Until the last point, Denis Shapovalov never quit. Amidst the double faults, the unforced errors, the ripping winners and the breaks of serve, the Canadian refused to give up on his chance of reaching the US Open semifinals. But, down two-sets-to-one against the rock-solid Spaniard Pablo Carreno Busta, who reached the US Open semifinals back in 2017, the 12th seed appeared to have reached an impasse. That is until the match turned on a dime.
Shapovalov threw caution to the wind, opening his shoulders and unleashing on anything that was even remotely hittable, including a number of returns. Carreno Busta, whose approach is typically patient and considered, had no answers to Shapovalov’s formidable display of power-hitting. Driven on to the back foot, the Spaniard was reduced almost to the role of a spectator as Shapovalov won six games on the bounce to force a fifth and deciding set.
But the experienced Carreno Busta halted the rot in the opening stages of the decider and Shapovalov’s momentum began to fade. Carreno Busta, courtesy of some superb passing shots and determined defence, dragged his opponent back into a dogfight and there it was Carreno Busta who drew first blood. Down 2-3 and facing break point, Shapovalov wilted under the pressure, double faulting to hand Carreno Busta what proved to be the decisive break.
The 20th seed held on to complete a 3-6 7-6 7-6 0-6 6-3 victory and return to the US Open semifinals. But though this defeat will surely sting for Shapovalov, it should not distract from his excellent run in New York. There has never been any doubt over Shapovalov’s qualities as a shot maker, but this fortnight the Canadian showed another side of his game, with his fighting spirit on full display as he battled his way through the first four rounds and into his first Grand Slam quarterfinal.
In the third round, Shapovalov was staring into the abyss down a break in the fourth against Taylor Fritz. But when the American served for the match, he blinked and Shapovalov took advantage, breaking back and going on to level the match in a fourth-set tiebreak. He then raced through the fifth set to seal a memorable five-set win. He also scored some excellent wins in the doubles, where he reached the quarterfinals partnered with the veteran Rohan Bopanna.
However, he may be concerned that Carreno Busta had his number once again. The Spaniard beat Shapovalov in the fourth round at the US Open in 2017 and whilst Shapovalov has unquestionably improved considerably in the interim, he once again proved unable to overcome Carreno Busta’s accuracy and consistency off the ground. If Shapovalov is to fulfil his lofty ambitions, there is clearly work to be done.
Still, it was an excellent tournament for Shapovalov personally and for Canadian tennis. There may have been no standout success to match Bianca Andreescu’s memorable run to the title last season, but there was plenty of success for Canadian fans to applaud with Shapovalov, Felix Auger-Aliassime and Vasek Pospisil all reaching the second week. Milos Raonic, despite losing to Pospisil in the second round, also enjoyed a fruitful trip to New York, reaching the Cincinnati Masters final.
For Canadian tennis, the future is bright. And this certainly won’t be the last time the swashbuckling tennis of Shapovalov’s makes an impact on the biggest stage.
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