No rap duet with Shapo in store: FAA

MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. – Félix Auger-Aliassime is happy his “big brother” Denis Shapovalov is expressing himself through his music.

But no, he has no plans to join him in a Canadian teen rap duet any time in the near future.

These two have a big 24 hours coming up, with Auger-Aliassime playing a late-night match against No. 11 seed Borna Coric Wednesday to reach the Miami Open semis.

Shapovalov has a doubles quarterfinal against the legendary Bryan brothers with partner Rohan Bopanna Wednesday afternoon.

And then, he will face another rising young star in Laver Cup teammate Frances Tiafoe in a quarterfinal on Thursday.

But for the moment, he is a solo act on the rapping.

Although you do hope – in the improbable scenario where the Miami Open final is an all-Canadian teen affair (the two are on opposite sides of the draw) – they might consider coming up with a little special edition.

Shapo getting some grief

It all started when Shapovalov made good on a promise in Indian Wells that if he won his next match, he’d come up with some rhymes on court.

He’s a teen of his word.

(The expiration date on the word “teen”, for Shapovalov, is April 15).

He got some social media expert musical criticism for it.

But he doesn’t care.

Meanwhile, quarterfinal foe ‘Foe chimed in on that as well.

Tiafoe could contribute the “Silencer” thing.

Anyone else looking forward to ‘Po vs. ‘Foe?

Shapovalov makes it two in the quarters (video)

MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. – Somewhere around 1:30 a.m. Wednesday morning, Denis Shapovalov earned a spot in the quarterfinals of the Miami Open.

It was about 12 hours after his countryman and friend Félix Auger-Aliassime did the same.

No pressure. But the next goal for the two Canadian teens, on opposite sides of the draw, will be to do what their predecessors did back in 2013.

That’s when Milos Raonic and Vasek Pospisil, then 22 and 23, both reached the Masters 1000 semifinals in Montreal. They ended up playing each other; Raonic won in a third-set tiebreak.

Early Wednesday morning Shapovalov needed a third-set tiebreak to get past No. 9 seed Stefanos Tsitsipas of Greece, 4-6, 6-4, 7-6 (3).

The two have played on the pro tour. But this match harkened back to one of the finest junior matches in recent years, when the two met in the 2016 Wimbledon boys’ singles semifinals.

Shapovalov won that one as well. And he went on to beat Alex de Minaur in the final and win the title.

Three years later, both are all grown up, and in the top 25 in the ATP Tour rankings.

Ridiculous level of tennis

The future is now in men’s tennis, and these two obviously are right in the middle of it.

Between Shapovalov’s win over Andrey Rublev in the previous round, and this one in the fourth round, the pace of ball was brutish, the speed and reaction time of the players impressive and the overall level really off the charts.

That was especially impressive Tuesday night, as a couple of rain delays pushed back the schedule. And, indeed, the Roger Federer match against Daniil Medvedev scheduled for the main stadium was cancelled altogether.

From the Qs to the QFs for FAA (video)

It was almost 11:30 pm by the time time Shapovalov and Tsitsipas took the court.

Despite that, there were an impressive number of fans on hand on the Grandstand to watch them. They knew what potential this match had.

It did not disappoint.

At nearly 2 a.m., here’s Shapovalov afterwards talking about the present, the past with Tsitsipas and the future (by the delivery of the questions, you can tell the interviewer was more tired than Shapovalov was! Being 19 is fabulous).

Canadian young guns aim for quarters in Miami

MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. – If feels as though the future has arrived a little ahead of schedule.

And yet, somehow, it feels right on time.

Canadian teenagers Denis Shapovalov (tonight) and Félix Auger-Aliassime (at noon) will try to make the Miami Open quarterfinals on Tuesday.

Shapovalov reached the fourth round a year ago. So it’s not a huge surprise. He made his Miami debut in 2018 straight into the main draw, upset then-No. 14 Sam Querrey in the third round before losing a tight three-setter to Borna Coric of Croatia in the round of 16.

For Auger-Aliassime, making his first appearance, it’s a breakthrough effort.

Auger-Aliassime would have easily made the main draw directly on his current ranking. But his rise in fortunes, which came last month on the South American clay-court swing, came too late for the Miami Open deadline.

Canadian

And given he’s not a player represented by IMG, which owns the tournament and decides on the wild cards, he was out of luck. But as the No. 2 seed, he made it through the qualifying. And he had a good draw

His first seeded opponent, in the second round. was Marton Fucsovics. In the grand scheme, it could have been a lot worse than getting the No. 29 seed. Then, in the third round, Auger-Aliassime faced 22-year-old Hubert Hurkacz. 

