WIMBLEDON – On the final day of Wimbledon prep, the training centre at adjacent Aorangi Park was lousy with Canadians.
At 1 p.m., Vasek Pospisil practiced with Belgian Ruben Bemelmans, and Genie Bouchard hit with American Madison Brengle, a former charge of Canadian Fed Cup captain Heidi el Tabakh, who is acting as coach this week.
With about 20 minutes left in that hour session, more Canadians took to the new warmup area that contained the girders for the No. 1 Court last year, and had practice courts No. 1 and No. 2 for years before that.
There, Brayden Schnur, Félix Auger-Aliassime, Denis Shapovalov and Milos Raonic warmed up for their 2 p.m. practice sessions.
Shapovalov and Raonic actually practiced together. And right next to them, Auger-Aliassime hit with American Frances Tiafoe.
There were friendly exchanges between Auger-Aliassime’s mother Marie Auger and Raonic’s parents and girlfriend.
Even Erin Routliffe, the New Zealand-born Canadian who moved to Canada at a young age, was on site. Routliffe is an alternate in the women’s doubles draw, with the doubles qualifying having been eliminated this year.
Here’s what it looked like. All that was missing were a few maple leafs sprinkled about the courts.
Say a Canadian “Hiya” to Rog
The next two on Raonic and Shapovalov’s court were … Roger Federer and his old pal Tomas Berdych.
So that got the Canadians a couple of hellos from the man himself.
Auger-Aliassime and Pospisil will square off in an all-Canadian battle – on Canada Day, no less – that should start about 7:30 a.m. EDT.
Raonic will follow on the same Court 12.
Schnur (against Marcos Baghdatis), Shapovalov (against Ricardas Berankis) and Bouchard (against Tamara Zidansek) will play Tuesday.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
When Steckley, a 39-year-old fellow Canadian, came on board, it was definitely an out-of-the-box choice. Not because he wasn’t a quality coach, but because he had made his name on the WTA Tour, notably with Lucie Safarova.
He began on last season’s fall Asian swing, with Shapovalov’s mother and coach Tessa also on hand. And continued through the off-season to begin 2019.
And then, once the Sunshine Double was over. Steckley was out.
Steckley told Tennis.Life they parted on good terms. “It was a great stretch of progress and results. I’m happy with things,” he said.
Fuorivia there at the start
Fuorivia, who was a manager of tennis development for Tennis Canada for 10 years before leaving to work full-time with the promising Shapovalov, was there for the key development years.
He coached Shapovalov to the junior title at Wimbledon, accompanied him during those months slogging on the Florida ITF clay-court circuit qualifying, right through his ATP Tour debut at the Citi Open in Washington, D.C. in 2016.
The coach has since returned to work with Tennis Canada. He was the captain of the junior Davis Cup team last fall.
Fuorivia brought some of the kids down to IMG Academy in Florida during the offseason, where he also reunited with Shapovalov.
While fans tend to group the three rising young Canadians – Bianca Andreescu, Félix Auger-Aliassime and Shapovalov – together, as the fruit of Tennis Canada’s approach to developing players, Shapovalov was not part of that.
He did it on his own, with financing from benefactor Andrzej Kepinski. (Kepinski also was Shapovalov’s manager, until recently).
The Indian Wells was an unexpectedly great result after a slow start to the 2019 season, notably the lack of wins on Thiem’s bread-and-butter South American clay-court circuit.
Thiem had a lingering illness, never fully disclosed but that had as one consequence overall body pain. He even skipped Austria’s Davis Cup qualifier in February.
Massu to the fore for clay
Massu, who began helping Thiem during that South American swing and also accompanied him on on the U.S. swing, will be there as the main coach for the European clay-court season.
Except, the Bresnik APA interview indicated, in Barcelona, because of a previous commitment. Thiem’s father will be there with him.
“What’s in two months, I do not know, but the Dominic is good with Nicolas Massu. It is crucial that he plays successfully tennis,” Bresnik said in an APA interview last week. “I’ve been looking for a touring coach for Dominic for two years, this time we’ve tried Nicolas Massu and it works.”
Bresnik still coaches Ernests Gulbis. So he would likely still be in Paris for the French Open.
Plus, he remains Thiem’s manager. So he’s far from out of the picture.
Another piece on SPOX.com after a Thiem media availability last week indicated that Thiem has added fitness coach Duglas Cordero for some 15 weeks during the season, to join physio Alex Stober.
Cordero, who has worked with Fabio Fognini and Francesca Schiavone among other players, is based in Miami.
