Denis Shapovalov: This Week’s Player To Watch (April 21-27)

Denis Shapovalov Barcelona
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Every week, LastWordOnTennis will highlight a player to keep an eye on as tournaments are played around the world. This week’s selection is Denis Shapovalov.

There is no respite for the men of the ATP Tour. As the Monte Carlo Masters finishes, the Barcelona Open, an ATP 500-level event, begins and the draw is packed full of talented players that have travelled straight from the principality. Rafa Nadal is backing himself on the “Pista Rafa Nadal” and Stefanos Tsitsipas and Andrey Rublev, last week’s finalists, have given themselves no rest.

This week’s player to watch, however, is Denis Shapovalov, who is fresh as a daisy having not played since Miami. Here are some reasons to catch glimpses of the flashy young Canadian’s game this week.

Beating Expectations

Denis Shapovalov isn’t the first player that comes to mind when you think of clay courts and possibly for good reason. He currently has a record of 17-14 on the red dirt and complained about the heavy conditions of the French Open last year.

It would be foolish to assume Shapovalov can’t cause an upset on the surface, however. He has made the semifinals of two of the seven clay-court Masters events he has played, a strike rate of 29%. That’s a better rate than accomplished clay-courters Dominic Thiem (25%), Diego Schwartzman (17%) and Stan Wawrinka (13%).

Shapo has the potential to cause an upset on this surface. Whether it’s his fellow countryman, Felix Auger-Aliassime, or the Italian phenom, Lorenzo Musetti, facing him in the second round, neither player will underestimate him.

Game Changer

Shapovalov has changed his return position on clay going into this week’s tournament.

He estimates his return position is about three steps behind his hard-court return position. High bounces off the serve are predominant on clay – for a one-hander like Shapo, taking the return of serve from a lower height is crucial to allow to return a heavy ball. Shapovalov also stated:

“I also feel on clay there are a lot of tough bounces and on the serve. If there’s a little bit of a [tough] bounce, then it’s pretty impossible when you’re standing close. But if you’re far back, you can still react to it.”

It seems to be working so far. Shapovalov had played Jeremy Chardy three times previously – when he played him on Tuesday, he broke his serve 38% of the time, better than any of his other matches against the Frenchman.

The One-Handed Backhand

The Shapovalov one-handed backhand is a thing of beauty.

Shapo will have had plenty of practice absorbing the power of his opponent’s forehands on that wing as a junior being left-handed. He can deliver stunning passes, airborne rockets, silky dropshots and even no-look winners off of that wing.

Be sure to catch every one of these hotshots in Barcelona!

This Week’s Player To Watch

Denis Shapovalov is an understated clay-court player that has proved he is raring to go this week in Barcelona. Jeremy Chardy has been fairly in-form of late so to dismiss him in straight sets is a statement of intent to his rivals. Though Auger-Aliassime or Musetti will be very tough opponents, Shapovalov should put on a show whatever happens.

Should he get through that match, he will likely be playing Tsitsipas. Perhaps the lefty’s game could throw the Greek a curveball; Tsitsipas has an 11-11 record against left-handers and, though this includes six losses to Nadal, it includes a 1-3 record against Shapovalov.

Be sure to catch the explosive Canadian’s game this Thursday.

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