April 10, 2024

Open Court

MORE TENNIS THAN YOU'LL EVER NEED

Popcorn Time: Alcaraz vs Shapovalov in Paris

ROLAND GARROS – The moment the third-round clash between world No. 1 Carlos Alcaraz and Canadian Denis Shapovalov was confirmed, it felt like destiny that it would be the “le Night Session” match at Roland Garros Friday (8:15 p.m. CET; 2:15 p.m. EDT).

And so it came to be.

And if the surface on which it is to be played very much favors the favorite, it’s also the type of big occasion that the 23-year-old Canadian feeds off.

Not only that, it’s very much a bonus; a few weeks ago it wasn’t even clear that Shapovalov would even be in Paris, after withdrawing from Rome and Geneva leading up to the big event because of a long-time problem with his left knee.

It has held up, through a five-set, 3h47 win over American Brandon Nakashima. And then a four-set victory over Italy’s Matteo Arnaldi two days later.

He was surprised that he woke up the morning after the Nakashima match with no pain. And to have none heading up to the match against Arnaldi.

“Luckily, they said for now surgery is pretty rare. That would be the last-case resort. So, luckily, it’s not that,” Shapovalov said of the knee issue, without getting into details. “But, yeah, it’s a lot of rehab and a lot of strengthening and just getting the body stronger and stronger in all the areas around my leg.”

Hopefully, that will continue Friday night, when these two meet for the first time.

Huge fan of Carlitos

Shapovalov won’t even be able to work up a little hate for his opponent; he said he’s a “huge fan” of the 20-year-old Spaniard, and can learn a lot from him about how to deal with expectations.

“I think he wears (his heart) on his sleeve really well. I think he’s a great guy. He’s super humble for achieving what he has at such a young age. You can see how much he enjoys being on the court and the situations that are coming forward to him. You know, he’s not in an easy spot being No. 1 and so young and so much noise around him,” Shapovalov said.

“I really look up to him. I think he is also just a nice guy. I mean, in the locker rooms he’s always saying Hi. He’s always been polite since he came onto the scene. I think he has a great team around him. Everyone around him knows the tour really well.”

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Learning from the younger player

Shapovalov didn’t necessarily have the luxury of having a world-class, experienced team around him as he was coming up. It was a far different situation, having to scramble on his own with the help of his coach/mom Tessa, always trying to figure out how to afford the next move and how to get where he wanted to go.

But he got there – and then, the expectations hit. They didn’t just come from fans and pundits; they come from within as well, and Shapovalov has had to learn on the fly.

If anything, this difficult season has hastened the learning curve, even as he is about to turn 24.

“There’s a lot of pressure. In general whenever you have results, then you get expectations and then there’s a lot of pressure behind it. That’s why I said I respect Alcaraz a lot, because he’s been able to deal with the noise very well thus far,” Shapovalov said. “He’s not just handling it. He’s really enjoying being in that situation, you know, which I don’t think everybody really does. So it’s just something I’ve had to kind of learn to – or learning, still, not to focus too much on the
results.”

In addition to the knee, Shapovalov also arrived in Paris no doubt fully aware that he has not had great results here – even if he has had his moments on clay and reached the junior Roland Garros semifinals back in 2016.

Alcaraz expects a tough one

The smiling Alcaraz expects a challenge Friday night, in his first clash with the Canadian.

“I practiced in Barcelona with him. But everybody knows his level. He’s a really dangerous player. He has great shots. It’s going to be really difficult, really difficult match. I have to be ready on that, really focused on his shots,” he said. “But as I said a lot of times, I always try not to, you know, think about the opponent. I always try to think about me, about myself, you know, about my game, and try to put it into the match.”

Zero expectations

Shapovalov is choosing to look at the positive in terms of having the knee injury.

If anything, it allowed him to come into this Grand Slam tournament with few expectations. And given his rather lacklustre results in Paris, that’s a good thing.

He’s also in his first baby steps with a new coach, Matt Daly, who has only been part of the team for a few weeks. And most of that time, Shapovalov wasn’t even playing.

“Having a week like this week where there’s zero expectations because I’m just coming to see how I am physically, that’s almost when you produce your best tennis. So that’s kind of a lesson to myself and how I have to kind of keep going,” Shapovalov said. “. Not think too much that, because I’m playing well or I have a certain result, now I need to keep it up. But I just need to focus on myself and try to do the best. I think the results come on their own.”

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