June 18, 2024

Open Court

MORE TENNIS THAN YOU'LL EVER NEED

Clay-averse Shapo to Roland Garros third round

ROLAND GARROS – As Canadian Denis Shapovalov was reviewing his impressive 6-7 (4), 6-4, 6-2, 6-4 win over No. 25 seed Frances Tiafoe on Thursday, he brought out the trope that most North American players go to when discussing this dirty part of the season.

It’s typically some variation of “Well, clay isn’t my surface, so ….”

So Open Court asked the question: “What do you think you’d have to do to MAKE it be your surface, for you to go, “Oh, I just can’t wait to get on that clay!!!”

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Could that ever be a thing? It’s not as though Shapovalov didn’t make the boys’ semifinals here. And his career winning percentage on the clay (51.5%, coming into Paris), is better than it is on grass and not so far away from his 55.6% win rate on hard courts albeit over a much larger sample size.

“I need to come back in another life or as somebody else – maybe a European or someone,” Shapovalov said. “Yeah. This is never going to happen for me. No.”

And yet, Shapovalov has had some impressive runs in Rome – a semifinal in 2020, quarterfinal in 2022. He reached the Madrid semifinals in 2018 and reached the third round this year, beating solid Argentine clay-counters Facundo Diaz Acosta and Tomas Martin Etcheverry en route.

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So if the mindset is a little negative, Shapovalov is into the third round at Roland Garros, as he was a year ago before getting a dirt lesson from Carlos Alcaraz.

“First of all, to play two matches and feel physically really good is a huge step forward because in Rome, after the match against (Luciano) Darderi, I needed a week off. I didn’t want to see a court. I was super tired,” Shapovalov said. “To to come back to Roland-Garros and feel physically strong and to be in the third round of a Slam again, it definitely means a lot to me and the team. We’ve put in a crazy amount of work, so it’s great that It’s paying off for sure.”

Not too pleased with Big ‘Foe

If Shapovalov was jovial talking about the win, he went stone-faced when asked about the significant (or non-significance) of a terse handshake at the end of the match.

Perhaps the questioner hadn’t seen the match, which featured a very testy moment between the two early on.

“Well, I got hit in the face,” Shapovalov said.

It didn’t hurt, he said; there was so much adrenaline flowing.

“No, I wasn’t happy with it. But it’s tennis, so you can do what you want,” Shapovalov said. “Look, I’m sure we’ll be fine in a couple of days. Obviously, heat of the moment, it’s not fun, but we’ll get through it.”

A bigger problem for Tiafoe is that he had 20 break-point opportunities. He converted … one. That’s actually pretty hard to (not) do.

Next up – Hurkacz

To get to the second week, Shapovalov will have to get past a player who – while also not known for his love of clay – he has never beaten.

They have played five times – always on outdoor hard courts. And Shapovalov prevailed only in Dubai in 2021.

“Hubie” is a tough, tough opponent. He’s a great competitor, and he’s won a lot of tough matches this year. It’s going to be a tough battle out there. Obviously, I’m the underdog, and this isn’t my surface, so I don’t really have much to lose,” Shapovalov said. “I’m just going to go out there and compete and give him my best. So, yeah, we’ll see how it goes. Definitely try my best.”

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