Shapovalov Sets Semifinal Clash With Rublev In St. Petersburg

Denis Shapovalov (photo: St. Petersburg Open)

WASHINGTON, October 16, 2020 (by Michael Dickens)

No. 2 seed Denis Shapovalov was impressive in his third career head-to-head with fifth seed Stan Wawrinka at the ATP 500 St. Petersburg Open on Friday. With a berth in next month’s Nitto ATP Finals still a possibility, the 12th-ranked Canadian beat the Swiss No. 2 for the second time with a 6-4, 7-5 victory that lifted him into the semifinal round.

The highest seed remaining following the upset of No. 1 seed Daniil Medvedev on Thursday, Shapovalov overcame seven double faults by hitting seven aces and won 84 percent (42 of 50) of his first-serve points. He was broken just once while saving six break points. Shapovalov broke the 18th-ranked Wawrinka three times – including in the 11th game of the final set that set up his serving out the win. He showed his mental toughness as he fought off two break points during the final game en route to his victory, which took one hour and 40 minutes to complete. Shapovalov outpointed Wawrinka 80-71 to reach his second semifinal in his last three tournaments.

“I thought it was a very good match,” said Wawrinka during his virtual press conference afterward. “He was aggressive – a tough player – playing super well. He was better today. … He has the talent to win the tournament.”

The Canadian’s victory sets up a nifty semifinal against No. 3 seed Andrey Rublev of Russia on Saturday, whom he owns a 2-1 career advantage against.

The World No. 10 Rublev needed just 62 minutes to defeat No. 75 Cameron Norrie of Great Britain, 6-2, 6-1, to advance to his first St. Petersburg Open semifinal. The victory was Rublev’s 32nd of the abbreviated season. He’s 17-4 since the ATP Tour resumption two months ago after going 15-3 prior to the shutdown. The win also moved Rublev into ninth place in the Battle for London standings for the Nitto ATP Finals with 3,109 points, 34 points ahead of 10th place Matteo Berrettini (3,075).

In outpointing Norrie 59-39, Rublev won 66 percent (33 of 50) of his service points and was effective on his returns, winning 54 percent (26 of 48). He broke Norrie five times in 11 tries, saved the only break point he faced and hit three aces.

Rublev has won 12 of his last 13 matches and he’s 7-3 in his last 10 matches against lefties.

In the other half of the draw, No. 7 seed Borna Cornic of Croatia defeated unseeded and 36th-ranked Reilly Opelka of the United States, 7-6 (3), 6-3, and in the featured nightcap, 2015 champion and No. 6 seed Milos Raonic fired 15 aces and beat No. 4 seed Karen Khachanov of Russia, 6-1, 7-6 (1), in one hour and 26 minutes.

Coric, a 2019 finalist, overcame the big-serving Opelka’s 16 aces by placing 78 percent of his first serves in play, serving six aces and winning 86 percent (36 of 42) of his first-serve points. He trailed 2-5 early on and saved three set points at 3-5 in the opening set, which he went on to win in a tie break.

Coric broke Opelka twice during the one hour and 22-minute match. He outpointed Opelka 71-51. He improved his lifetime win-loss record in the St. Petersburg Open to 6-2.

“I played some of my best tennis today,” said Coric during his virtual press conference. “I had trouble finding my rhythm [at first], but as the match progressed, I got better and better. By the end, I was playing better tennis. … I was reading [Reilly’s] serve. I felt more confident. … I like to play here. I’m going to be ready for tomorrow.”

Meanwhile, the 21st-ranked Raonic saved some of his best tennis for the second-set tie break. He jumped out to a 4-0 lead and finished strong with his last two aces. Raonic won 79 percent (45 of 57) of his service points, saved the only break point he faced, broke Khachanov three times and outpointed him 72-50. Raonic has not been broken in 29 service games during the week.

“It was a great match for me,” Raonic said during an on-court interview after his win. “From the beginning, I knew it was going to be tough. I knew I was going to have to bring my best tennis and I did from the start of the match. I think that really helped me a lot and I am just happy with my level overall.”

Around the St. Petersburg Open

• After his impressive second-round upset of No. 1 seed Daniil Medvedev, Reilly Opelka was asked about his effective use of drop shots to go along with his powerful serve. He said, “The drop shot is something that I’m always trying to throw in and incorporate in my game. I’m obviously having a big serve, so guys tend to return from the fence. … So, drop shots are the good shot to throw in there to keep [my opponent] honest. That way, it allows me when I do want to set up and rip my forehand to keep [my opponent] guessing. … It’s a shot that I do work on a lot.”

• Borna Coric was asked to compare himself from a year ago to how he’s playing now. He said: “I’ve been healthy this year. Last year, I was not healthy. I didn’t perform very good. Now, after the long break, I’m just trying to stay healthy. That’s the most important thing. … When I play my best tennis, I can compete [against the best].”

• Saturday’s order of play: No. 2 seed Denis Shapovalov will face No. 3 seed Andrey Rublev in the first semifinal at 2 p.m. (Central European Time), followed not before 3:30 p.m. by the second semifinal between No. 6 seed Milos Raonic and No. 7 seed Borna Coric. Then, a semifinal doubles match will feature unseeded Alexander Bublik of Kazakhstan and Reilly Opelka from the United States against unseeded Marcelo Demoliner from Brazil and Matwe Middelkoop of the Netherlands.