We didn’t notice it at the time, but it appears Shapovalov offered up the same tribute Saturday – the exact anniversary of Agostinelli’s death – after he and Rohan Bopanna won their first-round doubles match. It was a pretty big upset, over No. 2 seeds Jamie Murray and Bruno Soares.
Here’s what Shapovalov said about it, following his 6-3, 6-4 win over Steve Johnson Wednesday.
(Shapovalov was accommodating enough to come into press between his singles and his doubles match against Novak Djokovic and Fabio Fognini later in the evening. That one didn’t go as well, with Shapovalov and Rohan Bopanna going down 10-8 in the match tiebreak).
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.
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 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.
Arriving at about the same time was his pal Félix Auger-Aliassime, who is having his first preseason at the IMG Academy. A year ago, the then-17-year-old Auger-Aliassime was in Dubai training with Roger Federer.
Another big crew with Auger-Aliassime, including both his coaches: Guillaume Marx and Frédéric Fontang. Also, father Sam and his wife and her daughter.
Physios, trainers … It takes a village to make a champion these days.
Other Canadians in the house?
Brayden Schnur, Peter Polansky and Filip Peliwo – all IMG habitués this time of the year.
With the weather most uncooperative Friday (you can hear the rain pelting down on the roof of the indoor courts), they headed indoors.
Auger-Aliassime practiced with Martin Damm, Jr., the 15-year-old son of longtime doubles star Martin Damm. (Damm Jr. is a HUGE kid for 15).
The Next-Gen Finals are going full-out on the video review this year.
The ATP announced on Friday that the exhibition event for 21-and-under players will use expanded video review for this year’s second annual event in Milan.
We’re not talking about line calls. We’re talking about not-ups, racket touches and reaching over the net to hit a ball. All those little borderline nuances that are in the rule book and tough for the chair umpire to call are covered.
You just hope that they happen, so we can see the technology at work.
“Controversy with these types of decisions are rare but when they do occur they can be particularly unsettling for players. We do not expect a lot of challenges, but should any instances arise, this technology will ensure the correct decision is reached,” was the statement from Gayle Bradshaw, ATP executive vice-president of rules and competition.
The video review operator off the court will search the footage from all the cameras to find the best angles. It’s somewhat like the video review officials in the National Hockey League searching for decisive footage when a goal is reviewed.
They’ll send it to the chair umpire’s tablet (not his fancy watch?) to review. the umpire will make a determination on whatever the infraction was. The fans in the arena and watching at home also will be able to see that footage.
Did you know? If a player’s racket, or clothing “touches the other side of the court” while the ball is in play, it’s called an “invasion”.
That notably occurs when a player’s racket crosses the plane of the net, trying to handle a ball with backspin, unable to stop on the dead run or trying to put away a very slow ball on the volley.
(Djokovic conceded later that he thought his racket might have crossed over the net. He also conveyed that to Murray at the time. Djokovic also said he was unsure if the rules prohibited it (!). But he added he would have conceded the point had that been made clear to him. It was definitely not on Djokovic to do that; the umpire, having to make the decision in real time, blew the call).
The technology also will reportedly be able to call “foul shots”.
Those include “deliberate” double hits, or carrying the ball rather than striking it. You have to think the chair umpire will remain in charge of deciding whether it was deliberate or inadvertent.
No more touches
If the ball hits a permanent fixture before it bounces, they’ll know. If the racket is no longer in the player’s hand when it makes contact with the ball, they can see it. And if the ball skims the racquet, or a player’s clothing – or even their hair, they’ll be busted.
Finally, if any part of the player’s body or equipment touches the net, net posts or singles sticks while the ball is in play, they’ll see it.
Given they don’t expect too many, there’s no limit on the number of challenges of this type that a player can make.
You just hope the players don’t figure out how to use it as a tactic to catch their breath, or slow up the play. Because there’s no mention of any penalty against the inquiring player, if he’s wrong.
On the plus side, fans won’t get on their non-favorite player to “‘fess up” or give away a point on the “honor system” – even though it’s not their responsibility.
One capability of the technology would be to be able to determine whether the point should be given, or replayed on a line call overrule.
You see this happen – although not that often – because it’s a judgment call by the umpire as to whether the player was impacted on the timing of the call, and might have put the ball over the net otherwise.
Sometimes it’s pretty contentious, too. And often it puts pressure on the player who benefits from an umpire’s judgment to call something against themselves of their own volition (which you’re *supposed* to do in unofficiated matches, but which is not in the least your responsibility when there are officials).
(That won’t happen at the Next-Gen Finals, because Hawk-Eye live makes all the calls, and they’re not subject to appeal).
