Federer, Shapovalov among ATP awards winners

Save

Denis Shapovalov fell just short in his quest to make the semifinals at the Next-Gen Finals in Milan Thursday.

But a few minutes later, came a small consolation prize.

The 18-year-old was voted the “Most Improved” player of the year on the ATP Tour. Shapovalov beat out top-10 players Alexander Zverev and David Goffin for the honor. Ironically, he also beat out the player he had just lost to in Milan, Russia’s Andrey Rublev.

Shapovalov also got the “Star of Tomorrow” award last month.

In another bit of irony, South African Neville Godwin won the “Coach of the Year” award for the good work he did with countryman Kevin Anderson. 

Anderson was a surprise finalist at the US Open in September.

Just a few days ago, Anderson announced that the two had parted ways after four years together.

Three prizes for Federer

Roger Federer, as has seemingly been a slam-dunk in recent years, captured both the Stefan Edberg Sportsmanship award as well as the “Fan Favorite” award.

A new addition this year was the “Comeback player of the year” award

awards

That’s 15 consecutive years for Federer and the “Fan Favorite” award. Federer has won the sportsmanship award 13 out of the last 14 years; the only exception was 2010, when Rafael Nadal took that prize.

The “Fan Favorite” award, as its name indicates, is voted on by the fans. The Sportsmanship award is voted on by Federer’s fellow players.

Other award recipients

The Bryan brothers won the “Fan Favorite” in the doubles category for the 13th consecutive year. The award has only been in existence for 13 years.

On the tournament side, the players voted for Indian Wells in the Masters 1000 category, Acapulco in the 500 category, and Doha in the 250 category as tournaments of the year.

It’s the fourth consecutive year for the big-budget BNP Paribas Open. At the 500 level, Dubai was the perennial winner, until being overtaken by Queen’s Club in 2015 and 2016 (it won the award at the 250 level in 2013 and 2014, but then was upgraded). 

Romanian doubles specialist Horia Tecau won the Arthur Ashe Humanitarian Award for his efforts in championing children’s rights & education in Romania.

The “Player of the Year” prize goes to the year-end No. 1. And so the winner, Nadal, was determined last week. He’ll receive his trophy after the 2 p.m. match between Federer and Jack Sock Sunday at the Tour Finals.

Since 2008, Nadal has won Player of the Year four times. Novak Djokovic also has won it four times, Andy Murray and Federer have taken it once each.

Draws made at Next-Gen Finals

Save

The biggest curiosity at next week’s inaugural Next-Gen finals arguably isn’t the group of eight young players who will compete in the event.

At least as much attention will be paid to all the rules changes and innovations planned for the exhibition tournament.

But there will be tennis – probably some excellent tennis even if the young guys are on fumes by now, after their long and successful campaigns.

The two round-robin pools were finalized at a launch party on Sunday (sponsored by Red Bull, of course, a beverage of choice for Next-Geners everywhere).

They could have named the pools “Federer” and “Nadal” groups. Or the “Becker” and “Chang” groups, a nod to the two youngest teenagers to win Grand Slam titles.

Or even the “Pietrangeli” and “Panatta” groups, to honor the two male Italian Slam winners.

But they’ve gone with … “Group A” and “Group B”.

(The tournament did name the various sections of the arena: #Vision, #Emotion, #Passion, #Innovation, #Speed, #Future. Tickets are available in five of the 10 sections for the opening session, and in all 10 sections for the Tuesday night session.)

Two rather formally-dressed women held up the pool group cards, and the tournament made the young guys “select” their model. A rather tone-deaf move, given all that’s going on in the world at the moment.

Group A

Andrey Rublev (RUS)
Denis Shapovalov (CAN)
Hyeong Chung (KOR)
[WC] Gianluigi Quinzi (ITA)

Group B

Karen Khachanov (RUS)
Borna Coric (CRO)
Jared Donaldson (USA)
Daniil Medvedev (RUS) 

Doubles specialists Bruno Soares and Jean-Julien Rojer were on hand to interview them.

The action begins on Tuesday.

The 2 p.m. day session kicks off with Khachanov vs. Medvedev, followed by Shapovalov vs. Chung. That is scheduled to be followed by an exhibition between the highest-ranked Next-Gen absentee, Alexander Zverev, and alternate Stefanos Tsitsipas.

Coric and Donaldson open the 7:30 p.m. night session. Rublev and home-country favorite Quinzi will follow.

Meanwhile, the Next-Geners have revealed their favorite emojis.

Coric showed everyone the bag of freebies in his hotel room (nice cutaway shot to the host hotel’s logo – yeah, a lot of this is about the benjamins).

Not to be left out, Shapovalov and Medvedev went sightseeing.

Shapovalov, Wu get Shanghai wild cards

Save

Denis Shapovalov may not be able to play Tokyo this week, because of visa issues.

But the silver lining is that he’s directly into the next Masters 1000 event in Shanghai next week.

The Shanghai Rolex Masters announced that Shapovalov and US Open junior boys’ champion Yu Wibing have been given the first two main draw wild cards into the tournament.

It begins Oct. 9.

“These two young men have produced some outstanding tennis this year and it is exciting to watch them taking their early steps on the world tour,” tournament Director Michael Luevano said in the press release.

