Youzhny Helping Shapovalov Become Smarter On Court

Denis Shapovalov (photo: Alexander Bondarev/FormulaTX)

WASHINGTON, October 15, 2020 (by Michael Dickens)

No. 2 seed Denis Shapovalov played up to his billing as the second favorite during his first-round match of the ATP 500 St. Petersburg Open Wednesday afternoon at Sibur Arena in the former imperial capital of Russia.

The 12th-ranked Canadian won 86 percent of his first-serve points – 10 percentage points better than his season average – and his serve was in danger only once during his 62-minute match against 197th-ranked lucky loser Viktor Troicki of Serbia. Shapovalov fired 10 aces and did not face any break points en route to a 6-2, 6-3 victory that advanced him to play 141st-ranked Belarus qualifier Ilya Ivashka in the second round on Thursday afternoon.

“It’s always great to get the first win, especially against a player like Viktor,” Shapovalov said. “We’ve had a lot of battles before and they’ve been really long matches. So, I’m really happy to get a straight-sets win today.”

Shapovalov is coming off of a heartbreaking five-set, second-round loss to Roberto Carballes Baena of Spain at Roland Garros that followed a quarterfinal finish at the US Open and a semifinal result in Rome. He’s had some time to regroup since Paris – nearly two weeks – and it showed against Troicki, whom he outpointed 55-39.

“Indoor tennis is just natural for me; it’s what I grew up playing on,” Shapovalov said. “For sure, it’s difficult to have those transitions really quickly from clay court to hard court, but we’re having to get used to these situations now and trying to adapt quickly. So, I’m really happy with the way I’ve been able to transition.”

During a Media Day interview earlier this week, Shapovalov said, “I really love St. Petersburg, I like to play here.” His coach, Russian Mikhail Youzhny, who retired two years ago at the St. Petersburg Open, has the most wins (35) in tournament history. Shapovalov gives Youzhny plenty of credit with helping him develop both on and off the court.

“I think he helped me to become smarter on court. He helped me to play smarter,” Shapovalov said. “I always had strength in the game but now we are working a lot with him to make me play smarter. 

“I started to work with a psychologist (Vadim Gushchin) who has been working with Mikhail for a long time. I started working with him over the last couple of months and I think it helped me a lot.”

Asked whether he would describe Youzhny as a tough coach, Shapovalov said, “Well, I would not say that he is tough. He takes everything very seriously. I believe that we have established a good rapport. We understand each other very well and I know when we can work hard and when we can relax a little bit. This happened as soon as we started working together. We immediately understood each other very well.”

Shapovalov was asked what losing in the early rounds at Roland Garros taught him, he said: “It’s hard to say … it was a tough match. … The conditions were difficult for me; the balls were slow, as well as the court. I was glad that I was still able to turn the tide of the match and was serving for the match. 

“The last two tournaments I served for the match and couldn’t win, but I believe that everything will come with experience. I am very glad that I was able to turn the tide of that match and that I was able to play despite my health problems. Now, I feel great and I am in a good shape. So, I think that now I can show my tennis.”

Medvedev begins title defense with win

World No. 5 and top seed Daniil Medvedev, who won the St. Petersburg title last year, is back to defend his title. When he lifted the trophy a year ago, he ended a 15-year title drought for Russian players. This year, he’s one of seven Russians in the main draw.

On Wednesday evening, Medvedev brought a three-match losing streak into the Sibur Arena Center Court against No. 53 Richard Gasquet of France, in their first meeting since 2018. After a shaky start, Medvedev took control from early in the second set through the completion of the one hour and 37-minute match and won 3-6, 6-3, 6-0, to advance to Thursday’s second round against No. 36 Reilly Opelka.

Medvedev fired 22 service aces and won 83 percent (34 of 41) of his first-serve points. He was broken just once. Meanwhile, Medvedev broke Gasquet four times, including three times in the decisive set. Medvedev, who won eight of the final nine games of the match, outpointed Gasquet 84-61.

“Naturally, there is some pressure, of course,” Medvedev said earlier this week during a Media Day interview, referring to being the defending champion. “If I show good tennis, I will have a good result. I can play tennis, and if something doesn’t go well, then you can lose. So, it’s a pressure on myself that you can feel during the match.”

Around the St. Petersburg Open

There were two second-round matches Wednesday with quarterfinal berths on the line. First, unseeded Cameron Norrie of Great Britain, ranked 75th, needed four match points before he upset No. 41 Miomir Kecmanovic of Serbia, 7-5, 6-7 (5), 6-3, in two hours and 45 minutes, and later, No. 5 seed Stan Wawrinka from Switzerland defeated 121st-ranked wild card Evgeny Donskoy from Russia, 6-1, 3-6, 6-3, in one hour and 42 minutes. Wawrinka served seven aces, won 78 percent (40 of 51) of his first-serve points, was broken just once and broke Donskoy three times. He outpointed his opponent 82-67.

Additionally, there were three other first-round matches. No. 36 Reilly Opelka of the United States fired 26 aces and defeated 308th-ranked qualifier Nino Serdarusic of Croatia, 3-6, 7-6 (5), 6-2; 199th-ranked Russian wild card Roman Safiullin took out No. 151 Emilio Gomez of Ecuador, 6-4, 6-2; and No. 38 Ugo Humbert of France beat 286th-ranked Russian qualifier Pavel Kotov, 4-6, 6-2, 6-3.

What they’re saying

World No. 10 and third seed Andrey Rublev was asked following his first-round victory over Vasek Pospisil on Tuesday what he would like to improve about his game despite the impressive results he’s already achieved this year, which includes three titles and four other quarterfinal finishes. It turns out, there’s plenty.

Rublev responded: “The forehand, the backhand, for example. The volley also could be better. I also can improve my return and my serve, especially second serve. I also want to improve the mental side. If I need to choose one component, then I would choose the mental side. Then, comes the desire to move faster on the court. All top players move and defend very well. I definitely still have some room for improvement.”