World #32 Denis Shapovalov will kick off his 2018 Cincinnati Masters campaign against American wildcard Frances Tiafoe. It will be a battle of two young players with plenty of potential, with Shapovalov just 19 years of age and Tiafoe only a year older at 20. Tiafoe is at a career high ranking of #38, whilst Shapovalov has endured a relatively lean few months. The American should go in with some belief, but there is no doubting the Canadian's talent. Who will come out on top?
Unsurprisingly given their ages, these two have met just once on the professional circuit. That match came earlier this year, at the Delray Beach Open in Florida back in February. The clash was a semifinal, and Tiafoe managed to advance through to the final - and ultimately win the event - after a tight two set match. After a late break gave him the first set 7-5, he took the second 6-4 to take the match on his way to a maiden ATP title.
Last time out
Shapovalov’s hard court season began at the Washington Open, where he made it through to the round of 16 by defeating Russia's Daniil Medvedev before losing to Kei Nishikori in straight sets. He then returned to his home town of Toronto for the Canadian Masters, where he last year reached the semifinals. But this year, despite two impressive wins over Jeremy Chardy and Fabio Fognini, he fell in the third round to Robin Haase 5-7 2-6.
Tiafoe is coming off a similar schedule. He too played in Washington and fell in the third round. After a first-round bye, he flew past world #120 Hubert Hurkacz 6-2 6-4 but faced a much sterner test in the round of 16 against world #11 David Goffin who beat him 6-0 6-3. Then in Toronto he beat French Open semifinalist Marco Cecchinato 7-6 6-1 before ousting former Canadian #1 Milos Raonic 7-6 4-6 6-1, only to lose in three to Grigor Dimitrov.
How do they match up?
Shapovalov, a left-hander, has a powerful, if slightly inconsistent serve, and a one-handed backhand into which he can inject plenty of power. His forehand, however, is his best shot. The Canadian is comfortable dictating play with it and when given time on the ball can strike winners with ease. He also moves well, although he can struggle to deal with pace into his forehand particularly, due to his fairly large takeback.
Tiafoe, at 6’2”, has a powerful serve, something which played a major role in his victory at the Delray Beach Open earlier this year. His forehand is heavy and full of topspin while his backhand excels most when returning serve. This should help him to combat the slice of Shapovalov's wide serve to the ad court. But Tiafoe will struggle to win this match if it becomes a slugging contest from the baseline. Utilising his court craft to keep Shapovalov uncomfortable will be vital.
Both of these players look to have fine careers ahead of them, and both head into the tournament in reasonably similar form. Tiafoe managed to get the win over the Canadian in their only previous match, which was also on hard courts, but this time around it will be Shapovalov who claims victory. Expect Shapovalov to just edge out Tiafoe and advance through to the second round after a tight two set win.