Wu, who is just 17, went straight from winning the boys’ title in New York to winning the appropriately-named Road to the Rolex Shanghai Masters Challenger event the very next week.

Visa issues take Shapo out of Tokyo

Save

A lot of Canadian Denis Shapovalov’s fans were looking forward to his next tournament appearance at the Rakuten Japan Open in Tokyo, after he was given a wild card into the qualifying.

Unfortunately, the 18-year-old, currently ranked No. 52, pulled out at the last minute. He was replaced by alternate Franko Skugor of Croatia.

(On the good news side, the Rolex Shanghai Masters announced Saturday that Shapovalov has been given a wild card into the main draw of the Masters 1000 tournament, which takes place the week after Tokyo).

There was speculation (including here at tennis.life) that the reason was because of the Jewish holiday Yom Kippur, which falls between Friday sundown and Saturday sundown – which wouldn’t have allowed him to play if he’s observant.

But it turned out to be rather more mundane than that: visa issues.

According to the ATP, Shapovalov (who had earlier entered the Tokyo event but withdrew) did not have the correct Japanese visa to compete in the event. The wild-card card into the qualifying came late in the game, we were told.

It seems the original plan was just to go to Tokyo for some promotional work with his new sponsor, Yonex. That may have required something less than the work visa needed to compete in the tournament.

Shapovalov finally confirmed it on Sunday, via Instagram.

They had Shapovalov on the posters and everything.

There’s footage on YouTube of Shapovalov returning serves during a practice session with countryman Vasek Pospisil, and it looks like he had trouble with his right knee.

The person who posted the (undated) video said Shapovalov didn’t stop practice, though. And he continued to practice through the weekend.

He did manage to get a photo shoot in Thursday.

 

A post shared by Denis Shapovalov (@denis.shapovalov) on

That Shapovalov’s Instagram post on this got nearly 17,000 likes is evidence of his crazy-quick change in status. From 2,760 Twitter followers back in February, he’s now up to 41,000.

A year ago, the (then) 17-year-old played the series of three $100,000 Challenger events that his friend Félix Auger-Aliassime (and fellow Canadians Frank Dancevic, Brayden Schnur and Filip Peliwo) are currently taking part in. Shapovalov went 1-3 on the mini-tour, winning just one match in the qualifying of the first of the three events.

After that, he went to train in Austria with Dominic Thiem and his coach Günter Bresnik. But he rolled his ankle over there, and didn’t play any matches for the rest of the season.

The result of that is that he has zero ranking points to defend the rest of 2017. In fact, he has virtually nothing to defend until next March, when a couple of good Challenger results come up for renewal.

Crazy-busy fall schedule

It may be the last extended period of his career in which that’s the case. And with some big tournaments coming up, he can perhaps even think about getting a seed in Australia in January.

Shapovalov’s tournament plans after the US Open were unclear when he was in New York. With Davis Cup the following week, he had already played 23 weeks this season through mid-September.

It turns out he was booked nearly every week, beginning with the Laver Cup.

Despite not playing in Tokyo, he will be in action next week after receiving a wild card for the Masters 1000 tournament in Shanghai.

The week after that (Oct. 16), he’s entered in the ATP tournament in Antwerp, Belgium. After that, he also made the main-draw cut at Roger Federer’s hometown tournament in Basel, Switzerland.

The week after that? The qualifying at the Masters 1000 tournament in Paris. The week after that? He’s likely to qualify for the inaugural Next-Gen finals in Milan, Italy. 

The Laver Cup: overall, a great debut

Save

Pretty much everything Roger Federer touches turns to gold.

So why anyone would have any doubt that the first edition of the Laver Cup would be anything but a smash?

It was, on every level, a huge success. Sellout crowds, high-quality tennis, plenty of drama and emotion, a bulletproof format … and Roger and Rafa.

It was a such a perfect storm that even the absence of many top players turned out to be a plus.

Team World (Team America, really) ended up a young squad of millennials – both real and throwback. They decided to have their own private party in front of 14,000 people inside the O2 Arena, and millions more around the world.

“They had the better chants and the better moves, but in the end, Team Europe got it done,” said Laver Cup maestro Roger Federer, who pretty much notices everything and has a uniquely passive-aggressive way of letting you know.

Team World wins the “Team Fun” award

inauguralOutmatched on the court for the most part, Team World won the fun contest

The contrast between Team World and Team Europe couldn’t have been more stark.

Obviously most of the older players were on Team Europe. At times during the weekend you almost got the sense they were exchanging stock tips while Team World recreated The Floor is Lava, this summer’s trending challenge on YouTube.

Just keeping track of Frances Tiafoe’s ever-changing head gear was a trending challenge in itself. Veterans John Isner and Sam Querrey were young again. And green rookie Denis Shapovalov got more corrupted by the day. He may never be the same.

But by the very end, the last 20 minutes of the Roger Federer match, Team World stepped it up – led by an emotional and demonstrative Rafael Nadal.

inaugural
Yes, Nadal actually did this in the heat of the Sunday drama. He got a little excited.

Superb staging

The “black” court turned out to play dark gray on television. And it immediately became a visual that will always be associated exclusively with the Laver Cup. 

The ball stood out on the stark backdrop for television viewers. But the blue and red lighting around the court and in the stands prevented it from being too drab.