So from the looks of it, Thiem is not subtracting or changing – he’s adding.
At 25, ranked No. 5, he’s approaching his peak. And with so many young kids coming up these days, it’s time to stake his claim and make the big move.
In some ways, it’s a surprising development. In most ways, not so much.
When Bresnik began coaching Thiem, he was a boy. Now he’s a 26-year-old man.
Think about how your relationship with your father would have changed over all that time. It is a hard transition to make from guru and all-knowing coach to mere employee, in a sense.
The way Bresnik put it: in the early part of a career, the coach is everything. During that transition to the pro tour, they are more or less equals. But after that, it’s all about the player and not the coach.
“It’s clear after 15 or 16 years that we spent more time together than I did with my parents and he probably with his children, it’s like being in a marriage, there are good and bad times,” Thiem said. “It is, I think, now good that Massu extends the team and everything. We’ll see more later.”
Canadian kids Félix Auger-Aliassime and Denis Shapovalov had contrasting reactions to their semifinal defeats at the Miami Open.
Which makes complete sense, given how differently both of those matches played out.
Auger-Aliassime had an opportunity to serve out both sets against American John Isner.
So it was an big opportunity lost. Isner had been broken just twice in all his previous matches. And the 18-year-old did it twice in one match.
Shortly after the match, Auger-Aliassime still almost couldn’t believe how the nerves hit him at just the wrong time.
Shapovalov has joked before the match against Federer that his best tactic would be to put on a pair of sunglasses that would blur the opponent on the other side of the net so he couldn’t see who he was playing.
So you could almost see it coming. Still, he took it beautifully.
You know that the next time Shapovalov has the opportunity to play Federer, he will be far less … star-struck and will give a much better account of himself.
MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. – Félix Auger-Aliassime is happy his “big brother” Denis Shapovalov is expressing himself through his music.
But no, he has no plans to join him in a Canadian teen rap duet any time in the near future.
These two have a big 24 hours coming up, with Auger-Aliassime playing a late-night match against No. 11 seed Borna Coric Wednesday to reach the Miami Open semis.
Shapovalov has a doubles quarterfinal against the legendary Bryan brothers with partner Rohan Bopanna Wednesday afternoon.
And then, he will face another rising young star in Laver Cup teammate Frances Tiafoe in a quarterfinal on Thursday.
But for the moment, he is a solo act on the rapping.
Although you do hope – in the improbable scenario where the Miami Open final is an all-Canadian teen affair (the two are on opposite sides of the draw) – they might consider coming up with a little special edition.
Shapo getting some grief
It all started when Shapovalov made good on a promise in Indian Wells that if he won his next match, he’d come up with some rhymes on court.
He’s a teen of his word.
(The expiration date on the word “teen”, for Shapovalov, is April 15).
He got some social media expert musical criticism for it.
But he doesn’t care.
Meanwhile, quarterfinal foe ‘Foe chimed in on that as well.
MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. – Somewhere around 1:30 a.m. Wednesday morning, Denis Shapovalov earned a spot in the quarterfinals of the Miami Open.
It was about 12 hours after his countryman and friend Félix Auger-Aliassime did the same.
No pressure. But the next goal for the two Canadian teens, on opposite sides of the draw, will be to do what their predecessors did back in 2013.
That’s when Milos Raonic and Vasek Pospisil, then 22 and 23, both reached the Masters 1000 semifinals in Montreal. They ended up playing each other; Raonic won in a third-set tiebreak.
Early Wednesday morning Shapovalov needed a third-set tiebreak to get past No. 9 seed Stefanos Tsitsipas of Greece, 4-6, 6-4, 7-6 (3).
The two have played on the pro tour. But this match harkened back to one of the finest junior matches in recent years, when the two met in the 2016 Wimbledon boys’ singles semifinals.
Shapovalov won that one as well. And he went on to beat Alex de Minaur in the final and win the title.
Three years later, both are all grown up, and in the top 25 in the ATP Tour rankings.
Ridiculous level of tennis
The future is now in men’s tennis, and these two obviously are right in the middle of it.
Between Shapovalov’s win over Andrey Rublev in the previous round, and this one in the fourth round, the pace of ball was brutish, the speed and reaction time of the players impressive and the overall level really off the charts.
That was especially impressive Tuesday night, as a couple of rain delays pushed back the schedule. And, indeed, the Roger Federer match against Daniil Medvedev scheduled for the main stadium was cancelled altogether.
It was almost 11:30 pm by the time time Shapovalov and Tsitsipas took the court.
