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Shapovalov: “I’m for no coaching, I’m for keeping the tradition”

Denis Shapovalov has joined the chorus of voices coming against the ATP decision to try on court coaching after Wimbledon. The Canadian, semi-finalist in London last year, is trying to get back into some kind of momentum following some rough weeks, but that doesn’t prevent him from multitasking in condemning what he sees as an attack on tennis tradition

Denis Shapovalov, Wimbledon Denis Shapovalov, Wimbledon

If there’s one player of the young generation that seems to perfectly fit with Wimbledon, it has to be Denis Shapovalov. The serve, the power of that lefty paw, the touch and this little bit of genius that can sometimes get out of his racquet: Shapovalov should be thriving when grass season appears round the corner. Yet this year, the 23-year-old Canadian, ranked 16 in the world this week, is struggling: not a single win in three tournaments, and the two double semi-finals played aren’t really enough to compensate, especially as he had also lost in the first round of the Geneva Open and Roland-Garros. 

Shapovalov needs to build confidence in order for his ultra aggressive game starting to flow: he needs to enter that zone to get deep in any tournament. So he should be a bit worried, right? Not at all. He came to the interview all smiles and relaxed: not hiding the struggles but not dwelling on them too much either.

“My mindset is to get ready for Wimbledon, that’s as easy as that, honestly. Obviously the last couple of weeks weren’t ideal but I’ve learned a lot of lessons. I’m not really concerned with the wins, it’s for me just about getting ready for Wimbledon. Obviously, I’ve got great feelings from last year here, I feel great on the court so I’m looking forward to it.”

“I feel that I can go deep in the tournament”

Beaten by Novak Djokovic on Centre Court last year as a spot into the final was at stake, Shapovalov knows the path to the last stages here. With his arm speed, the angles he can find on both wings and that lefty serve, he has already proved how much of a menace he could be out there.

And his natural confidence in his skills will now be called to the rescue in order to forget that he’s not arriving in the best conditions here this year. “Last year is last year, now I’m preparing for Wimbledon 2022 and nothing is guaranteed. It’s a tough first match for me playing Arthur [Rinderknech], a big server, on grass but I feel confident, I feel that I can go deep in the tournament so I’m nothing but excited for the week to start. Playing at the biggest tournaments in the world is always exciting to see how well I can do.”

Despite not winning as much as one would have hoped, Shapovalov still played three events and spent many hours already on the surface, which is crucial on grass. So not everything has been in vain for now: “For sure, that transition is never easy so you want to get enough time on the grass heading up to Wimbledon. I got several weeks on it so it’s been great for me in that sense. And with the years passing as well, you gain experience every year from the grass and feel much more confident on it. I’m feeling good on the court, had a couple of practices here, everything feels great and of course it’s the nicest grass court in the world so it’s always pretty easy to feel good coming here.”

Shapovalov on Rinderknech: A very tricky first round

Shapovalov and Wimbledon have everything to be a great success story, that sounds like a given but is this general thinking also in the back of the Canadian’s mind? He actually laughed out loud when asked if we were making things up by saying that his game seemed tailored for winning Wimbledon.

“People say this, yeah?”

Yes, they do, Denis.

“I don’t know… I haven’t won it yet, so maybe hopefully one day that is a thing. For sure it is a surface I do play well on and from the first time time on the grass as a junior I felt confident, I felt I was playing great so it’s been a surface I loved. I always get a great feeling whenever I’m here so for sure if there’s one Grand Slam I would love to win it would definitely feel right to be this one.”

Before thinking too deeply about it, Shapovalov knows that he’s going to have to get through a very tricky first round against France’s Rinderknech (23 years old, ranked 61), who beat him in Doha this year (6-4, 6-4) and who he struggled to beat last year in Stockholm (4-6, 6-3, 7-5).

“It’s a very tricky match,” Shapovalov admitted. ”He beat me already this year, he’s a super tough opponent and he has improved so much the last few years. It’s not easy playing a big server who goes for his shots on a grass court, but Wimbledon traditionally does play a little bit slower so it’s on my advantage, I’ll get a little bit more time. I’m expecting a long tough match but I wouldn’t want it any other way.”

“Coaching is unsportsmanlike” – Shapovalov’s opinion

The Canadian has everything to turn this surface that rewards inspired tennis into his own red – or actually green – carpet. As a lover of tennis tradition, he even fits into the mindset of the place, as showed by his strong dislike of the already controversial move taken by the ATP to launch a trial about on-court coaching after Wimbledon. Shapovalov doesn’t want to hear about it: “I’m against this. Tennis is one of the only sports where coaching isn’t allowed, it’s what makes it different. It’s so special having two players there and you’re just competing against each other. The work and the help that you got happened already so now it’s you making decisions out there. It changes the tradition… I’m for no coaching, I’m for keeping the tradition. As a tennis fan, I think the rule change isn’t great but we’ll see how it goes.”

Of course he knows coaching is already happening, but for him it concerns such a minority of players that rules don’t need to be changed for them. He also likes to see those players called out for it.

“It always happens for sure. It happens a lot. But at least people get called out for it, it’s unsportsmanlike and it makes players stand out when that happens. I’m for keeping that tradition, that’s what differentiates tennis players from the rest of athletes in other sports. Not everybody does it, of course there’s a handful of players that I’m sure you guys know as well that get called out quite a lot for it, but overall not many do. It’s almost a respect thing between players. Of course there’s some help here and there but there’s a line, there’s a respect. But like I said, some players do cross that line.”

Ranking points or money? “For me it’s neither – it’s the title”

Shapovalov loves Wimbledon and the tennis tradition so much that he actually doesn’t even care about the lack of points of this 2022 edition. if the ATP were searching for players to recruit in their power battle against the Grand Slams in general, they could already forget the Canadian. Asked whether he prioritises the ranking points or the prize money, he didn’t blink one bit.

“For me it’s neither, it’s the title. It’s what’s important to me. Going deep in these tournaments, making your mark, that’s what I grew up wanting to do, being a part of them and wanting to see how far I can go. It’s my dream to be here so the rest doesn’t really matter to me. It’s an honour to play these events.”

And when we come back to his lack of wins that surely is frustrating for a player like this, especially with his hopes for major titles, he shrugs: if you don’t win, then at least learn something is his mantra.

“With every opportunity comes a lesson. For better or for worse, you’re always learning. It’s never going to be only up but you need to always learn from these moments.”

Let’s hope for him that he’ll be as zen for this 2022 Wimbledon run

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