As well, the stark white of the high-end sponsors also stood out. Don’t think that wasn’t a huge factor as well.

They really did think of everything. One complaint fans often have when watching tennis on television is that the radar gun that measures the serves is hard to find, and often hard to see. In this setup, the numbers were big and bright and always easy to find.

inaugural

The stage where the rest of the teammates cheered was also perfectly set up. The fans could access both teams during changeovers (and even during the matches) for autographs. But if the players wanted to leave the court – especially the losers – they could do so in a straight line towards the locker room. If they didn’t want to deal with the autograph seekers, they didn’t have to.

At the WTA Tour Finals in Singapore and to a large extent at the ATP Tour Finals in London, the fans are often in the dark as the court is lit up. It makes for a bit of an isolated atmosphere although it does hide any empty seats. At the Laver Cup, the stands were lit in a way that fit in perfectly with the court. But it also allowed you to see the fans.

It was pitch-perfect. It almost didn’t even look real.

inaugural

 

Next-Gen graphics, camera angles

A company based in Sydney, Australia and Los Angeles called Girraphic was the mastermind behind the graphics, which were unlike most of what you see all season long.

They were spectacular, especially the ones superimposed on the net. 

Great variety of camera angles

The camera angles were also varied. The baseline cam (affectionately referred to as the “butt cam” because they often close in on the derrière of the player returning serve) has been used before. But rarely this often.

They also had an improved version of the net cam; Bob Feller, the legendary ESPN tennis producer, says, “stay tuned”.

Federer annihilated it at one stage, which was amusing. They had a fish-eye lens at the net that showed the entire court in a new way. There were slow-motion replays of emotional moments and Team Fun routines. It was frantic, but it didn’t feel that way.

Having the coaches on court – and the players playing coaches as well – made for far more interesting cutaways than you’ll see at a regular tournament. There, the endless go-tos are countless shots of Mirka Federer biting her lip, or Jelena Djokovic looking like she might lose her stuff at any moment, get old quickly.

They had to dim the microphones at times, given some of the cussing by Team World. (There were no such issues for Team Europe; captain Bjorn Borg said more during his trophy ceremony speech than he said on court for three days).

Trying too hard

For whatever reason, the braintrust behind the Laver Cup decided that the word “exhibition” was a bad word.

It was clear that a talking point went out to everyone to emphasize that it wasn’t an exhibition. That it didn’t feel like an exhibition. And that it meant something to these guys. They were devoted in their dedication to bringing home the Laver cup to their (country? continent? world section?). And that it meant the world to them.

The thing is, why is the word “exhibition” by definition a bad word?

That’s exactly what this was. Perhaps out of this, a new category somewhere between tournament and exhibition called “special event” may be created.

But they tried so hard. Way too hard.

It’s worth remembering that every single person trying to convince you the Laver Cup “wasn’t an exhibition” had a financial stake in the event. The players received a ton of money up front (and an additional $250,000 each for winning). Federer’s management company, Team 8, for which he is the biggest earner, made a major investment.

Everyone from the chair umpire to the all-star cast of commentators and analysts took home a nice additional paycheque for their participation. It was to the point where the commentators were making excuses for some salty language on Team World’s side with platitudes like “It just absolutely shows how much these guys want to win for Europe and the world.”

Actually, it just showed that they use profanity. As many of us do on a tennis court. As they do during the regular Tour events as well. But they’re not used to being amongst a gaggle of buddies on a tennis court with the microphones on.

Giving the players (and captain) such a pass would only happen in an exhibition. In many ways, the vibe on that level was much as it was for that first, money-heavy season of IPTL. Which was, of course, much derided as “merely an exhibition.”

Format on point

The very nature of the team format was going to make for great competition.

In a standard exhibition, where two top players fly in and out of a city for a one-nighter, they’re playing for themselves and the crowd. 

Regardless of the circumstances, if you play against two of the greatest of all time, you’re going to go all out. And if you are one of the greatest of all time, you didn’t get there by not taking it seriously every time you step on the court.

The place was packed. Everyone had fun. Everyone came out a winner. The fans loved it. Everyone made lots of money.

There is no downside, and little need to preach semantics.

The stated intention to honour the champions of the past in naming the event after Rod Laver, and having Bjorn Borg and John McEnroe as captains (neatly dovetailing with the opening of the movie based on their rivalry) put a nice, sincere veneer on what is very much a money-making enterprise.

And there’s nothing wrong with that. 

What’s ahead

The pitch-perfect execution of the inaugural edition is a double-edged sword, in a sense.

Not that this is a bad problem to have.

But it’s going to be awfully hard to duplicate – for so many reasons.

First of all, the event is going to move around. Next year, at the same time, it will take place at the United Center in Chicago.

We know this, because the Laver Cup already had a video message ready from the mayor of the city, and they had a press conference in Chicago just after noon.

The well-heeled crowd in Prague was enthusiastic but extremely civilized. It was only in the waning moments that they began to do those things the diehard fans hate, like cheering for missed first serves.

The crowd in Chicago will be quite different.

The makeup of “Team World” also will be quite different.

