The Talent Emerges
Two distinctly different tennis players have emerged in men’s Canadian tennis. One is feisty, aggressive, and loves rap music. The other is much calmer, quieter, and loves classical music. Felix Auger-Aliassime and Denis Shapovalov couldn’t be more different than if someone had genetically engineered them.
Shapovalov’s game is built around a wicked lefty serve, powerful groundstrokes, and an emerging net game honed in recent doubles matches. His strength appears to be the willingness to take risks, his speed about the court, a willingness to go for bold strokes down the line, and pulling his opponents off-court with carefully constructed angles. His weakness is definitely his return of serve which is, as of yet, not the best. Perhaps his second weakness might be the fact that he sometimes seems less determined to change tactics when losing in a match. The Shapovalov game is definitely meant for faster surfaces, such as hard court and grass.
Auger-Alissime’s game is built around a powerful serve, heavy groundstrokes, and great court coverage. His patient, calm demeanor belies the depth of his abilities, which are considerable for an 18-year-old. He covers the court well and is especially adept at remaining mentally tough in difficult circumstances. But, his weakness appears to be a tendency towards double faults, an oft-repeated pattern of not making the most of big points in a match, and the lack of experience in constructing good points in a rally.
Both of these youngsters (Shapovalov is just 20 and Auger-Alissime is still 18) have achieved a great deal in their, as yet, young careers. Shapovalov has already been in the semifinals of three Masters events, Round of 16 in a Slam (the US Open), selected for Laver Cup, and served as the point man for singles in Davis Cup since he was 17. In fact, Shapovalov’s Davis Cup play has been stellar to the point of aiding Canada a berth in this year’s finals.
Auger-Alissime has already been in three finals–two at the 250 level, and one at the 500 level. He has also won two key Davis Cup matches.
An Emerging Media Bias
However, Auger-Aliassime’s emergence has all-but eclipsed everything that Shapovalov has achieved in the eyes of online forum participants, and even with Tennis Canada. The latter failed to even report on the fact of Shapovalov playing in a doubles final in Stuttgart, except as an after-thought in a post about Auger-Aliassime. In addition, when Auger-Alissime lost in his singles match, there were multiple posts about his loss, but not one about Shapovalov and his loss in doubles.
In tennis, there has long been a bias towards singles play as being more illustrious and competitive. That is hardly the truth. Doubles play is, in fact, often more challenging and worthy of the same attention. But, doubles teams don’t earn the same praise or attention as the singles players, and I doubt they ever will.
Felix vs Denis?
Arguments flourish online, creating a needless rivalry between these two friends. The two grew up as tennis players and best friends. Now that Auger-Aliassime is producing these spectacular results in singles and Shapovalov appears to be struggling, fans have become calling him the next ATG or “All time great.” Some fans have even suggested they don’t want to be a fan of a player if they’re not going to be an ATG.
But, how does one know what these two will produce? The truth is; we don’t. For now, Auger-Aliassime’s singles results are eclipsing Denis in that area. Will it always be the case? We don’t know. However, if I was to peek into the future, I would, no doubt see that both will earn spectacular results at different points in their careers. Perhaps Auger-Aliassime will always be the more consistent one, and Shapovalov will always be the flashy player. Or, their roles could reverse. To even suggest the future path of a 20-year-old and an 18-year-old is foolish beyond belief.
Tennis: Eager for the next big thing
The problem as anyone who follows tennis will admit, the sport has been dominated by three players for almost two decades. Rafael Nadal, Roger Federer, and Novak Djokovic continue to win all the big titles and fans are desperate for the next big star. Two years ago, they declared Denis Shapovalov that star. Last year it was Stefanos Tsitsipas, and this year it’s Felix Auger-Aliassime. Who will wear the mantle next? Matteo Berrettini might just be that player. Only 21, he already has three titles.
Tennis fans and pundits are so eager to name any player the next ATG, they have, in my opinion, lost their objectivity. They don’t care who they name, as long as there’s someone to pin their hopes on for the next decade or so.
Who will headline Canadian tennis?
No doubt, Auger-Aliassime and Shapovalov will go head to head many times in their careers. We don’t know who will have the edge until 15 years from now. So, to predict the future career path of such young players is meaningless. When I read online posts that suggest one will be the next Roger Federer, I roll my eyes, because I’ve heard that many times before with reference to other players. Roger Federer is unique and I doubt anyone will be just like him. I’m not yet ready to declare anyone the next big headliner because life is unpredictable. I suggest we forget this debate and simply enjoy the journey.
Embed from Getty Images