Other changes will be to lop yet another minute off the player warmup. It will be down to … four minutes. (No idea why tennis is so focused on this issue – it’s far and away not a major time vampire).
Final field determined
As of Thursday, the eight players who have qualified for the Next-Gen finals were determined.
Well, actually seven players, as the eighth is an Italian wild card that will be determined by a playoff. Gianluigi Quinzi won it last year. He aged out of the competition this year.
Spain’s Jaume Munar was the last to qualify.
So the field will be as follows, as the No. 1 Next Gen contender, Alexander Zverev, will take a pass for the second straight year as he qualified for the “big boys” final in London.
The e-mail that arrived from the Futures tournament in Gatineau, Quebec Thursday announced that the event will not be held in February, 2019.
It happens. These events generally are money losers. And where one disappears, another typically pops up.
But there was more to the email.
The tournament also stated that in 2019, all Futures-level tournaments held in Canada would be cancelled.
The reason behind it, according to the tournament organizers, is the sweeping changes planned at the Futures level for 2019.
“Change is coming because the eventual removal of points from the Futures level is problematic,” Tennis Canada CEO Michael Downey said in an e-mail. “That said, we are working on new plans to support Canada’s pro and junior players. It’s a big project that we have been working on for months and it will evolve over time as we gain more real-life learning against a revised circuit structure.”
The game’s feed-up circuits, from the low-level Futures through the Challengers, will be completely revamped in 2019.
This is without a doubt not the first announcement along the same lines to come.
(Tennis.Life was also told by a reader in Israel that his country, which hosted 14 Futures events in 2018, also will cancel the entire slate in 2019. There’s a chance some could survive – financed by players’ parents. The national federation is planning a pair of Challengers instead, but that won’t come close to making up for it).
They are held throughout the season across the country beginning in Quebec during the winter. After that, the tour moves out west in June and July, and then in Ontario in September.
All are opportunities for young players and aspiring and fledgling professionals to earn experience, ranking points and a little bit of prize money.
Seven Futures in a season is not an enormous amount, compared to other countries.
For example, in the U.S. in 2018, there have been 35 such tournaments from January through December. Fourteen of them were at the $15,000 level. The other 21 offered $25,000 in prize money.
Humbert the 2018 champion
As it stands, the final champion of the Gatineau Futures will forever be Ugo Humbert of France (pictured above in the featured pic).
Then 19, Humbert was ranked No. 331 when he began play at the tournament. The victory was worth about 20 spots in the rankings. And Humbert played several more Futures tournaments later in the season.
By July, Humbert had reached two Challenger-level finals. The first came at a $75,000 tournament back in Gatineau. And then, he reached the final again at a $100,000 event the following week in Granby, Quebec.
A month later, the lefthander played the qualifying at the US Open and won three matches to reach the main draw. He won his first round, and then lost in four sets to Stan Wawrinka in the second round.
Humbert broke into the top 100 for the first time last week, at age 20.
You could make a strong argument that without the success at the Futures level in 2018, Humbert never would have made it.
There were five Canadians in the singles main draw in Gatineau in 2018. There also were 15 in the singles qualifying and five in the doubles.
The previous year, in 2017, the champion was 17-year-old Denis Shapovalov.
There were nine Canadians in the main draw. That included 16-year-old Félix Auger-Aliassime and Filip Peliwo, the former outstanding junior who currently is in the top 200.
Slowing the progress for promising players
The changes at the Futures level have been explained as a plan to reduce the number of people who call themselves professional tennis players.
And the plan by 2020 is to have players at that level compete for “ITF Transition” points only, not ATP points.
As it is, in 2019, the tournaments at the $15,000 level will offer no ATP points at all. At the $25,000 level, events will award one point for reaching the final, and three for winning.
At the $25,000+H level (prize money plus complementary hospitality), one ATP Tour point will be awarded to semifinalists, three to the finalist and five to the champion.
By 2020, even those points will disappear, replaced by “ITF Transition Points.”
On the women’s side, the 2019 “Transition Tour” will still offer WTA ranking points at the $25,000 level and above.
So the only ITF Women’s Circuit event in Canada that will be significantly affected will be the first one of the season, a $15,000 event in Victoria, B.C. in June.
No official word yet on the future of that event.
The path longer, options fewer
So, for a player like Humbert in 2020, the play at the Futures level would be of no benefit to him in terms of rising up in the ATP rankings. He would eventually find a spot in the Challengers, assuming the cream rises to the top.
But the path he would have to take would take significantly more time.
We acknowledge, of course, that the majority of players at the Futures level don’t have Humbert’s talent, or his career arc. Still, the system penalizes those who do.
In the meantime, the young Canadian players, the juniors looking for experience, the college players and many others will no longer have a place to play in Canada.