What a perfect world it would be if this year’s cast were playing “at home” in Chicago. Their act would play even better. And imagine, conversely, that players such as Nishikori, Murray, Raonic, Anderson and del Potro had been on “Team World” instead of Shapovalov, Kyrgios, Tiafoe, Isner and Sock.

Team Fun probably a one-off

The atmosphere would have been completely different – not nearly as lively. And John McEnroe, as captain, wouldn’t have had nearly the same positive impact. That’s going to be impossible to recreate next year.

What if, next year, Federer and Nadal aren’t blessed with the same health and good form they’ve enjoyed this year, their renaissance year? It’s inarguable that these two are definitely on a year-to-year basis, at this stage.

Without them, it’s not the same event. It’s arguably barely a top-flight event, despite the illustrious resumés of the other player options. In the special-event solar system, star power counts exponentially.

It’s also worth noting here that Djokovic, Murray and Nishikori had not committed to the Laver Cup before their injury woes. Will that change now that they’ve seen it work so amazingly well? It might. It might not.

Federer and Nadal transcend borders. The others, not nearly to the same extent. You know Federer is committed as long as he’s healthy, given his business ties. Countryman Stan Wawrinka likely would do him a solid. But did Nadal just do a one-off favour for his frenemy? We’ll find out.

They should also consider shortening the time between matches. It could run a half hour or more. We realize the need to sell merchandise and adult beverages. But with only one match to talk about, the commentators had a tough time filling. And it’s easy to lose your audience these days.

Collateral effects

Overtly or not, this event has been positioned as a potential alternative format to the century-old Davis Cup competition. That’s partly because of the weekend team format. And it’s also because of the fact that Nadal and Federer played it while skipping representing their country this year.

No doubt there are plenty of secret board meetings over at ITF headquarters. And the drama is made even more real by the fact that the USTA and Tennis Australia – two federations that run Grand Slam tournaments under the ITF umbrella – are involved in a major way. At the very least, the huge money the players were paid just to show up dwarfs the relative pittance they earn for representing their country – with far fewer weeks’ commitment.

But the effects go beyond that, right to the heart of the Tour that made all these players rich and famous.

There were two 250-level ATP Tour events the week of the Laver Cup – Metz and St. Petersburg, Russia. There are two 250-level events in faraway China this week that brush up against the end of the event, Shenzhen and Chengdu.

Stars needed at the 250s

It’s no secret that the 250-level tournaments are struggling to varying degrees. The only way they can make a good go of it is if they can attract a big name to play in the event. That draws the fans; more crucially, it also draws corporate sponsorship.

Metz and St. Petersburg were out of luck. (There was a story reporting that Djokovic had committed to the St. Petersburg tournament before he shut down his season). Tomas Berdych, who would have been the No. 3 seed in Shenzhen, pulled out before the event began. (Why he even entered it, knowing as far back as February when he was doing Laver Cup promotion in Prague with Federer that he’d likely play, is a question for him).

Shapovalov had committed to a big Challenger in Orléans this week. With his subsequent rise, he obviously was a big drawing card. He pulled out late in the game.

Tiafoe also withdrew from Shenzhen. He’s a crowd-pleaser. But it also cost him a chance to earn some ranking points which, at this stage of his career, he still needs. Denis Shapovalov had committed to a big Challenger in France this week. He only played on the Laver Cup’s opening day; he pulled out of Orléans that very day. That’s late in the game.

Tired, jet-lagged top seeds

Alexander Zverev and Dominic Thiem, the No. 1 seeds in Shenzhen and Chengdu, respectively, remain on board so far. But they’ll arrive in Asia very late, after a very long trip. And they’ve both signed on for doubles, as well.

Alexander Zverev is the top seed in Shenzhen this week, and was likely well-paid for it. He’ll arrive pretty drained, and jet-lagged, with little rest of prep time to face Steve Darcis in the second round.

They’ll be jet-lagged – and perhaps even a little hungover from the post-victory celebrations. They won’t have given themselves the best chance to win. That does them a disservice. And it also hurts the tournaments that no doubt paid them handsome appearance fees, as top-10 players, to show up.

And who knows if any other Laver Cup participants might have considered playing?

In the end, the Laver Cup seems to be here to stay. As well it should; it was all kinds of fun and, no doubt, quite profitable for all.

It’s only an exhibition. But it combines the best elements of everything tennis has to offer right now. It needs to stay.

What remains to be worked out is how it best can fit into the overall tennis landscape. Because it needs to fit. The alphabet soup of competing tennis factions all need to figure out a way to make that happen.

(All screenshots used for this post came from the Laver Cup’s livestream)

Roundup – Davis Cup WG playoffs

Save

The France vs. Serbia and Belgium vs. Australia World Group semifinals weren’t the only Davis Cup ties going on this weekend.

There were eight other crucial tussles. The winners stay in the World Group for 2018 (or earned a promotion). And the losers either were relegated to the dreaded zonals, or remain there to hope for another playoff tie in 2018.

Here’s a summary. We note which players are missing for each squad. Because the absences list is significant.

Beyond Roger Federer and Stan Wawrinka, who haven’t played Davis Cup recently (and Wawrinka, obviously, is not available), notable among the no-shows were many of the German players.

That obviously includes the Zverev brothers, Alexander and Mischa.

