Since the heady days of Denis Shapovalov’s North American summer, the victories have been a lot harder to come by.
And the Canadian teenager certainly didn’t get his 2018 season off to an ideal start in Brisbane Tuesday.
Shapovalov was defeated 6-7 (5), 7-6 (4), 6-4 by Kyle Edmund. The Canadian has played just 30 ATP Tour-level matches, and he was facing the 22-year-old Brit for the fourth time in less than a year.
It was very close, and it took 2 1/2 hours even if Shapovalov could well have lost the first set.
He double-faulted to hand the break to his opponent at 4-4. But when Edmund served for the first set, Shapovalov roared back and broke, then took the set in a tiebreak.
Edmund the more patient player
Shapovalov was in trouble from the start of the third set, broken at the outset, and couldn’t catch up.
The 18-year-old out-aced Edmund 18-5. But he could convert just one of six break-point opportunities, while Edmund had fewer chances but a much better success rate (2-of-3).
The Brit doesn’t have the same high-level weapons on court that Shapovalov has. But he is patient. And he hits the ball hard enough. As well, he has a slice that can mix things up. And he’s willing to block back returns to at least get the point started on a tough first serve.
That’s something Shapovalov has not yet incorporated into his arsenal.
Late in the match, the Canadian was trying to pull the trigger too early, while Edmund stayed the course on a day that featured very tough conditions.
In the match on Pat Rafter Arena that preceded their encounter, Spain’s Garbiñe Muguruza went into a full-body cramp and was forced to retire.
That it would be that close isn’t all that surprising. Two of their three encounters in 2017 didn’t have a proper ending, so it was difficult to judge. Edmund won by default in that infamous Davis Cup tie in Ottawa in February, after Shapovalov fractured chair umpire Arnaud Gabas’ orbital bone with a ball struck in frustration.
At the US Open, it was Edmund who retired early in the fourth set.
The one match they did complete, won by Shapovalov at Queen’s Club last June, went 7-6 (4), 4-6, 6-4.
Edmund is ranked No. 51; Shapovalov one behind him, at No. 51.
Wins hard to come by
Shapovalov has been very, very busy since he qualified and reached the round of 16 at the US Open.
In fact, he has barely stopped.
He went from New York, to Davis Cup in western Canada, and right to the Laver Cup in Prague.
Shapovalov only played one match there. But he then went to Asia. At that point, a wrap began to appear just below his right knee.
His first stop was Tokyo, which he had originally entered but then didn’t play. He did practice, and do some promotional work for his new racket sponsor.
Given a wild card in Shanghai, he lost in the first round. He also lost first round in Antwerp, Belgium the following week. And, after he defeated Yuichi Sugita in a third-set tiebreaker in the first round of Basel the week after that, he lost to France’s Adrian Mannarino in the next round.
Milan debut a struggle
Shapovalov lost in the first round of the Paris Masters to French veteran Julien Benneteau the week after that. And then, the week after that, he lost two of his three matches at the Next-Gen Finals in Milan.
The only match Shapovalov managed to pull out was against Italian wild card Gianluigi Quinzi, who had toiled the previous week in a wild-card playoff and arrived at the main event on fumes, with not much more left but a big heart.
The kid didn’t have much of a break in that elusive notion in tennis known as an off-season.
He went right back to work at the IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla.
By the end of his preseason, Shapovalov had wraps on both his knees.
All of which to say, the kid has run himself ragged the last six months. And the victories have been hard to come by – not that he wasn’t already fully aware that the cloud he was on late in the summer wasn’t something sustainable.
He’ll have another chance in Auckland next week, before his first official Australian Open.