Saturday’s semifinal match-up between Denis Shapovalov and Alexander Zverev, was an exciting one for tennis. It featured two deeply entrenched members of the ATP’s next generation group of players, vying for a place in the Roger’s Cup final. More importantly, it gave fans a glimpse of the possible rivalry of the future – a time when the big four would have all hung up their rackets and would be getting inducted into the famed grounds of Newport.
Alexander Zverev came into this semifinal, oddly the experienced competitor. He’s been finding his place on the tour for the past two years, and has gradually worked his way up the rankings ladder to his current top ten position – a position well deserved. He also came into this semifinal contest, a four time title winner in 2017 and one title win behind Roger Federer. Denis Shapovalov’s resume isn’t nearly as impressive as Zverev’s but he’d done something the German had failed to do in three tries. He’d defeated Rafael Nadal en route to this semifinal clash. This was coming off what was already a career defining victory over Juan Martin Del Potro, a round earlier. All of this recent history, made this clash a potentially electric one and it lived up to its billing.
I did say in yesterday’s preview, that I expected Zverev to win due to his game being a bit more mature than Shapovalov’s. It turned out to be the defining difference between the two. It did not go three sets, but it was definitely a hard fought 6 – 4, 7 – 5 victory for the German. Watching the match, I was repeatedly amazed at the Zverev backhand or as I like to call it, his second forehand. He took it early and on the rise. He hit it cross-court to devastating effect and he really found wicked angles with that shot that reminded me of David Nalbandian at his very best. Forget Kei Nishikori. Alexander Zverev might have the best two-handed backhand on tour at the moment.
Shapovalov as usual, showed his fighting skills when he was behind and under pressure. It appears the Canadian’s considerable talent comes to the fore when his opponent is threatening to overrun him and while that has made for spectacular come back from behind victories all week, it was always going to cost him against a focused opponent. Nevertheless, Shapovalov showed his game and as electrifying as it is, it does have room for improvement. For one, Shapovalov could improve his net play. In the Nadal match, the Mannarino match and in the first set of the semis, Shapovalov repeatedly dumped easy volleys into the net, or gave his opponents one more chance at the pass. He’s also not convincing on the overhead smash – he missed a sitter today. It most likely will be an area of focus as his game develops and for good reason. His baseline shots naturally put his opponents on the defensive and give Shapovalov room to foray forward. A solid net game will only give the Canadian lefty another weapon and his opponents something else to worry about.
Nevertheless it has been a solid showing for Generation Next this week. It could get enormously better should Zverev somehow defeat Federer today. Judging by their last encounter, I don’t see it happening. However, Federer has not been playing his best this week. He did look considerably sharper against Haase, but he’ll have to up it some as the quality of the opposition today, is that much better.
Will the timeless legend win, or will he be toppled by one of the young, quick and hungry who are battling for their moment of greatness? We’ll find out soon enough. Ready? Play.