For Canada, Milos Raonic missed yet another Davis Cup tie. It’s a legitimate absence, after he had a procedure done on his wrist a few weeks ago. But still; they’re getting kind of used to carrying on without him at this point.

roundup

Canada: Denis Shapovalov, Vasek Pospisil, Brayden Schnur, Daniel Nestor
India: Yuki Bhambri, Ramkumar Ramanathan, Rohan Bopanna, Purav Raja

Missing: Milos Raonic, Peter Polansky (CAN), Leander Paes (IND)

The Canadian team, which seems to have had the goods to compete for the big prize the last few years, has been held back because of regular injury absences from top player Raonic.

That was the case again this weekend in Edmonton. But 18-year-old Denis Shapovalov came through and won both his singles matches. Legend Daniel Nestor and 2014 Wimbledon doubles champion Vasek Pospisil, both battered with injuries, came up with the third point in a four-set doubles win Saturday.

You would expect Raonic to be back for 2018. And Félix Auger-Aliassime is not far away from joining the team. With Vasek Pospisil still having his best tennis ahead of him at age 27 (you would hope) and Daniel Nestor around for one more year, you know the seeded nations don’t want to run into Canada in the first round.

Kazakhstan: Mikhail Kukushkin, Dmitry Popov, Aleksandr Nedovyesov, Timur Khabibulin
Argentina: Diego Schwartzman, Guido Pella, Maximo Gonzalez, Andres Molteni

Missing: Juan Martin del Potro, Leonardo Mayer, Horacio Zeballos, Federico Delbonis, Guillermo Duran (ARG). Alexander Bublik (KAZ)

The defending champions of 2016 will have to compete in the Americas zone in 2018. That just shouldn’t happen. And it’s something the ITF must address – even if its proferred solutions so far probably won’t make a whit of difference.

The key was Schwartzman, who is having the best season of his career. But he was beaten by Kukushkin, well capable of beating anyone on the day, in the fourth rubber.

As well, two Davis Cup rookies, veterans who don’t even play together, was the best they could come up with for the doubles. That also hurt.

roundup

Russia: Karen Khachanov, Andrey Rublev, Daniil Medvedev, Konstantin Kravchuk
Hungary: Marton Fucsovics, Attila Balazs, Zsombor Piros, Gabor Borsos

Missing: Mikhail Youzhny (RUS). 

The Russians went with a youth movement. And it didn’t pay off.

But despite having to crawl their way back up to the World Group in 2018, there’s no doubt a squad that features Khachanov, Rublev and Medvedev will make some waves in Davis Cup in the years to come.

It also happens, at this juncture, that they are the three highest-ranked singles players the Russians have.

Notably, Igor Kunitsyn is the Russian captain, which explains why you saw him so often around Khachanov and Rublev at the big events this season. It’s strange not to see Kamil Tarpischev snoozing on the bench. But with the youth movement arriving, it’s a good thing.

The Hungarians, led by journeyman Fucsovics, pulled off a major victory. He defeated Rublev in five sets on Friday, and Khachanov in straight sets on Sunday. For a 25-year-old who has played Davis Cup in the zonals since 2010, this may remain his career highlight – especially doing it at home.

Hungary has played Davis Cup since 1924. It has been in the World Group just twice – in 1994 and 1996. Until now.

roundup

Netherlands: Robin Haase, Tallon Griekspoor, Thiemo de Bakker, Matwe Middelkoop
Czech Republic: Jiri Vesely, Lukas Rosol, Adam Pavlasek, Roman Jebavy

Missing: Tomas Berdych, Radek Stepanek (CZE). Jean-Julien Rojer, Wesley Koolhof (NED)

The Netherlands, with just Haase in the top 250 in singles, were serious underdogs against even this diminished edition of the Czech Republic squad, which notably won the Davis Cup in 2012 and defended it in 2013.

Berdych hasn’t played since the first round in 2016 (he didn’t play at all in 2015). And Stepanek has barely been on the court for a year because of back issues.

Still, they have quality players. So to go back to the zonals is a tough blow.   

roundup

Switzerland: Henri Laaksonen, Marco Chiudinelli, Adrian Bodmer, Luca Margaroli
Belarus: Dzmitry Zhyrmont, Yaraslav Shyla, Max Mirnyi, Andrei Vasilevski

Missing: Roger Federer, Stan Wawarinka (SUI), Egor Gerasimov, Uladzimir Ignatik (BLR)

The tie was the 55th in the career of the Beast, Max Mirnyi of Belarus.

And despite being played at home in Switzerland, it was notable for the rather sparse crowd that attended. In a nation that has big tennis stars but doesn’t have an overwhelming tennis culture, the fans are led by the stars. 

Things looked especially grim when the highest-ranked player on either side, Henri Laaksonen of Switzerland, went down to unknown 24-year-old Belarussian Yaraslav Shyla (ranking: No. 390) in the first rubber.

Interestingly, Laaksonen had made a quick racket switch from his longtime Wilson (which he used at the US Open) to Technifibre. To say he had a bad day is an understatement – to take nothing away from Shyla.

Mirnyi did his job in doubles even if the two unknown Swiss took him and Andrei Vasilevski to three tiebreakers.

