Shapovalov still needs to learn

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The Canadian has been ousted from the tournament way too early for his liking. The second bad news is that it was mainly his own fault.

It’s called learning the hard way. And Denis Shapovalov is not the first gifted player to have to go through this to become a champion. On Monday, the Canadian let the pressure sink him during his first-round match against the solid Marton Fucsovics (6-3, 6-7(7), 6-1, 7-6(3)). Unable to calm down, moody from the first point to the last, he showed his best tennis here and there but couldn’t string enough momentums to get out of that trap. Very honest after that disappointing day, he admitted that his nerves got the best of him.

“I played really nervous today. I was in really good shape, really good condition, going into the tournament, but I just played really tight today.”

Finalist of the Davis Cup, qualified for the last 8 of the ATP Cup, Shapovalov had pushed Djokovic until the end of the third set in Sydney. He looked indeed in fine shape. Yet maybe he made a bad move by playing in Auckland the week after instead of cooling down and getting ready for the Australian Open with the good vibes of the Djokovic match in mind. Instead, he went to lose to Ugo Humbert and arrived here with less confidence. Then he wanted so bad to shine during the first Major of the year that he froze his own brain.

“In a Grand Slam, you obviously want to do really well and I was really looking forward to this tournament, I was really excited. But he got the better of me, he started better than I did and after that that I felt I was really tight on every point. I had a lot of chances, I was up a break in the fourth set but again I got tight, shanked a forehand. I’m not trying to take anything away from him because he played an excellent match, was super solid. I was just not really me out there today. It’s a learning experience.”

Accidents happen, especially for a player still very young. But there is a nagging worry about Shapovalov that he could have a natural issue to deal with his stress level. And that’s something you don’t want to deal with at this level. His coach Mikhail Youzhny knows a thing or two about it. And Shapovalov knows there’s something there to fix as soon as possible.

“It has happened to me a couple of times, like last year in Wimbledon where I was also struggling (lost in the first round vs Berankis). But it was different because the wins weren’t coming at that time. It’s just about learning to deal with it. I have another status now too and it is definitely an adjustment. My game is there to beat any of the top guys, but of course there are many great players out there so if I’m a little bit nervous and a little bit off, anyone could beat me as well. It’s a really disappointing one but there’s nothing to do now except to learn from it. It’s just gonna make work harder and do better in the next tournament.”

The worst would have been to be in denial about the issue, a bit like Alexander Zverev whom mental block in Grand Slams is obvious for everyone else but him. But again it’s not the case for the lefty Canadian. Proof being that he and his coach have already started to work on the mental side of his game.

“Once you get into that stress, it’s tough to get out of it, so it’s more about preventing it and finding ways to go about it. There are tactics to try to calm down, stuff I’m working on with Misha about the mental aspect, about trying to take my time on the court. But I was just not able to do it. Sure if I had won that fourth set, nobody knows what could happen in a fifth. I was able to loosen up a bit in that set but again when he broke back he nerves started to kick in again. I was trying to regroup and start fresh for every set but I was struggling.”

Shapovalov has everything to be among the leaders of the next generation, and being very clear-minded about his own flaws is also going to be a huge advantage going forward. Monday was a disaster but Monday was still just the start of his career.

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