Denis Shapovalov enjoyed a very good day at the office today. He was feeling it out on the court. Lately, he’s been having more good days than bad.

On Wednesday afternoon, the personable, 21-year-old Canadian reached the quarterfinal round of the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships with a comprehensive 6-4, 6-3 win over 13th-seeded Hubert Hurkacz of Poland, following up on his straight-set win a day earlier against Germany’s Jan-Lennard Struff. First on Centre Court at the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Stadium against Hurkacz, the No. 3 seed Shapovalov won 90 percent of his first-serve points, faced just one break point on his serve and was not broken in any of his nine service games. Also, he hit 26 winners, including five aces, committed just nine unforced errors and outpointed his opponent 68-47. The numbers all added up in Shapovalov’s favor.

While Shapovalov’s win against the 35th-ranked Hurkacz represented just his fifth victory of the 2021 season in nine outings spanning four tournaments, one could sense from watching the World No. 12 that everything was coming together for him during the hour and 17 minutes he was on court. The young lefty with the free-swinging, powerful forehand is turning a corner. That’s because in Shapovalov’s 200th career main draw match he’s into his 21st quarterfinal appearance (16 on hard courts, three on clay and one on grass). The Canadian’s championship trophy haul remains at one, 2019 indoors at Stockholm.

“For sure, I’ve been playing some really good tennis,” Shapovalov said during his virtual press conference, just minutes after left Centre Court with the third-round victory. “I’ve struggled with Hubert in the past – he’s such a great player – so I’m happy to get my first win against him. I was just really feeling it in the most important points.”

To illustrate Shapovalov’s point, he broke Hurkacz three times with the first two coming early in each set, which allowed the Canadian to enjoy the luxury of playing from ahead much of the match. The final service break closed out the win at love.

When Shapovalov was asked by David Law, co-host of The Tennis Podcast what makes him come out on the court and feel it – and does he know it’s going to happen? – the Canadian responded by saying, “Every day is different. Just because I felt it yesterday and, again, today doesn’t mean I’ll feel it tomorrow. I’m just going to go out on the court and have the trust I do to find a way to win and fight every point.”

On Thursday, Shapovalov will oppose No. 54 Jeremy Chardy of France, who advanced with a 6-7 (3), 6-4, 6-4 win over No. 8 seed Karen Khachanov of Russia. Following his win, Chardy praised Shapovalov, calling him “one of the best players on tour. I think he has all the future in front of him.”

Shapovalov said he’s put in a lot of good work with a good training block with his coach, Mikhail Youzhny, and his team following the Australian Open. He resurfaced last week in Doha and beat fellow Canadian Vasek Pospisil in straight sets before losing to Taylor Fritz of the United States, 5-7, 6-3, 7-5. He feels his body and mind are in a good place right now. “I feel confident in my game and how I’m feeling physically,” he said. “I have to just fight every match – every point – and that’s what I did today and yesterday. I was just playing every point. Through repetition of hitting, footwork, movement.”

When one reporter reminded Shapovalov of the 21 quarterfinals at age 21 feat, he smiled and offered this self-assessment: “I think it is what it is. Of course, you want to play every final and win every tournament. That’s just how it is. … I’m not trying to think about the past at all. I play every tournament and focus on what I can do right now.

“On one side of it, I feel truly blessed and amazed I’m able to be so high in the rankings at [age] 21, but the athletic and professional inside of me wants to keep going forward and wants to break the Top 10, again, and climb all the way up the rankings. … I’m always hungry to get better and move forward.

“Growing up, you always imagine and wish to be as good as possible. I never imagined to have such a good run so early in my career. It’s hard to imagine being able to play this good early in my career. Like any other player, I’m just trying to keep going forward and keep getting better and improve as a player.”

While Shapovalov was asked his preference of playing during the afternoon or at night – reminded that he’s been scheduled first on court each of the past two days – he confessed to being a night owl, preferring to play at night. “That’s where my peak is. But as long as it’s not too early in the morning I feel fine,” he said. “Honestly, when you’re first on and do get the win, you have the whole rest of the day ahead of you. You’re not nervous anymore, you can relax. I do like playing at night, but the two o’clock has suited me this week. It’s been good.”

When Tennis TourTalk asked Shapovalov what he learns and gains from a satisfying win, such as what he achieved against Hurkacz, he said: “It’s a good reminder for myself – and my team – what level I can play. It’s about making that level more solid and making that level come out more often. I feel like I have been able to do that. I’m confident because I’ve put a lot of work into it in practice. I do believe in myself. For sure, it’s something that, hopefully, one day I’ll be able to play on this level consistently and that’s obviously what we strive for.”