On Sunday, the favorites did the job. Laaksonen went back to his Wilson and forced a fifth rubber. And Marco Chiudinelli, Federer’s lifelong friend, may have played his final Davis Cup rubber in clinching the win for Switzerland.

The question, of course, is this: with Switzerland in the world group in 2018, will Federer and Wawrinka consider another run?

roundup

Croatia: Marin Cilic, Viktor Galovic, Franko Skugor, Nikola Mektic
Colombia: Santiago Giraldo, Alejandro Falla, Alejandro Gonzalez, Juan Sebastian Cabal

Missing: Borna Coric, Ivo Karlovic, Ivan Dodig, Mate Pavic (CRO). Robert Farah (COL)

It probably wasn’t easy for Marin Cilic to go all the way down to Colombia after his US Open disappointment and summer injury. But he did it.

And obviously it made all the difference in a routine win. 

Cabal was without his regular partner Farah, who is injured. But he and Falla still pushed the Croats to five sets in the doubles. It wasn’t enough.

Croatia, Davis Cup finalists last year, mercifully remain in the World Group.

roundup

Germany: Jan-Lennard Struff, Cedrik-Marcel Stebe, Tim Puetz, Yannick Hanfmann
Portugal: Joao Sousa, Pedro Sousa, Gastao Elias, Joao Domingues

Missing: Alexander Zverev, Mischa Zverev, Philipp Kohlschreiber, Florian Mayer, Dustin Brown (GER)

The Germans were missing some big faces. But they were deep enough that they were able to take care of Portugal.

The opening day was a shocker, with favored Joao Sousa losing for Portugal and favorite Struff losing for Germany. But it ended 1-1, as it probably should have. 

Elias and Sousa, who played the Olympics together in Rio, lost a heartbreaker in five sets to the pickup team of Struff and Tim Puetz. And Sousa lost another heartbreaker in five sets to Struff. That 8-6 tiebreaker in the fourth set, with Sousa up two sets to one, was everything.

roundup
The Centralito – gone from the tour, but not forgotten.

On the plus side for Portugal (not that it will make them feel any better), the Centralito was back in action.

No longer used since the ATP Tour event in Portugal relocated, it remains one of the most picturesque courts in tennis.

roundup

Japan: Yuichi Sugita, Go Soeda, Yasatuka Uchiyama, Ben McLachlan
Brazil: Thiago Monteiro, Guilherme Clezar, Marcelo Melo, Bruno Soares

Missing: Kei Nishikori, Taro Daniel, Yoshihito Nishioka (JAP). Rogerio Dutra Silva, Thomaz Bellucci, Joao Souza (BRA)

With Brazil winning the doubles – finally being played early Monday morning in Japan – this World Group playoff tie was the last one to be live. Yuichi Sugita put it away with a straight-sets win over Thiago Monteiro.

Typhoon rain washed out play in Osaka Saturday. And the government wouldn’t allow play to go on Sunday because of a typhoon red alert.

At 25, ranked No. 141, McLachlan actually is the highest-ranked Japanese doubles player.

The story? Well, he was born in New Zealand. And raised in New Zealand. But two weeks ago, he switched his allegiance to Japan, which he can do because his mother Yuriko is Japanese. 

Another player who might have suited up for Japan, Akira Santillan, has returned to his Australian roots after a few years representing Japan.

The 2018 World Group draw will be made Wednesday morning in London. It’ll be pretty interesting to see where everyone falls.

roundup

For more on this weekend’s Davis Cup ties, go to their website.

Shapovalov to carry the load for Canada

Save

NEW YORK – The Canadian Davis Cup team nominations for next week’s World Group playoff tie against India will be announced shortly.

And the pressure of keeping the nation in the World Group for 2018 will fall squarely upon the shoulders of 18-year-old Denis Shapovalov.

Milos Raonic is on the shelf after a procedure on his wrist. Vasek Pospisil is dealing with a disc problem in his back. So that may curtail his participation in the tie, or at least limit it.

Peter Polansky declined. The venerable Daniel Nestor, who turned 45 Monday, has struggled to win matches this summer. Not only that, he has lost four of his last five Davis Cup doubles rubbers, with various partners.

Shapovalov
Pospisil has a bad back, and Raonic is out with a wrist problem. So Canada’s two best Davis Cup singles assets will essentially be missing. (Stephanie Myles/Tennis.Life)

So, it will be up to the teenager who took the tennis world by storm over the last month. Shapovalov made the semifinals at the Rogers Cup in Montreal. And then he made a star-making run from the qualifying to the fourth round of the US Open over the last two weeks.

Nominations Tuesday

The team is expected to be Shapovalov, Pospisil, Nestor and … Brayden Schnur, who will be making his Davis Cup debut.

It’s a tough ask. On the plus side, the Indian squad is far from a top-10 nation.

Shapovalov

Team India doesn’t have a single player ranked in the top 150 in singles. Ramanathan is the highest-ranked at No. 155. Bhambri is No. 158, and Myeni is at … No. 490.

Bopanna is the top-ranked Indian doubles player at No. 17. But if you thought maybe they would go hard to try to win the doubles rubber, they have left three top-100 doubles players off the four-man roster. Divij Sharan, Purav Raja and the legendary Leander Paes are left off the list.

