July 12, 2024

Open Court


Rather than give up on clay, Shapovalov will try to master it

PARIS – The feelings most North American players have for the European red clay are fairly well-documented.

Disdain? Fear? Annoyance? Abject lack of curiosity? A defeatist attitude?

Whatever it is, a lot of Americans delay that trip to Europe in the spring as long as possible. 

Part of that is the fact that with the two Grand Slams, Roland Garros and Wimbledon, within a month of each other and all the tournaments leading up to them, there’s no time to return home.

And so, if a three-month road trip can be cut down to two, so much the better on a surface most don’t feel they have a legitimate opportunity to do damage on.

Canadian Denis Shapovalov has the opposite mindset.

He entered a clay-court event every single week but one this spring. And it’s paying off – big time.

Here’s Shapovalov practicing on the weekend, with coach Martin Laurendeau and an entire team of folks.

First Roland Garros main draw

Shapovalov lost in the first round of the French Open qualifying a year ago, to Marius Copil of Romania.

He returns a year later as a seeded player – No. 24 – and will play his first-round match against Australia’s John Millman on the second-biggest court at Roland Garros, Suzanne-Lenglen.

Here’s what he had to say about his clay journey, during a pre-tournament availability over the weekend.

Shapovalov said he watched a lot of video of Rafael Nadal after the early losses on clay in Monte Carlo and Budapest.

If he had been trying too hard to play “clay-court tennis” – whatever he thinks that entails – he realized that he could play his own aggressive brand of tennis on the dirt and be successful, as Nadal does. And that he could use his leftyness to even more advantage.

Touching down in Madrid, where the altitude makes the court quicker and rewards that aggressive game, came at the perfect time for the Canadian.

Tuesday against Millman, a tough customer who will try to grind him out, he’ll put that to the test.

But Shapovalov said that even if he loses first round (and yes, he has looked ahead in the draw to what might lie ahead), he will still consider this clay-court season a success.

And then he’ll move on to the grass where – again – he’s entered in a tournament every single week.

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