Despite that, there were an impressive number of fans on hand on the Grandstand to watch them. They knew what potential this match had.
It did not disappoint.
At nearly 2 a.m., here’s Shapovalov afterwards talking about the present, the past with Tsitsipas and the future (by the delivery of the questions, you can tell the interviewer was more tired than Shapovalov was! Being 19 is fabulous).
MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. – If feels as though the future has arrived a little ahead of schedule.
And yet, somehow, it feels right on time.
Canadian teenagers Denis Shapovalov (tonight) and Félix Auger-Aliassime (at noon) will try to make the Miami Open quarterfinals on Tuesday.
Shapovalov reached the fourth round a year ago. So it’s not a huge surprise. He made his Miami debut in 2018 straight into the main draw, upset then-No. 14 Sam Querrey in the third round before losing a tight three-setter to Borna Coric of Croatia in the round of 16.
For Auger-Aliassime, making his first appearance, it’s a breakthrough effort.
Auger-Aliassime would have easily made the main draw directly on his current ranking. But his rise in fortunes, which came last month on the South American clay-court swing, came too late for the Miami Open deadline.
And given he’s not a player represented by IMG, which owns the tournament and decides on the wild cards, he was out of luck. But as the No. 2 seed, he made it through the qualifying. And he had a good draw
His first seeded opponent, in the second round. was Marton Fucsovics. In the grand scheme, it could have been a lot worse than getting the No. 29 seed. Then, in the third round, Auger-Aliassime faced 22-year-old Hubert Hurkacz.
Hurkacz thoughtfully eliminated Indian Wells champion Dominic Thiem, the No. 3 seed, earlier in the event. And Auger-Aliassime defeated Hurkacz.
Now, he comes up against an interesting player in No. 17 seed Nikoloz Basilashvili. The Georgian is playing his best tennis, a late bloomer at age 27 after a long journey to get there.
Shapo v Tsitsipas – a Wimbledon junior rematch
In the last few years of following the junior event closely at Grand Slams, the best match we’ve ever seen – it still stands out, point by point – was the 2016 Wimbledon junior boys’ semifinal between Shapovalov and Stefanos Tsitsipas.
The Greek breakout star was eight months older. But both were serve-volleying, chip-and-charging – basically, showing off all the skills at a very young age.
Shapovalov pulled it off 4-6, 7-6 (5), 6-2 and went on to defeat Alex de Minaur in the final. A month prior, in the quarterfinals of the French Open juniors, the Canadian had overcome a tired-looking Tsitsipas 6-4, 6-2.
The two played twice on the main tour in 2018. Shapovalov won in straight sets in the first round of the Australian Open. Tsitsipas got him back rather routinely, 6-3, 6-4 in the first round of the Monte Carlo tournament, on clay.
So it’s been nearly a year since they played. And since then, Tsitsipas has both made the top 10 and shown a few signs of being a bit burned out by it all.
He was defeated soundly by Auger-Aliassime just a few weeks ago at Indian Wells.
Young Canadian rankings outlook
Shapovalov has done his job in Miami, defending his points. He remains tied at his career-high ranking of No. 23.
And there are a number of players still alive in the tournament who stand between him and a spot in the top 20 – a spot that seems a bit overdue. But we’re judging by fairly lofty standards when we write that.
For Auger-Aliassime, the Miami effort so far breaks him into the top 50, at No. 46.
If he beats Basilashvili to make his first Masters 1000 quarterfinal, he’ll be just a few ranking points shy of the top 40.
Either way, he is right on the cusp of leaving the qualifying behind for good.
Auger-Aliassime is already into the 250-level tournament in Marrakech the week of April 8, as he kicks off his clay-court campaign.
He’s just a few spots out of the main draw in Monte Carlo. The Canadian got a wild card there a year ago; given he’s now an official resident of Monaco, you’d have to figure he’d be good for another one if he doesn’t squeeze into the main draw on his own merit.
He’s into the main draw at the 500-level tournament in Barcelona the week after that.
The Madrid Masters 1000 deadline of March 18 came a little too early, but he’ll be among the top seeds in qualifying unless they give him a wild card.
As for Rome, he should be in good shape.
Given Auger-Aliassime’s proficiency on clay, you have to think he’ll be looking at trying to get seeded at the French Open.
A year ago, Auger-Aliassime earned … 44 points on the European clay Challenger circuit. He lost in the first round of Monte Carlo to Mischa Zverev after getting a wild card there.
Shapovalov has Monte Carlo and Barcelona on his schedule before the big Masters 1000 events.