What has Happened to Denis Shapovalov?

Denis Shapovalov
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After watching Denis Shapovalov play Juan Martin del Potro at Queen’s Club, he hung his head in despair. Yet, another first-round loss for Shapovalov. Yet, another opportunity by the wayside. Shapovalov looks as if he has zero confidence in his shots and, at this point, he can’t even win a set, let alone a match, or a tournament. His game appears to be in complete disarray.

Where is the Denis Shapovalov we knew?

When Shapovalov first appeared on the scene, he was brimming with confidence. Powerful ground strokes, and that wicked lefty serve which confounded his opponents. He had a wonderful, competent, knowledgeable coach, in Martin Laurendeau. Suddenly, about a year ago at this time, everything seemed to fall apart. Martin left due to back problems, and Shapovalov’s Mom took over. It seemed to be her decision to revamp or revise Denis’ serve. That was a disaster which took months to fix. It’s amazing that Shapovalov even remained in the top 30 in the world.

Enter Rob Steckley

Towards the end of last year, Shapovalov made an out of the box coaching choice with Rob Steckley. But, they seemed to relate well to each other. Shapovalov’s serve returned with a vengeance, and he seemed completely comfortable with Steckley’s techniques. Shapovalov didn’t do well at the AO, but then drawing Novak Djokovic in the third round didn’t help. He continued making inroads until that marvelous run in Miami where he reached another Masters SF. The next day it was announced Steckley and Shapovalov would be parting ways. No explanation has ever been given.

The Slide

Since Steckley’s exit, Shapovalov has been 2-10 with a completely dismal clay-court season, and now half of the grass court season is done, and he’s been poor in singles yet again. Surprisingly so, he did well at Stuttgart in doubles with Rohan Bopanna with whom he reached the finals. In doubles play, Shapovalovs appeared confident, happy and capable. In singles it’s been the complete opposite.

As he faced del Potro yesterday morning, there were flashes of his old brilliance, but they were few and far between. He gave up his serve twice, and that was enough. The ‘old’ Shapovalov would have fought much harder, and at least pushed the match to three sets.

What’s Happened?

One can only speculate on what’s happened with Shapovalov. From the outside, it appears to begin and end with coaching. While his junior coach was great for the junior circuit, it may have been a mistake to bring him on at this point in Shapovalov’s career. Shapovalov’s results bear that out. It’s clear he has significant issues with a consistently poor return of serve, and a tendency to maintain the same tactics in match, even when they’re not working.

Online discussions range from maintaining belief in Shapovalov’s talent, to sharing opinions that this will be Shapovalov’s career. Although his slide is disconcerting, it is not yet time to declare his singles career over.

Part of his decline is definitely due to an undisciplined style of play that relies on flashy shots rather than steady, practical play. Shapovalov seems to relish in pulling off the dynamic shots, but less interested in playing disciplined points. The latter wins matches. The former does not.

What must Denis Shapovalov do?

He must find a coach to help him turn this around. It’s clear his current coach has no idea how to guide, or help Denis Shapovalov. Some top-level coaches might be the answer. Here are some suggestions:

• Darren Cahill
• Boris Becker
• Stefan Edberg
• Frank Dancevic

Out of the box ideas:

• Daniel Nestor
• John McEnroe
• Martina Navratilova
• Rob Steckley

No one outside of Shapovalov’s team truly knows what’s going on. But, whatever it is, Shapovalov needs to fix it fast. There are too many good young players coming up and he could be left behind very quickly. For someone with his raw talent, that would be a shame. I firmly believe Tennis Canada should do what they can to help Shapovalov. This is not just for him, but for tennis in Canada. Let’s hope this diamond in the rough can find his way.

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