Tennis (Life) Birthdays – April 15, 2019

Denis Shapovalov has gone and ruined the recent popular narrative about the rise of the “Canadian teen gang” by … turning 20.

His teen years were the story of a spectacular rise up to the top echelons of tennis.

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The Israel-born Canadian of Russian extraction was a breath of fresh hair with his flying blonde hair, shotmaking style and energetic court presence.

When you reach the top 20 before turning 20 these days – which Shapovalov did after reaching the Miami semifinals – you’re doing something.

Now the steps get steeper.

Three years ago, Shapovalov and Stefanos Tsitsipas were playing in the French Open juniors. They’ll arrive there this year both seeded in the men’s draw. (Stephanie Myles/Tennis.Life)

And Shapovalov begins his 20s on the surface he is working hard to tame, one that’s always going to test his patience.

And so it was that he went down in the first round of Monte Carlo to a solid, big-serving opponent, Jan-Lennard Struff of Germany, on his birthday.

Shapovalov
Shapovalov first burst on the scene four years ago in the Australian Open juniors, as arguably the most talented 15-year-old on the planet. His rise was rapid after that. (Stephanie Myles/Tennis.Life)

With both swinging away in the first set – there were 41 unforced errors in total, 23 of them from Shapovalov – the Canadian managed to pull it out.

But it unraveled quickly after that.

He went down 5-7, 6-3, 6-1.

The 51 unforced errors were evenly divided between forehands and backhands. Add in 10 double faults, and it’s back to the drawing board.

It was a bit of a regression on the performance side, as his patience deserted him after the first set and rather than make Struff do a better job of earning it, he tried to hit his way out of it.

On clay, that’s always a dodgy proposition. On this way, when he was misfiring quite a bit against a good opponent, it sent him packing.

And it was somewhat surprising. Because Shapovalov played a lot on the red clay last year. And he banked a lot of experience it seemed he could put to good use on his second full go-round on the European spring circuit.

A year ago, unseeded, Shapovalov went down to Stefanos Tsitsipas in Monte Carlo and Nikoloz Basilashvili in Budapest, both in the first round.

But he rallied after that, reaching the semis in Madrid as he beat Paire, Raonic and Edmund before falling to Alexander Zverev. Madrid is at altitude, and considered the “fastest” of the clay-court spring events. So it made sense that the Canadian would have his first ATP Tour clay breakthrough there.

Shapovalov
Team Shapo, including new/old coach Fuorivia, left, look on concerned as their guy goes down in flames in the first round of Monte Carlo on his 20th birthday. (TennisTV)

This year, Shapovalov is playing the bigger 500 event in Barcelona instead of Budapest, with an even tougher field. He’ll have a first-round bye in the 48-player draw. And so he’ll have a lot of time to think about it, even as he plays the doubles in Monte Carlo with his friend Félix Auger-Aliassime.

There has been a lot of change for Shapovalov in recent weeks. He and coach Rob Steckley, who himself had only been on board since last fall, parted ways after Miami right as Shapovalov reached his career high.

Fuorivia in, Steckley out on Team Shapo

At his side for the clay is his junior coach Adriano Fuorivia. The plus on that is that the adjustment should be easy, because they already know each other so well. But Shapovalov has evolved since they last worked together, and become a top world player. So there’s work to do.

The Canadian will have three more events before the French Open to figure a few things out.

But one thing he knows: he’ll always celebrate his birthday in Monte Carlo.  Last year, he got a cake. Eventually, undoubtedly, he’ll have something better to celebrate.

Andrei Olhovskiy (RUS), 53

Not a great player, but certainly a pretty good one, with a rankings peak at No. 49 and two career singles titles on the ATP Tour.
6114.olhovskiy Tennis birthdays April 15, 2011

But he made his mark in doubles, getting to No. 6 in the world and winning 20 titles and reaching the final in 20 others. He also won the 1993 French Open and 1994 Australian Open mixed titles.

Olhovskiy won the Rogers Cup in Montreal with Yevgeny Kafelnikov in 1995. But he never really seemed to have a regular partner; perhaps he could take his pick.

In 1996, he won four titles, with four partners (Rick Leach, Martin Damm, Pat Galbraith and Kafelnikov). All pretty good considering he only turned pro when he was 23, and went to university in Russia before that. He represented his country at the Olympics in 1988 and 1996.

In singles, he made a lot of waves at Wimbledon in 1992 when, as a qualifier ranked No. 193, he shocked No. 1 seed Jim Courier in the third round. He was the first qualifier to beat a top seed at a major in the open era. But then, of course, he had to play John McEnroe.

Olhovskiy has stayed in tennis. He has been assistant captain to Shamil Tarpischev for the women’s Fed Cup team, and periodically helped out Elena Dementieva on a one-to-one basis before her retirement.

He also briefly coached Svetlana Kuznetsova early in her career.

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