WIMBLEDON – Canadian Denis Shapovalov’s first-round match in his second Wimbledon was, on paper, a tough one.
And so it proved to be in reality.
But the No. 26 seed raised his game and produced a top-quality performance to defeat French veteran Jérémy Chardy 6-3, 3-6, 7-5, 6-4 to advance to the second round.
“Against Jeremy, I knew it was going to be a very difficult match coming into it. He’s played exceptional tennis on grass this season, so, yeah, I knew it was going to be difficult. I thought during the match I had a lot of chances that actually I didn’t convert but I stayed calm and waited for the right moments,” Shapovalov said.
“Yeah, surely enough I got them. A big set was the third set where, you know, it kind of gave me the break in the set at the end. But I was putting a lot of pressure on all of his service games. So I think I played him really well. Yeah, I’m very happy with my performance.”
Chardy had a shot, early in the third set at 1-1, with 15-40 on Shapovalov’s serve. A break there would have given him momentum after taking the second set.
But Shapovalov saved both points. And after that, though it was tight, the even-steven feeling about the matchup began to swing Shapovalov’s way.
Another Frenchman next up
In the second round, Shapovalov will meet another Frenchman, the whimsical Benoit Paire.
Shapovalov has practiced a lot with Paire. He knows first-hand that he’s a tricky customer at the best of times even if he doesn’t appear to be 100 per cent.
Paire was reportedly a question mark coming into his first-round match against Jason Jung of Taipei (and Torrance, Calif.). The tape job around his left knee that practically looked like a cast bore witness to his issue.
Playing on despite an injury is a calculated risk with the new rules in place about withdrawals. Had Paire not been fit to play, lost in a rout, or retired before he finished the match, he might have been in line to get a “Mischa Zverev” fine.
Zverev was the first to pay the price for the new rule, when he was ill in Australia, lost first round, and was dinged with a record penalty.
In the hinterlands of Court 16
The Chardy-Shapovalov match was scheduled as a “to be arranged – not before 5 p.m.”.
That meant that the players not only had to wait around all day to play, expecting the start would be significantly later than that. They also did not know what court they would play on until very close to the match time.
In theory, those matches are held back in case there’s a retirement or several quick matches on one of the main show courts.
(The other “TBA” match, Jelena Ostapenko vs. Katy Dunne, ended up on Centre Court).
With the men being best-of-five sets, and the matches not going all that quickly on the big courts, the goal then became to ensure the match would finish before darkness.
And so Shapovalov was told that he would go on Court 14 or Court 16, whichever became available first.
At that time of day, on that court (not nearly as pristine as the big show courts, it’s a bit of a different Wimbledon. The Hawkeye challenging system also isn’t available.
“It was a little bit of a weird court with the sun and, you know, going down. At some point there was like a lane, you know, with the sunlight, and I couldn’t see anything on that side,” Shapovalov said.
“Some of the bounces were weird, too. When he was serving short on one side it was bouncing really high, but then if he was serving a bit deeper the ball was just not bouncing at all. It was pretty tough conditions to return, but at the end of the day it goes both ways. We both struggled with it.”
Standing (or perching) room only
The other issue with a popular player and a small court is gridlock.
With so few seats available, fans were hanging everywhere they could just to get a glimpse of the next big thing.
It’s also hard to get seats for the players’ teams and families on those small courts. That was evidenced by the fact that Gabriella Taylor’s parents had to sit right next to Genie Bouchard’s coach and physical trainer for their daughter’s Wimbledon main draw debut.
There were people everywhere around Court 16. Some were hopping up in some rather precarious places before the Wimbledon safety enforcement officials came along to politely urge them to stand down.