The tie will be played on an indoor hard court in Edmonton, out in the western (and northern) part of the country. And most of the Canadian squad is expected to assemble there this weekend.

Pospisil’s back is back

Pospisil retired after one set of his first-round match at the US Open against Fernando Verdasco. And he pulled out of the doubles as well.

He has been the player who often carried the squad when Milos Raonic was unavailable due to injury – which has been most of the last three years. But Pospisil has his own career to think about; the 27-year-old has been dealing with back issues on and off the last few years. And the last thing he needs is another extended period out of action.

Shapovalov

If not Pospisil, who?

The powers-that-be have evidently decided that the other Canadian teenage phenom, Félix Auger-Aliassime, will continue to play a series of Challengers in Europe. It might be time to put in a call to Frank (The Tank) Dancevic, in that worst-case scenario.

No rest for weary Shapovalov

What Shapovalov probably needs, after the physically and mentally draining month he’s had, is a week on the beach somewhere. But he has to continue pushing on. 

But not only will he be counted on to win both his singles matches – both best-of-five sets, as at the US Open – he will then head straight to Prague after an invitation by captain John McEnroe to represent “Team World” at the Laver Cup against the likes of Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal.

It’s a lot to ask of himself, with so many opportunities still available this fall to improve his ranking even more – and perhaps even think about being seeded at the Australian Open next January.

Shapovalov’s dream US Open ends

Save

NEW YORK – It was going to end, eventually.

For 18-year-old Canadian Denis Shapovalov, the end of the dream run came Sunday, in the round of 16 at the US Open.

The teenager lacked some of his previous spark in a 7-6 (2), 7-6 (4), 7-6 (3) loss to No. 12 seed Pablo Carreño Busta.

As it happens, the Spaniard was – and is – the highest-ranked player remaining in the bottom half of the draw. And so, on paper, he’s the favorite to make the final.

On Sunday, he played a quality, consistent match even while he showed plenty of emotion and bellowed plenty of “Vamos!” along the way.

Shapovalov an Ashe veteran

It’s emblematic of the US Open Shapovalov has had that this was his third consecutive appearance on Arthur Ashe Stadium. For Carreño Busta, 26, a top-20 player and a quarter-finalist at Wimbledon this year, it was the first time in his singles career he’d ever had a rendez-vous on the biggest stage in tennis.

On the other side, the Canadian appeared to finally show the effects of the three extra matches he had to play in the qualifying just to get to the main draw.

“I think I had a lot of chances. I don’t think I played as well today as I have been these past two weeks, but, I mean, that’s tennis. It’s going to happen. I think Pablo played a very great match. He stayed very tough mentally in the big points. Yeah, he just played three tiebreaks that were better than mine. I was up in the first, up in the third. I definitely had my chances. Very disappointed that I wasn’t able to keep my leads,” Shapovalov said.

“But, you know, at the end of the day, it’s tennis. I still have a lot of things to learn. Yeah, so hopefully I can come back and, you know, hopefully one day I can make it further here.”

First set crucial for the kid

Shapovalov was up 5-2 in the first set, and served for it at 5-3. He also had set points at 5-6 on Carreño-Busta’s serve. But he couldn’t put that first one on the board.

And on this day, given how high the odometer had run on his legs and heart, it was crucial.

“At the beginning I was a little bit scared, maybe a little bit nervous. But after, when he broke me, I talk to my coach. I don’t know if he heard me, because there was a lot of noise. But I told to him that I can win the match, but I need to be very aggressive because he plays really good,” Carreño-Busta said. “And I just try to do it. I continue fighting all the times with 5-2 in the first set, with 6-5, 15-40 in the first set.

“And then in the tiebreaks, I just play perfect. I played very aggressive. I served really good. It was very tough, because three hours, three sets, three tiebreaks, but of course it was an amazing victory for me,” he added.

Shapovalov never stopped fighting, or running, or trying. But it was clear that he had none of the same zip that brought him to the middle Sunday. 

dream

Energizer bunny runs out of gas

It was in the eyes. All week Shapovalov’s baby blues had been wide open and eager. On Sunday, that spark was gone. He’s a player who expends a whole lot of energy – both physical, and emotional – in every match. That’s something he will learn to manage better with time.

But the fact that he had clearly hit the wall and still took the No. 12 seed to three tiebreaks and nearly three hours speaks well for him.

On his way out, Shapovalov stopped, dropped his bags, and walked to the center of the court to acknowledge the Arthur Ashe Stadium crowd – in much the same way after coming out on the winning end.

“Favorite memory in the past ten days? Honestly, I think it was the sound, the roar of the crowd when I put my bags down and I went to applaud them. Yeah, they were all screaming. It was so loud, and it was a great moment for me,” he said. “It really has a special place in my heart, and, you know, now New York for sure, it will always have a special place for me. Hopefully I can come back here for many more years, and just try to do some damage.”

Unknown a month ago

Carreño-Busta said he hadn’t even heard of Shapovalov until the Rogers Cup in Montreal. There, the Canadian upset Carreño-Busta’s countryman, frequent practice partner and great friend Rafael Nadal.

“I watch him playing against Rafa, and he made unbelievable match. He won really good matches too, not just against Rafa. And in this tournament, he beat Tsonga and other good players. So he maybe is on fire, no? He’s playing with a lot of confidence and he’s very young, so in the future, he will be one of the best,” he said. 

