Denis Shapovalov has flown to 23rd in the world, but the 19-year-old will be keen to get back to winning ways after a couple of disappointing tournaments. He will have a chance to do so at Queen's but faces a tough first match against the experienced Gilles Muller. The Luxembourger has dropped to 46th in the world after starting 2018 ranked a career-high 25th - aged 34 no less – and has lost his last four matches. He too then will be eager to return to form. Who will win through?
Muller has been on the pro circuit for 17 years compared with Shapovalov who barely has a year under his belt, and the two have never met head-to-head. There is a major gap in experience in this match up - Muller has played 437 career matches for a 230-207 win-loss record, while Shapovalov’s career record sits at 32-29. But this year, Muller has struggled, winning just seven of his 20 matches so far in 2018. Shapovalov has been a little better - his record for the year rests at a respectable 18-14.
Last time out
Shapovalov’s last appearance was in Stuttgart last week, and it was a relatively brief one. He came up against Indian Prajnesh Gunneswaran, the world #152, in the first round, and was beaten. After going down in a tight first set tie-breaker, he responded to win the second set 6-2, but was ultimately beaten 6-7 6-2 3-6. The result capped off a disappointing few weeks after bowing out of Roland Garros in the second round in four sets to world #70 Maximilian Marterer.
Muller’s last tournament was also a disappointing one. After getting a first round bye in Rosmalen last week courtesy of his being third seed, he was promptly bundled out in straight sets by 69th ranked Matthew Ebden in the round of 16. Prior to that, he had a hugely disappointing clay season, losing in his first match in all but the Monte Carlo Masters back in April, where he managed a solitary win before losing in the second round. But clay has never been his favourite surface.
How do they match up?
Shapovalov, at just 19 years of age still has room for improvement, but the upside is clear. He has an aggressive baseline game, particularly on his forehand side, and tends to dictate the outcome of points with a powerful serve and groundstrokes. He often hits a high number of winners, although they are accompanied by plenty of unforced errors. The outcome here could well be decided by his ratio of winners to unforced errors, but Muller can better his chances by targeting Shapovalov’s comparatively weaker backhand.
One area in which Muller generally excels, and in which he will have a major advantage in this match, is on his own serve. Standing at 6’4" Muller has a powerful lefty serve, something which helped to carry him to a career-best quarterfinal appearance at Wimbledon last year. At the other end of the court, Shapovalov can often be exposed on the receiving end due to being excessively aggressive on return and if Muller can serve to the standard he is capable of, Shapovalov may struggle to break.
Neither of these players is playing their best tennis at the moment, and Muller in particular is in the middle of a funk. If he can serve well he will be difficult to break, but with his form the way it is it’s difficult to look past Shapovalov, who has shown a real aptitude for grass court tennis so far in his career. The Canadian will have the advantage around the court, and if he can find a way to stay in points on Muller’s serve, he should be able to get it done in three sets.