Hurkacz thoughtfully eliminated Indian Wells champion Dominic Thiem, the No. 3 seed, earlier in the event. And Auger-Aliassime defeated Hurkacz.

Now, he comes up against an interesting player in No. 17 seed Nikoloz Basilashvili. The Georgian is playing his best tennis, a late bloomer at age 27 after a long journey to get there.

 

Shapo v Tsitsipas – a Wimbledon junior rematch

In the last few years of following the junior event closely at Grand Slams, the best match we’ve ever seen – it still stands out, point by point – was the 2016 Wimbledon junior boys’ semifinal between Shapovalov and Stefanos Tsitsipas.

The Greek breakout star was eight months older. But both were serve-volleying, chip-and-charging – basically, showing off all the skills at a very young age.

Shapovalov pulled it off 4-6, 7-6 (5), 6-2 and went on to defeat Alex de Minaur in the final. A month prior, in the quarterfinals of the French Open juniors, the Canadian had overcome a tired-looking Tsitsipas 6-4, 6-2.

The two played twice on the main tour in 2018. Shapovalov won in straight sets in the first round of the Australian Open. Tsitsipas got him back rather routinely, 6-3, 6-4 in the first round of the Monte Carlo tournament, on clay.

So it’s been nearly a year since they played. And since then, Tsitsipas has both made the top 10 and shown a few signs of being a bit burned out by it all.

He was defeated soundly by Auger-Aliassime just a few weeks ago at Indian Wells.

Tsitsipas and Kenneth Raisma of Estonia defeated Auger-Aliassime and Shapovalov in the 2016 Wimbledon boys’ doubles final. Raisma has fallen off the map, having played just two matches this year at entry-level ITF events, and losing both)

Young Canadian rankings outlook

Shapovalov has done his job in Miami, defending his points. He remains tied at his career-high ranking of No. 23.

And there are a number of players still alive in the tournament who stand between him and a spot in the top 20 – a spot that seems a bit overdue. But we’re judging by fairly lofty standards when we write that.

For Auger-Aliassime, the Miami effort so far breaks him into the top 50, at No. 46.

If he beats Basilashvili to make his first Masters 1000 quarterfinal, he’ll be just a few ranking points shy of the top 40.

Either way, he is right on the cusp of leaving the qualifying behind for good.

Auger-Aliassime is already into the 250-level tournament in Marrakech the week of April 8, as he kicks off his clay-court campaign.

He’s just a few spots out of the main draw in Monte Carlo. The Canadian got a wild card there a year ago; given he’s now an official resident of Monaco, you’d have to figure he’d be good for another one if he doesn’t squeeze into the main draw on his own merit.

He’s into the main draw at the 500-level tournament in Barcelona the week after that.

Canadian

The Madrid Masters 1000 deadline of March 18 came a little too early, but he’ll be among the top seeds in qualifying unless they give him a wild card.

As for Rome, he should be in good shape.

Given Auger-Aliassime’s proficiency on clay, you have to think he’ll be looking at trying to get seeded at the French Open.

A year ago, Auger-Aliassime earned … 44 points on the European clay Challenger circuit. He lost in the first round of Monte Carlo to Mischa Zverev after getting a wild card there.

Shapovalov has Monte Carlo and Barcelona on his schedule before the big Masters 1000 events.

 

Shapo having fun rappin’, so don’t be hatin’ (video)

MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. – Denis Shapovalov loves music, so he’s enjoying himself writing rhyme in rappin’ time.

And if you don’t like it, the 19-year-old doesn’t really care what you think.

As he points out, it’s just a hobby, not his job. And he’s just expressing himself, something he wishes more players would do.

But in the world we live in, everyone weighs in on every single thing.

And so the social-media music critics out there have been quick to weigh in with their opinion on the quality of his lines.

The Canadian had promised on-court host Blair Henley at Indian Wells that if he won his next match, he’d have something prepared and perform it on the court.

And so, he did. 

Took guts, to be honest.

Sunscreen time

On an off day, Shapovalov made a video in which he was liberally slathered with sunscreen.

Shapo just wanna have fun

Here’s what Shapovalov had to say about his extracurriculars, immediately after his opening Miami Open win over Dan Evans.

The great thing about the mixed zone is that you don’t get a player two hours later – suited and booted and with all the match adrenaline washed away in the shower.

You can see how jazzed he still is.

He plays another rising talent, Andrey Rublev, later Monday in the third round.

