In an all-Canadian battle in the first round, young guns and old friends Denis Shapovalov and Felix Auger Aliassime face off. Shapovalov reached the fourth round at the US Open last year during a breakout summer which also saw him make the semifinals in Montreal. But though there have been further successes this year, notably in Madrid, consistency has been elusive. Auger Aliassime, meanwhile, is looking for a breakthrough of his own. Victory here would probably suffice.
Shapovalov and Auger-Aliassime are more accustomed to being on the same side of the net than they are to being at opposite ends of the court. They reached two junior Grand Slam finals as a doubles pairing, winning in New York in 2015, and played together as recently as Toronto this year, losing to Anderson and Djokovic in the first round. But they have faced off competitively once. They met last year in the semifinals at a Challenger in Drummondville. Shapovalov won 7-5 6-3.
Last time out
It has been a summer of some frustration for Shapovalov. A defeat in four sets to Benoit Paire in the second round at the Championships was a disappointment, and he offered little challenge to Nishikori in Washington in the third round. He then played superbly to beat Jeremy Chardy and Fabio Fognini in Toronto before losing to Robin Haase in the third round. He also reached the third round in Cincinnati, but lost to another countryman, Milos Raonic.
Auger Aliassime was not present at Wimbledon, but played at Tour-level in Umag, where he reached the second round, and in Geneva, where he also lost in the second round. He was then awarded a wildcard in Toronto and he thrilled the crowd with a 6-4 6-3 win over Lucas Pouille only to lose on his 18th birthday against Daniil Medvedev. He then lost first round at the Vancouver Challenger before beating Talien Griekspoor, Christopher Eubanks and Gerald Melzer to reach the US Open proper.
How do they match up?
Both Shapovalov and Auger Aliassime are shot makers of some ability. Shapovalov boasts a powerful forehand and a flamboyant, but dangerous single-hander. He and coach Marty Laurendeau have also been experimenting with his serve, abbreviating and simplifying the motion in pursuit of greater power and consistency. Thus far the results have been mixed. Shapovalov has looked untouchable on serve at times, whilst at others he has bled double faults.
Auger Aliassime has plenty of easy power at his command. He looks to dominate with his forehand, which already looks an extremely impressive shot. It was certainly too hot for Pouille to handle. His serve is also a useful weapon and one that seems destined to improve over the coming years. But, as with many a young player, he has not yet learned to bring his power under control consistently. As a result, unforced errors remain an Achilles’ heel.
This match up promises to be an exciting rivalry in the coming decade, and both men will bear the hopes of Canada into this controversial new era of the Davis Cup. But in the present, Shapovalov’s extra-year of development and experience on the Tour seem invaluable. Shapovalov beat Auger Aliassime last year in Drummondville, and expect him to do the same this year in New York. Shapovalov in four.