(Photo credit: REUTERS/Susana Vera)
Alexander Zverev will look to reach the fourth Masters 1000 final of his career, and a second this season, when he takes on Canadian teenager Denis Shapovalov in Madrid. Zverev, the only man left in the draw to have lifted a Masters title, having won back-to-back in Rome and Montreal last season, arrived in Madrid fresh from winning the title in Munich. Shapovalov has never before made a final at Tour-level, but has reached one semifinal at this level previously. Who will come out on top?
That previous semifinal, which came in Montreal last year after a thrilling run that saw him topple Grand Slam champions Juan Martin del Potro and Rafael Nadal in back-to-back matches, was contested against Alexander Zverev. Hopes were high for Shapovalov, who had thrilled the crowd all week with his ultra-aggressive tennis. But it wasn’t to be for the young gun, as Zverev’s power and experience proved too much and it was the German who advanced a 6-4 7-5 winner.
Path to the semifinals
Zverev, seeded second, his highest seed at a Masters 1000 tournament, received a first round bye. That saw him begin his tournament against Russia’s Evgeny Donskoy, who he defeated comfortably 6-2 7-5. He was equally as impressive in dismissing Leonardo Mayer 6-4 6-2 to reach the quarterfinals. There he got his revenge on John Isner, who defeated him in the Miami final in March, breaking the big American in both sets to advance 6-4 7-5.
Shapovalov, unseeded in Miami, opened his campaign against America’s Tennys Sandgren, who reached a first final on the clay courts in Houston last month. But he proved no match for Shapovalov who was dominant throughout a 6-1 6-4 win, his first on clay at ATP-level. The Canadian was made to work rather harder for his second win of the week, defeating Benoit Paire of France in three sets, 7-6 4-6 6-4.
That earned Shapovalov a match up with his countryman Milos Raonic, who Shapovalov described as a legend before the match. But for all the respect Shapovalov clearly had for the elder man, he none-the-less showed no mercy to Raonic, dispatching his opponent 6-4 6-4 to reach the quarterfinals. His opponent there was Kyle Edmund, who had impressively defeated Djokovic in the second round earlier this week. But he couldn’t find the answers against ‘Shapo’, who won through 7-5 6-7 6-4.
How do they match up?
Both Zverev and Shapovalov will look to dictate from the baseline. The German is one of the best aggressive ball strikers on Tour. His backhand is the centrepiece of his arsenal, with Zverev comfortable and confident using it aggressively. His forehand is not such a reliable weapon, and can breakdown at times when put under pressure, but Zverev has continued to work on improving that shot during his still young career.
Shapovalov’s forehand, in contrast, is typically deadly. The Canadian hits it with quite heavy topspin, making it well-suited to clay. His one-handed backhand has already earned him a number of fans, which is unsurprising considering its aesthetic qualities. But it is not as reliable a weapon as his forehand. Both men possess powerful first serves, but can have difficulty finding the service box with them at times.
Shapovalov has impressed this week and his performances will have gone some way to putting to bed doubts about his clay court credentials. But he has endured a more difficult route to the last four than Zverev and how much he will have left in the tank for this match is uncertain. That, combined with Zverev’s greater experience and affinity, should be enough to see the second seed into the final in two tight sets.