Canadians do a LOT of talking at Indian Wells (video)

INDIAN WELLS, Calif. – You know who’s done a whole lotta talking at the BNP Paribas Open?

The Canadians.

Win or lose, rain or dry – amid the moths and beetles – the Canuck crew created more buzz than any single group at Indian Wells.

The veteran Milos Raonic did as he usually does – went deep in the desert. And he’s still in it, to face Dominic Thiem in the semifinals.

Teenager Félix Auger-Aliassime impressed in a dominant win over Stefanos Tsitsipas. But then he hit the wall physically against Yoshihito Nishioka of Japan. 

Even then, he almost pulled it off.

Denis Shapovalov made a victory over Grand Slam champion Marin Cilic look routine, before not playing his best against the unseeded Hubert Hurkacz.

And then, there was Bianca Andreescu.

The third of the teen triumvirate is into the final, after getting into the tournament as a wild card.

Here is Milos Raonic talking about righting recent wrongs.

Here’s Auger-Aliassime looking at the positive after a great few weeks.

Here’s Shapovalov talking rap, and shrugging off a sub-par day.

And finally, here’s Andreescu after her crushing win over Garbiñe Muguruza, and answering questions that will allow the fans just discovering her to get to know her a little bit.

 

Shapovalov happy to get going at Indian Wells (video)

INDIAN WELLS, Calif. – The flow of the BNP Paribas Open is a strange one.

The players often arrive a week early to get ready – happily so, with the (usually) nice weather, and the opportunity to stay in a home rather than a hotel and put down roots for a bit.

The conditions also require some adjustment. They are an unusual mixture of a rather slow, gritty hard court and the desert air that makes the ball fly at times.

But for the seeded players, who have a first-round bye, it’s a long wait. That’s why many of them play doubles. At least then, they can get on the court a little earlier.

So finally, on Sunday, Canadian Denis Shapovalov got to play his first singles match. And he had a tough one, against American Steve Johnson.

But Shapovalov was impressive in getting through, 6-3, 6-4.

His next match is a bigger challenge, as the No. 24 seed faces No. 10 seed Marin Cilic.

Here’s what he said after the victory.

Seeds by the wayside

Shapovalov took advantage of a big Canadian contingent of fans, as Stadium 3 was packed for the spirited encounter.

The fans helped offset the popularity of Steve Johnson, a native southern Californian who had a lot of support.

That was especially true as he tried to mount a comeback late in the match. But it wasn’t to be.

Johnson’s racket paid the price.

INdianNext up for Shapovalov is a big challenge, in a draw that did him no favors.

Other than that No. 10 vs. No. 24, there are rather few third-round matchups on the men’s side in which two seeded players are facing each other.

In theory, all 16 matches should have featured seeds.

In reality, the way things shook out, there are only three others: No. 2 Nadal vs. No. 25 Schwartzman, No. 8 Isner vs. No. 32 Pella and No. 7 Thiem vs. No. 27 Simon.

Everywhere else, there have been upsets – at least on paper.

Shapo playing for Bruno at IW

INDIAN WELLS, Calif. – Right around this time of the year, especially, young Canadian Denis Shapovalov’s thoughts turn to his friend Bruno Agostinelli.

And when he (finally) successfully opened his singles quest at the BNP Paribas Open late Sunday afternoon, he pointed up to the sky in remembrance after the victory.

Agostinelli, who would have turned 32 next month, tragically died during the Indian Wells event three years ago

On March 9, 2016, the then 28-year-old, who had become a father just two weeks before, lost control of his motorcycle and died, in Toronto.

Agostinelli had been a Davis Cup hero when given a brief moment to shine down in the wilds of the American zonals in South America.

He had been a college player and a captain of his team at the University of Kentucky. And when he went into coaching at a young age, he was an influence on many young players.

Bruno
Agostinelli, who had a sweet one-handed backhand, never made it as a pro. But he realized early that coaching was his calling. Tragically, he was just 28 when he died in a motorcycle crash. (Stephanie Myles/Tennis.Life)

One of those was Shapovalov.

We didn’t notice it at the time, but it appears Shapovalov offered up the same tribute Saturday – the exact anniversary of Agostinelli’s death – after he and Rohan Bopanna won their first-round doubles match. It was a pretty big upset, over No. 2 seeds Jamie Murray and Bruno Soares.

Bruno

Here’s what Shapovalov said about it, following his 6-3, 6-4 win over Steve Johnson Wednesday.