Shapovalov leaves New York with another $235,000 in prize money to add to the $220,760 he won in reaching the semifinals of the Rogers Cup.

He’ll be just outside the top 50 when the new rankings come out a week from Monday. And in terms of the rest of the season and the fall Asian swing, that’s a game-changer.

He also leaves having added a whole legion of fans. At some point, that hanging chad on the front of his backwards ballcap is going to become the “Shapo chapeau“.

Shapovalov eases through first round

Save

FLUSHING MEADOWS – Denis Shapovalov, the 18-year-old making his US Open main-draw debut, wasn’t up against a seeded player or a top gun.

Still, 21-year-old Daniil Medvedev is three years older than the Canadian. And, relatively speaking, he has a lot more experience.

Medvedev defeated Stan Wawrinka in the first round at Wimbledon this year, and played his first career five-set match in the next round (in a losing effort).

So it was fairly surprising that the younger of the two Next-Gen contenders had such a relatively drama-free, straight-sets win in the first round of the US Open Monday.

Shapovalov won, 7-5, 6-1, 6-2 before a packed house in Court 7 and earned a date in the second round with No. 8 seed Jo-Wilfried Tsonga of France.

He got some help in the third set, when Medvedev double-faulted three times in a row at 2-2 and pretty much handed it over to his younger opponent.

“I think I played a very good match. Stayed very solid from beginning to the end. I had a couple fall-throughs, being a break up, having him break back. I did a good job of staying mentally solid on those situations and getting the break when I needed it,” Shapovalov said.

“He actually, I think, fought pretty well in the (first set). Second he had a little bit of a letdown, I thought. But, yeah, I don’t know. He was a little bit up and down today. He broke me back in the third. Then he gave me the game with three doubles. Thank you to him for that,” Shapovalov added, smiling. “I was ready for everything. I knew he could come and fight in the second and third. So I just did a good job of staying focused, playing my game, just trying to take it to him from the first point till the last.”

Once again, there was a mad rush on Shapovalov after the match. The crowds were fairly big even during qualifying. And at some moments, the teenager looked a little overwhelmed by it.

The security looked to be stepped up now that the main event has begun. And Shapovalov had a couple of guys sticking very close to him as they navigated their way off the court and back to the locker room.

He’s done a lot of interviews, gotten a lot of publicity. And it’s just getting started.

Next up is Tsonga

Shapovalov will likely get a much bigger court against Tsonga for their match on Wednesday. One more step up.

“Jo has been on the tour forever. I grew up watching him play, just like I did with Rafa and DelPo. It’s a match I’m going in with nothing to lose. Obviously the pressure is more on him,” he said. “I’m just hoping to have a good fight, a good match. It’s going to be very tough. He’s an incredible player. He’s achieved so much in his career. It’s going to be a good test for me once again.”

This summer, Tsonga is also a player who hadn’t won on the North American summer swing until he defeated Marius Copil of Romania Monday in his own first-round match. He dropped his first matches in both Montreal and Cincinnati.

Denis Shapovalov qualifies in New York (video)

Save

NEW YORK – The qualifying at the US Open can be a mine field for the top seeds.

And for players like Canadian Denis Shapovalov, who would be straight into the main draw had this week’s rankings been the criteria, it’s even tougher.

No. 1 qualifying seed Leonardo Mayer of Argentina was in the same boat as Shapovalov. His current ranking was more than enough to get him into the main draw; but he got it there too late.

And Mayer lost on Friday to Germany’s Maximilian Marterer. (He did get in as the lucky loser, a spot made available when Shapovalov’s countryman Milos Raonic withdrew).

Shapovalov

No. 4 seed Sergiy Stakhovsky, who has some solid Grand Slam scalps, was beaten in the final round by a 23-year-old Czech named Vaclav Safranek.

In the end, only three of the top 10 seeds in the qualifying made it through, and only seven seeds overall out of 16 qualifiers.

Everything to lose

Your mind is half thinking you shouldn’t even have to play, even though you do your best to shut it out. Meanwhile, your opponents are all players in the range where making it to the main draw and guaranteeing at least $50,000 in prize money is a game changer.

The 18-year-old Canadian lost the first set against just such a player – 27-year-old Jan Satral of the Czech Republic.

Ranked No. 196, Satral had earned just over $62,000 this season coming into the US Open. And so he would nearly double that by making the main draw in New York.

That’s something he has done just once in his career. It happened here a year ago. And then he overcame a two-sets-to-none deficit in his first round to win that. Since then, he has lost a couple of heartbreakers in the final round of qualifying at both the Australian and French Opens.

To put that in perspective, Shapovalov made nearly as much in one week in Montreal than Satral has earned in nearly eight years as a pro.

But he got through it. And it was bedlam, by qualifying standards, after the win, which came before a packed house on Court 13.

It was just as bad after the second round, with less protection around him.

Step one done, Medvedev next

Now, in the first round, he’ll face another Next-Gen player in Daniil Medvedev of Russia.

Medvedev, just 21, is ranked near his career best of No. 48, at No. 53.

Here’s Shapovalov on various subjects: being determined to survive the qualifying, how his life has changed, and playing Laver Cup among the legends.