It’s May at the Foro Italico and Denis Shapovalov is engaged in an epic quarterfinal battle with Rafael Nadal, the ten-time champion at the ATP Masters 1000 gravel event in Rome. After getting a breadstick in the opening set, the Canadian remains confident in his fearless tennis to take the second 7-5.
The 23-year-old had won two match points against Nadal at the same location a year earlier and had pushed the Spaniard to five sets during the Australian Open in January. He had also famously beaten him as an 18-year-old on home soil in Canada in 2017.
Although Nadal was increasingly hampered by a foot injury in the third inning, the dignity of Shapovalov’s 1-6, 7-5, 6-2 victory didn’t diminish. He produced breathtaking tennis and was a deserved winner.
Climbing to number 15 in the Pepperstone Rankings after his semi-final, Shapovalov was confident and looking forward to good times. Earlier in the year, he had made a remarkable recovery from Covid-19 to lead Canada to ATP Cup victory alongside good friend Felix Auger-Aliassime, before his deep run at the Australian Open, where he met world number 3 Alexander Zverev in straight sets. in the fourth round.
But tennis can be a fickle sport.
After the victory over Nadal in Rome, the former number 10 in the world started a six-game loss streak, the longest of his career. He is entering the Citi Open this week after losing seven of his past eight matches, a five-set win over Arthur Rinderknech in the first round of Wimbledon, his only recent success.
Leading up to the ATP 500 in Washington, DC, the 2021 Wimbledon semifinalist spent a two-week block of training with his team in the Bahamas. Forehands and backhands were just part of the focus. Mentally navigating the downtime can be even more important.
“That’s tennis. It comes with a lot of ups and downs,” Shapovalov told ATPTour.com. “There are very few players who can be super consistent; that’s just the nature of the game. You just have to be patient with it, get used to it, stay positive, keep working and keep believing in yourself.”
The reckless left-hander, who describes his playstyle as “super aggressive,” prefers to double down on Plan A rather than switch to Plan B when things don’t go his way. It is a high risk/high reward strategy that pays healthy dividends in good times.
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Team Canada celebrates winning the ATP Cup 2022
But Shapovalov now finds himself trying to recover from a bear market. He says he has the guts to weather choppy waters and that the way back can be found in focusing on the long game rather than the ‘noise’ of the daily results. “You want the wins to come, but if they don’t, you just have to believe that the work will pay off,” he said. “Having a good team around you keeps you looking at the big picture and keeps you motivated to keep working.
“A lot of times people panic when a few things don’t go right,” he said. “You try to think about the future and not dwell on the past. You want to think about how you’re going to play the game in the future, what we need to clean up and keep working on the plan we have.”
Shapovalov is aware that fortunes can change quickly. Two weeks ago, at the ATP 500 in Hamburg, Lorenzo Musetti came to the event with his own six-match loss streak, without his rackets in his lost luggage and expecting to play qualifying. He closed out the week by knocking out Top-5 star Carlos Alcaraz to win his first TBEN title.
“It’s great to see him doing well. Clearly a great talent,” said Shapovalov. “To see him come out of a rough patch to win a major title is no big surprise. It’s a very normal part of the game and I knew he would make it in the end. It doesn’t change anything for me.”
As he looks to regain his form, Shapovalov said he would continue to play doubles, having partnered Rohan Bopanna seven times in seven events this year. (In Washington, Shapovalov works with Denis Kudla.)
“I definitely think it helps my game, so I’ll keep playing. I see myself as a super-aggressive tennis player who wants to hit the net a lot, so doubling up helps to work on the serve and volley and entering the return. It’s also super fun.
“It was a great collaboration with Rohan. First and foremost he has been a mentor to me who has helped me a lot on the pitch. We’re really good friends too, so that’s why it works. For him it’s great to have a young guy who is really powerful and can create a lot, and he does his ‘double thing’. It just works.”
Sixth-seeded Shapovalov, who now won world No. 1, Daniil Medvedev in the first round of the Citi Open during his last appearance in the US capital in 2018, will face US wildcard number 99 JJ in his opening match Wolf.