(Shapovalov was accommodating enough to come into press between his singles and his doubles match against Novak Djokovic and Fabio Fognini later in the evening. That one didn’t go as well, with Shapovalov and Rohan Bopanna going down 10-8 in the match tiebreak).

Shapovalov touches down at the Oz Open

MELBOURNE, Australia – The decision-making about Grand Slam tuneup events is a “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” sort of call.

If you sign up for both weeks, and you’re a good player, the tennis gods might have it in for you. You’ll do well both weeks and might come into the major a little overcooked.

But if you choose to only play one tournament – and you’re bounced early – you might end up a little underdone.

So the state of Canadian teenager Denis Shapovalov’s game coming into the Australian Open is all to be discovered.

A year ago, the then-18-year-old played both Brisbane and Auckland but got just three matches. He lost to Kyle Edmund in the first round in Brisbane and to Juan Martin del Potro in the second round in Auckland.

He then came to Melbourne and defeated (then No. 82) Stefanos Tsitsipas in three mostly routine sets in the first round. Jo-Wilfried Tsonga defeated him in five sets in the second round after Shapovalov had been up two sets to one.

(On an unrelated note, how much has the landscape changed for both Tsitsipas and Tsonga since a year ago?)

One and done in Auckland

This year – and after a 2018 season during which he probably played a few too many events and burned himself out a bit physically – there was only Auckland.

But the No. 7 seed went out in the first round, to the quality Joao Sousa, 4-6, 6-4, 6-4.

He’ll have an exhibition match at the Kooyong Classic Thursday against Jack Sock.

In the meantime, Shapovalov hit the practice courts at Melbourne Park Wednesday.

It was pretty ragged at the start. But he picked it up.

It takes a village

The most striking thing on the court was the picture it painted of the contrast between the “haves” and the (relative) have-nots in tennis.

Team Shapovalov is a pretty big squad:. Two coaches: Rob Steckley and mom/coach Tessa Shapovalov. A physio. A trainer. The newest Nike practice colours, and a “We The North” Toronto Raptors’ T-shirt.

At the other chair was his practice partner for the day, Luca Vanni.

Team Shapo is a party of five. Team Luca Vanni is a … solo act as the two practice together Wednesday at the Australian Open. (Stephanie Myles/Tennis.Life)

Team Vanni on Wednesday was … Luca Vanni.

Vanni is into the second round of the qualifying, where he’ll play Sergiy Stakhovsky Thursday. He has played just three Grand Slam main-draw matches in his career. And he lost all three.

The 33-year-old Italian’s career ranking was exactly No. 100 back in 2015 (he’s currently at No. 164). He has played just 22 ATP Tour-level matches in his career, going 5-17. Mostly, Vanni makes his living on the Challenger circuit.

Since he first appeared on the rankings list back in June, 2006, the veteran Italian has never had a ranking in the double digits. And he has earned less than $700,000 in his career. 

Shapovalov earned more than that in 2017 alone. And that wasn’t even a full year at the ATP Tour level.

Which is not to make a sympathy plea for the Luca Vannis of the world. It’s merely to point out that these two players are completing on the same playing field.

But of course, it’s not a level one.

Canadians in Florida – quelle surprise! (video)

BRADENTON, Fla. – You can’t exactly call them snowbirds, because they only hit Florida long enough to prepare the season – and then chase the sun the rest of the year.

But the IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla. always has a full complement of Canadian players this time of the season.

It definitely beats the weather at home, no matter what part of Canada you come from.

Canadian No. 2 Denis Shapovalov first spent some time decompressing and training at his tax residence in the Bahamas, and hit Bradenton with a big crew about a week ago.

On hand are new coach Rob Steckley and mom/coach Tessa. Even his junior coach, Adriano Fuorivia, showed up in an Instagram pic at IMG a few days ago.

Félix in Florida

Arriving at about the same time was his pal Félix Auger-Aliassime, who is having his first preseason at the IMG Academy. A year ago, the then-17-year-old Auger-Aliassime was in Dubai training with Roger Federer.

Another big crew with Auger-Aliassime, including both his coaches: Guillaume Marx and Frédéric Fontang. Also, father Sam and his wife and her daughter.

Physios, trainers … It takes a village to make a champion these days.

Other Canadians in the house?

Brayden Schnur, Peter Polansky and Filip Peliwo – all IMG habitués this time of the year.

With the weather most uncooperative Friday (you can hear the rain pelting down on the roof of the indoor courts), they headed indoors. 

