Shapovalov touches down at the Oz Open

MELBOURNE, Australia – The decision-making about Grand Slam tuneup events is a “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” sort of call.

If you sign up for both weeks, and you’re a good player, the tennis gods might have it in for you. You’ll do well both weeks and might come into the major a little overcooked.

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But if you choose to only play one tournament – and you’re bounced early – you might end up a little underdone.

So the state of Canadian teenager Denis Shapovalov’s game coming into the Australian Open is all to be discovered.

A year ago, the then-18-year-old played both Brisbane and Auckland but got just three matches. He lost to Kyle Edmund in the first round in Brisbane and to Juan Martin del Potro in the second round in Auckland.

He then came to Melbourne and defeated (then No. 82) Stefanos Tsitsipas in three mostly routine sets in the first round. Jo-Wilfried Tsonga defeated him in five sets in the second round after Shapovalov had been up two sets to one.

(On an unrelated note, how much has the landscape changed for both Tsitsipas and Tsonga since a year ago?)

One and done in Auckland

This year – and after a 2018 season during which he probably played a few too many events and burned himself out a bit physically – there was only Auckland.

But the No. 7 seed went out in the first round, to the quality Joao Sousa, 4-6, 6-4, 6-4.

He’ll have an exhibition match at the Kooyong Classic Thursday against Jack Sock.

In the meantime, Shapovalov hit the practice courts at Melbourne Park Wednesday.

It was pretty ragged at the start. But he picked it up.

It takes a village

The most striking thing on the court was the picture it painted of the contrast between the “haves” and the (relative) have-nots in tennis.

Team Shapovalov is a pretty big squad:. Two coaches: Rob Steckley and mom/coach Tessa Shapovalov. A physio. A trainer. The newest Nike practice colours, and a “We The North” Toronto Raptors’ T-shirt.

At the other chair was his practice partner for the day, Luca Vanni.

Team Shapo is a party of five. Team Luca Vanni is a … solo act as the two practice together Wednesday at the Australian Open. (Stephanie Myles/Tennis.Life)

Team Vanni on Wednesday was … Luca Vanni.

Vanni is into the second round of the qualifying, where he’ll play Sergiy Stakhovsky Thursday. He has played just three Grand Slam main-draw matches in his career. And he lost all three.

The 33-year-old Italian’s career ranking was exactly No. 100 back in 2015 (he’s currently at No. 164). He has played just 22 ATP Tour-level matches in his career, going 5-17. Mostly, Vanni makes his living on the Challenger circuit.

Since he first appeared on the rankings list back in June, 2006, the veteran Italian has never had a ranking in the double digits. And he has earned less than $700,000 in his career. 

Shapovalov earned more than that in 2017 alone. And that wasn’t even a full year at the ATP Tour level.

Which is not to make a sympathy plea for the Luca Vannis of the world. It’s merely to point out that these two players are completing on the same playing field.

But of course, it’s not a level one.

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