They’ll have to travel elsewhere – to the U.S., to other countries – to compete. That’s assuming they can afford it, which is a big “if”.
A new face has become part of Denis Shapovalov’s team during this final swing of the season.
It is fellow Canadian Rob Steckley, a former player who carved out a significant niche on the WTA Tour through his work with Lucie Safarova of the Czech Republic.
Definitely an out-of-the-box choice.
We’re told that it’s a trial coaching run until the end of the season, not a hitting partner position.
No word on whether Shapovalov’s current coach, former Davis Cup captain Martin Laurendeau, remains in the picture.
Laurendeau has been out of commission and off the tour since returning home from Wimbledon, with some serious back issues.
Steckley was very much in the picture with Team Shapovalov during Canada’s Davis Cup win over the Netherlands two weeks ago (and he even had T-shirts made, above left). And he also was in Moscow for the tournament there last week, and is in Shenzhen this week.
Concurrently, Safarova ended her season early. And as tough as 2018 was, and with her reportedly already wavering on continuing her career through all the virus issues she has suffered, we’ll have to wait to see what happens on that front.
It may be that the relationship between the Czech and Steckley, which took a 14-month break and resumed this season, may have run its course.
WIMBLEDON – Canadian Denis Shapovalov’s first-round match in his second Wimbledon was, on paper, a tough one.
And so it proved to be in reality.
But the No. 26 seed raised his game and produced a top-quality performance to defeat French veteran Jérémy Chardy 6-3, 3-6, 7-5, 6-4 to advance to the second round.
“Against Jeremy, I knew it was going to be a very difficult match coming into it. He’s played exceptional tennis on grass this season, so, yeah, I knew it was going to be difficult. I thought during the match I had a lot of chances that actually I didn’t convert but I stayed calm and waited for the right moments,” Shapovalov said.
“Yeah, surely enough I got them. A big set was the third set where, you know, it kind of gave me the break in the set at the end. But I was putting a lot of pressure on all of his service games. So I think I played him really well. Yeah, I’m very happy with my performance.”
Chardy had a shot, early in the third set at 1-1, with 15-40 on Shapovalov’s serve. A break there would have given him momentum after taking the second set.
But Shapovalov saved both points. And after that, though it was tight, the even-steven feeling about the matchup began to swing Shapovalov’s way.
Another Frenchman next up
In the second round, Shapovalov will meet another Frenchman, the whimsical Benoit Paire.
Shapovalov has practiced a lot with Paire. He knows first-hand that he’s a tricky customer at the best of times even if he doesn’t appear to be 100 per cent.
Paire was reportedly a question mark coming into his first-round match against Jason Jung of Taipei (and Torrance, Calif.). The tape job around his left knee that practically looked like a cast bore witness to his issue.
Playing on despite an injury is a calculated risk with the new rules in place about withdrawals. Had Paire not been fit to play, lost in a rout, or retired before he finished the match, he might have been in line to get a “Mischa Zverev” fine.
The Chardy-Shapovalov match was scheduled as a “to be arranged – not before 5 p.m.”.
That meant that the players not only had to wait around all day to play, expecting the start would be significantly later than that. They also did not know what court they would play on until very close to the match time.
In theory, those matches are held back in case there’s a retirement or several quick matches on one of the main show courts.
(The other “TBA” match, Jelena Ostapenko vs. Katy Dunne, ended up on Centre Court).
With the men being best-of-five sets, and the matches not going all that quickly on the big courts, the goal then became to ensure the match would finish before darkness.
And so Shapovalov was told that he would go on Court 14 or Court 16, whichever became available first.
At that time of day, on that court (not nearly as pristine as the big show courts, it’s a bit of a different Wimbledon. The Hawkeye challenging system also isn’t available.
“It was a little bit of a weird court with the sun and, you know, going down. At some point there was like a lane, you know, with the sunlight, and I couldn’t see anything on that side,” Shapovalov said.
“Some of the bounces were weird, too. When he was serving short on one side it was bouncing really high, but then if he was serving a bit deeper the ball was just not bouncing at all. It was pretty tough conditions to return, but at the end of the day it goes both ways. We both struggled with it.”
Standing (or perching) room only
The other issue with a popular player and a small court is gridlock.
With so few seats available, fans were hanging everywhere they could just to get a glimpse of the next big thing.
It’s also hard to get seats for the players’ teams and families on those small courts. That was evidenced by the fact that Gabriella Taylor’s parents had to sit right next to Genie Bouchard’s coach and physical trainer for their daughter’s Wimbledon main draw debut.
There were people everywhere around Court 16. Some were hopping up in some rather precarious places before the Wimbledon safety enforcement officials came along to politely urge them to stand down.