Denis Shapovalov knocked out of the US Open in the third round

NEW YORK—Denis Shapovalov recalls the first time he laid eyes on Andrey Rublev. He thought the Russian kid was a little crazy.

“He was playing a tournament in Canada and I was just there to watch. He was the top junior at the time. I remember he lost the first set and completely destroyed his hand on the racquet (from rage). He was covered in blood. I’m, like, ‘Jesus, this guy is crazy.’ ”

Mad as a fox, maybe. And certainly Shapovalov also had his gonzo moments on the tennis court.

They are very similar, two blazing big hitters, all torque, power and razzmatazz. Shapovalov, the 23-year-old from Richmond Hill, is probably the biggest showman; he always brings the spectacle of the jumping backhand and the interaction of the fist with the crowd. But Rublev, a year older, definitely had his moments. The Moscow-born player, at a tournament in Dubai in February – just before Russia invaded Ukraine – signed a TV camera lens: ‘NO WAR PLEASE’. Probably the first athlete to even stand up to criticism of President Vladimir Putin’s warmongering.

It was a fight of a different kind, limited to rackets and gale shootouts, on Saturday on the grandstand court, as the afternoon turned into evening. It was, however, a fully loaded and kinetic five-setter.

Rublev, the ninth seed, eliminated Shapovalov, the 19th seed, 6-4, 2-6, 6-7 (3), 6-4, 7-6 (10-7) in some of the most tennis sensational events that have been witnessed in Queens over the past week. Which was only minor consolation for the defeated Canadian, who entered the deal as the only surviving Canadian in the singles competition here.

“It really sucks to lose today, but I will definitely try to do better next time.”

Shapovalov, who hadn’t been in such fine form until his arrival in the Big Apple – a pretty disappointing grind from spring to summer as he slipped out of the top 20 – would struggle to improve his performance next time or any time; only the result could be improved, really.

“It’s unfortunate. The level was great from both of us. Big credit to Andrey, he fought very well and he played tremendously well. From both of us it was one of our best games. Definitely upsetting to lose while playing so well. I felt like I was playing well in the tournament. Things were coming together really well.”

As usual in New York, where he became the first Canadian to reach the quarter-finals in tournament history in 2020, Shapovalov had the full support of the grandstand crowd behind him. “It’s always special to come back here and play. The crowds are just amazing. Every time I come back here it’s super memorable. I feel like every year I come away with more memories of the crowd and how electric it is.

He will no doubt also have slapped memories of that match, as there was ample opportunity to come away floating on a cloud of a winner. Shapovalov amassed 76 winners and punched 23 aces over the humdinger of four hours and seven minutes, but also racked up 72 errors to Rublev’s 38. Both recorded four breaks of serve, but Rublev managed with half as many chances: Shapovalov was 4 for 17, Rublev 4 for 9.

The fourth time, the Russian advanced 5-4 in the fifth set, then was blocked as Shapovalov saved three match points, tying the game 5-5. They both held serve, dragging the game into a second tiebreaker – Shapovalov had won the first, taking a 2-1 advantage – where the Canadian fell behind 3-0, then came back to 3- 3.

Rublev took a giant step in front, 8-4, but Shapovalov fought back at 8-6, then valiantly rushed to 9-7, but alas no further, as it ended 10-7 under the new first lined up while Slam. system at -10.

“Obviously it was a crazy game,” Rublev said afterwards. “As we all know, he deserves to win. We both deserve to win. Afterwards, when you play these kinds of matches, there is no winner, in my opinion.”

Rublev couldn’t put Shapovalov away in the fifth set when nerves and perhaps fatigue seemed to catch up with him. “When he threw a double fault, I felt he was nervous, he was tight,” Shapovalov said. “So I just wanted to play him. I tried to play big targets and move it around. He looked like he had his feet locked in there a bit.

Shapovalov had his own physical issues at the end of his second five-passer in three rounds. “I had a lot of cramps in my quad on every serve. So it was just amazing that I was able to continue competing. For me alone, it shows how far I can really go physically, even under the best of circumstances.

“Overall it’s a tough loss, but I think I did everything I could and so did he. He was just a bit better today.

Their careers had followed mirror trajectories, but Rublev took the lead while Shapovalov fell back a bit. Reminiscent of how wide and difficult the range is from top 20 to top 10 to top five.

“In general, in sports it’s very difficult to stand out and be an exception, like the top four were,” Shapovalov said, referring to Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray. . “It shows how good they have been for so long. It’s also difficult, with time and age at the moment, there are so many great players. Elders don’t retire. There are so many good young guys, so the depth is pretty amazing. So it takes a bit longer to complete the game and progress to the top.

“You always have these guys like Rafa and Novak and Roger just competing and taking Slams away from other players.”

Then, perhaps hearing the words that just came out of his mouth, Shapovalov quickly changed the quote. “Of course as a tennis fan it’s a great time for tennis because you always have the legends and you have so many exciting young players who can win any week. It’s quite fun to watch because the variety is so much greater.

The same goes for Bingo Slam moments. And those who escape.

Rosie DiManno is a Toronto-based columnist who covers sports and current affairs for The Star. Follow her on Twitter: @rdimanno


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