Auger-Aliassime practiced with Martin Damm, Jr., the 15-year-old son of longtime doubles star Martin Damm. (Damm Jr. is a HUGE kid for 15).

Next-Gen Finals will review … EVERYTHING!

And you thought the towel rack was innovative?

The Next-Gen Finals are going full-out on the video review this year.

The ATP announced on Friday that the exhibition event for 21-and-under players will use expanded video review for this year’s second annual event in Milan.

We’re not talking about line calls. We’re talking about not-ups, racket touches and reaching over the net to hit a ball. All those little borderline nuances that are in the rule book and tough for the chair umpire to call are covered.

You just hope that they happen, so we can see the technology at work.

“Controversy with these types of decisions are rare but when they do occur they can be particularly unsettling for players. We do not expect a lot of challenges, but should any instances arise, this technology will ensure the correct decision is reached,” was the statement from Gayle Bradshaw, ATP executive vice-president of rules and competition.

The video review operator off the court will search the footage from all the cameras to find the best angles. It’s somewhat like the video review officials in the National Hockey League searching for decisive footage when a goal is reviewed.

They’ll send it to the chair umpire’s tablet (not his fancy watch?) to review. the umpire will make a determination on whatever the infraction was. The fans in the arena and watching at home also will be able to see that footage.

Hawkeye watches coming to Milan

No more INVASIONS!

Did you know? If a player’s racket, or clothing “touches the other side of the court” while the ball is in play, it’s called an “invasion”.

That notably occurs when a player’s racket crosses the plane of the net, trying to handle a ball with backspin, unable to stop on the dead run or trying to put away a very slow ball on the volley.

(Djokovic conceded later that he thought his racket might have crossed over the net. He also conveyed that to Murray at the time. Djokovic also said he was unsure if the rules prohibited it (!). But he added he would have conceded the point had that been made clear to him. It was definitely not on Djokovic to do that; the umpire, having to make the decision in real time, blew the call).

The technology also will reportedly be able to call “foul shots”.

Those include “deliberate” double hits, or carrying the ball rather than striking it. You have to think the chair umpire will remain in charge of deciding whether it was deliberate or inadvertent.

No more touches

If the ball hits a permanent fixture before it bounces, they’ll know. If the racket is no longer in the player’s hand when it makes contact with the ball, they can see it. And if the ball skims the racquet, or a player’s clothing – or even their hair, they’ll be busted.

Finally, if any part of the player’s body or equipment touches the net, net posts or singles sticks while the ball is in play, they’ll see it.

Given they don’t expect too many, there’s no limit on the number of challenges of this type that a player can make.

You just hope the players don’t figure out how to use it as a tactic to catch their breath, or slow up the play. Because there’s no mention of any penalty against the inquiring player, if he’s wrong.

On the plus side, fans won’t get on their non-favorite player to “‘fess up” or give away a point on the “honor system” – even though it’s not their responsibility.

Other possibilities

One capability of the technology would be to be able to determine whether the point should be given, or replayed on a line call overrule.

You see this happen – although not that often – because it’s a judgment call by the umpire as to whether the player was impacted on the timing of the call, and might have put the ball over the net otherwise.

Sometimes it’s pretty contentious, too. And often it puts pressure on the player who benefits from an umpire’s judgment to call something against themselves of their own volition (which you’re *supposed* to do in unofficiated matches, but which is not in the least your responsibility when there are officials).

(That won’t happen at the Next-Gen Finals, because Hawk-Eye live makes all the calls, and they’re not subject to appeal).

Other changes will be to lop yet another minute off the player warmup. It will be down to … four minutes. (No idea why tennis is so focused on this issue – it’s far and away not a major time vampire).

Final field determined

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As of Thursday, the eight players who have qualified for the Next-Gen finals were determined.

Well, actually seven players, as the eighth is an Italian wild card that will be determined by a playoff. Gianluigi Quinzi won it last year. He aged out of the competition this year.

Spain’s Jaume Munar was the last to qualify.

So the field will be as follows, as the No. 1 Next Gen contender, Alexander Zverev, will take a pass for the second straight year as he qualified for the “big boys” final in London.

*Stefanos Tsitsipas (GRE)
*Denis Shapovalov (CAN)
*Alex de Minaur (AUS)
*Frances Tiafoe (USA)
*Taylor Fritz (USA)
*Andrey Rublev (RUS)
*Jaume Munar (ESP)

Shapovalov and Rublev are the only holdovers from a year ago. Shapovalov remains the youngest; he doesn’t turn 20 until April.

Here are the top young Italian players, most of whom will play off the week before the event.

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