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Struff holds his nerves to upset Shapovalov and put Germany ahead

Jan-Lennard Struff creates the upset in the first match of the Germany vs. Canada quarter-final by defeating Denis Shapovalov

Struff Davis Cup 2022 (© AI / Reuters / Panoramic)

Jan-Lennard Struff fought very hard against his own demons to find a way to close out a three-set win over Denis Shapovalov (6-3, 4-6, 7-6) in the Davis Cup quarter-finals. The German, aged 32 and ranked No 152 in the world, is known for three things on the Tour: his incredible serve, his so powerful forehand, and the way he can struggle under pressure. But on Thursday, he closed the door when it mattered and raised both his arms up in the sky in the end as the winner of the first rubber – a big upset for Germany as Canada’s lineup this year has made them a huge title contender.

“It was brutal to get the break there” – Struff

Up 4-1 and then 5-3 with a match point, Struff suddenly made all the wrong choices, rushing to the net on all the wrong balls and getting passed again and again. “I played maybe two too many serve-and-volley in that game. I didn’t play bad volleys, but Shapo was returning well and passing very well. It was brutal to get the break there. I was so close. It was very tough to stay calm, but pushing as well”, admitted Struff after the match.

In a panic, he lost that serve on Shapovalov’s fourth break point and when the Canadian started firing winners again all over the place, saving a second match point at 4-5, “Shapo” was the one looking on the verge to clinch that battle.

After a shaky start where he lost his serve on a double fault (10 for the entire match) and couldn’t find his timing, Shapovalov, aged 23 and ranked No 18 in the world, found his best range in the middle of the second set when he broke at 3-3 with a couple of incredible shots before basically zoning until the end of the set. Once again, Shapovalov proved that when he plays like that, he can beat anyone and win anything.

The Canadian’s issue today in the end was that he couldn’t sustain the flamboyance long enough to make up for the errors that came back to kill the magic again at the start of the third set. In that tie-break where the pressure was through the roof again, his serve let him down like at the start of the first and third sets, and the shots that would land on the lines or right on the corners in the second set were now just beyond the court limits.

Struff, back to thinking straight again, stayed away from the net and trusted what had been the winning strategy today: putting pressure on Shapovalov from the baseline, taking time away from him, and pushing him to miss or to give a short ball to then come to the net. Indoor, Struff’s flat shots were making way enough damage to allow him to stay on that baseline.

It’s the whole mystery of what goes through a player’s mind that it took Struff to nearly lose a match that was on his racquet to get back to his senses right before the finish line. But with 12 wins and 8 losses in Davis Cup, Struff confirmed today that with a team on the bench and the feeling of playing for his country, he can be relied on to finish the job.

“It was a very tough season” – Struff

“It’s always special to play for Germany,” Struff said after his win. “We have such a good team behind the players. We connect very well. I think we have a good atmosphere and a great team spirit. That makes it special to play for Germany. That makes it special for me to play, and that motivates me and gives me a lot of confidence when the guys are outside and pushing behind me. Personally, for me it was a very tough season. I was injured, was not starting well the season, I dropped to over 150 at the ranking now, so I will start quallies at the Australian Open. I had some good matches, and good tournaments in between since the injury, but it’s not easy to come back that fast. I feel like a lot of good players are out there. I will try. I’m not the youngest guy but I want to play for some more years, definitely. I want to come back and play good tennis. You said top 20? The first step is to come back to 100, then we can talk again. If I play like this today, definitely I can reach it, but let’s see what the next year brings. I’m totally motivated to come back.”

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