Milos Raonic walked onto Arantxa Sanchez court to meet younger countryman Denis Shapovalov Thursday with a smile on his face.
He left it the same way, all smiles at the net, despite being upset by his teenaged rival 6-4, 6-4 in the third round of the Mutua Madrid Open.
“Definitely one of my best days on clay. To be on the court against such a legend for me, and for my country, it was an honour. It was fun. There was no pressure on me, obviously a lot more on him playing a young guy coming up. But, I mean, I just enjoyed myself,” Shapovalov told the media in Madrid.
“To beat him, it was a huge confidence booster for me. The match felt like everything kind of went great. I was guessing a lot the right way on his serves. When I got my racquet on them, usually they were falling in. There’s nothing to criticize about my performance today.”
The No. 1 Canadian didn’t play the best tennis of his life. But he didn’t play poorly.
The match was on the racket of his 19-year-old countryman. And Shapovalov proved himself more than up to the task on an occasion that not only had significance as an opportunity to get to another Masters 1000 quarterfinal, but to upset the conventional order of tennis in his country.
More balanced in his baseline attack than his more experienced rival, Shapovalov redlined his groundstrokes while minimizing his errors.
If that’s not a level of risk that will always work to his benefit, he made it work brilliantly on this day.
He hit 28 winners – 16 on the forehand, and made 17 unforced errors. Raonic was 14, and 14.
The 27-year-old had no answers from the back court. Worse, the depth of Shapovalov’s shots and Raonic’s inability to put enough serves into play made opportunities to come to the net on the return games rare.
On Shapovalov’s serve, Raonic opted to stand much further back against the lefty than he had in the previous round against No. 3 seed Grigor Dimitrov. Shapovalov was able to both outside corners, with angle. And more often than not, Raonic was left defending.
He earned just one break point on Shapovalov’s serve. On his own serve, Raonic was fatally passive.
Serve not effective enough
And even when he was able to get a big forehand swipe on the ball, Shapovalov returned it back at him just as hard. When he left one short, Shapovalov put it away. Raonic rarely used his slice backhand, and in the topspin backhand game, he is very much Shapovalov’s lesser.
Raonic served at an 87 percent first-serve clip in the first set. He had seven aces in his first three service games. And yet, he won a fairly pedestrian (for him) 63 per cent of those points in that set.
He probably didn’t use the body serve enough. And he rarely tried the serve-volley play.
Shapovalov put 16 returns in the court in the first set. He won 12 of those points (10 of the first 12).
In the second set, Raonic was far more effective on the first serve, losing just three of 18 points. But his percentage dropped. And of the 10 second serves he hit, he managed to win just four points.
Placid versus peppy
The body language, no surprise, was at opposite extremes between the two. Raonic was benign, never mad at himself, but also never pumping himself up. There was very little reaction at all throughout.
Shapovalov was so full of nervous energy as he bounded to the net for the coin toss, he practically ran into chair umpire Damian Steiner. But he made that energy work for him. He seemed always in control from beginning to end.
It was a performance that allowed the 19-year-old to jump up a big rung on the maturity ladder.
His elder was very gracious at the net, approaching with a smile and offering a hug. And as Raonic left the court, he nodded to Shapovalov’s mother and coach, Tessa, who was applauding him off the court.
Raonic couldn’t really be mad at himself for what he didn’t do. Although he might look at the match again and rue the things he might have done.
He took the net 11 times, but won just five of those points. Shapovalov went 6-for-7.
Edmund next up for Shapovalov
In the Madrid Open quarterfinals, Shapovalov will meet another unseeded young player in Kyle Edmund of Great Britain.
Unlike his meeting with Raonic, which was a first, Shapovalov may know Edmund better than any other player he’s faced in his brief time on Tour.
This will be the fifth meeting between them, the first on clay. In the space of less than a year, between the first round of Davis Cup in 2017 and Brisbane to start this season, they played four matches.
Only two were completed. Shapovalov defeated Edmund 6-4 in the third set last summer at Queen’s Club, on grass. Edmund returned the favour in Brisbane, beating Shapovalov 6-4 in the third.
In the third round of the US Open last September, Edmund retired after the first game of the fourth set with a back issue.
They first met in Ottawa a little more than a year ago, when Canada took on Great Britain. That was the infamous match in which a clearly overwhelmed Shapovalov, quickly down two sets, let his emotions get the better of him and fired the tennis ball that hit chair umpire Arnaud Gabas in the eye, fracturing the socket.
Fifteen months later, Shapovalov no longer seems overwhelmed or unprepared for anything.
He’ll jump to about No. 34 in the rankings with the win, virtually guaranteeing himself a seed in Paris. If he can beat Edmund, he would jump into the top 30.
Meanwhile, Edmund will make his top-20 debut on Monday. With his quarterfinal effort, he has exactly the same number of ranking points – 1,905 – as Novak Djokovic, the player he upset in the second round in Madrid. With a win, he could jump to No. 16.
It’s been a good draw for Shapovalov, who has yet to face a seed. He defeated Benoit Paire, who had already eliminated No. 15 Lucas Pouille. And then Raonic, who had dispatched No. 3 Grigor Dimitrov. And now, Edmund, who took care of Djokovic.
Edmund defeated No. 8 seed David Goffin 6-2, 6-3 in the third round. to reach the clash with the Canadian.