Germany’s world number eight Alexander Zverev, 20, clashes with fellow young gun Denis Shapovalov, 18, in a semi-final few would have predicted. Whilst Zverev is seeded fourth, showing excellent recent form, Shapovalov came into the tournament almost unknown. But he has hit his way into contention impressively. Both players look well suited to the fast North American hard courts and a terrific semi-final could be in store.
Zverev and Shapovalov are yet to meet. They both turned professional recently, Zverev in 2013 and Shapovalov last year. Zverev, however, is two years older and has used that time to achieve a remarkable amount of success for someone so young. Zverev recorded his 106th career win on the tour against Anderson. Even after his exploits this week, Shapovalov has just seven victories on the tour. Zverev has also won five titles already, including the Masters 1000 event in Rome. Shapovalov, in contrast, bar a first round win in Toronto last year, is almost completely untested at this level. That being said, his lack of experience has not seemed to hold him back during his sensational run. It seems almost inevitable that this match will be just the first chapter in a long rivalry that may well see the pair competing for the biggest titles the sport has to offer.
Path to the semi-finals
Zverev, as the fourth seed, enjoyed a first round bye. He began his campaign against former top 10 stalwart Richard Gasquet. The Frenchman began slowly, and Zverev took the first set comfortably 6-3 before Gasquet took the second 6-4. Gasquet was on top in the decider and came to within a point of claiming what would have been a memorable win. At 5-6 30-40 the pair endured a 49 shot rally. Zverev retained his composure throughout, continuing to strike the ball aggressively and eventually got his reward. He held serve to take the match into a tie breaker. Gasquet seemed to have lost heart, and Zverev sealed the match after taking the tie break 7-3.
Zverev next came up against Nick Kyrgios, who beat him back to back in Indian Wells and Miami. Kyrgios’ year has stalled since, largely due to injury, whilst Zverev has gone from strength to strength. Zverev played like the favourite, controlling the match. Kyrgios did not help himself with some overly casual shots, and looked hampered by injury, but Zverev should be happy with a clinical performance. He dropped just seven games in a 6-4 6-3 win to reach the quarter-finals. There he faced a rematch of the Washington Open, coming up against Kevin Anderson once again. Zverev took the first set 7-5 before serving out a straight sets win to reach a second Masters 1000 semi-final for the year.
Shapovalov has enjoyed a pulsating, nerve-wracking and crowd thrilling Rogers Cup so far. As a wildcard entrant, he began in the first round against Rogerio Dutra Silva of Brazil. Dutra Silva at 33 is a veteran of the tour and is having the best year of his life. Dutra Silva had the better of the early exchanges and stole a march late on in the first set to seal it 6-4. In the second set, he continued to push for the victory, and he came close. At five games all he had four break points, and later he held four match points.
Shapovalov was twice down amongst the dead men but he twice came back, fending off Dutra Silva with the fearless play that has so endeared him to his home crowd. He took the match into a decider when Dutra Silva double faulted when facing set point. From there Shapovalov was in charge, and he broke with a sublime backhand pass in the sixth game of the third set. He sealed the match shortly afterwards to record a memorable win. Next, he defeated Juan Martin del Potro, the champion in New York in 2009, in straight sets to the delight of the Canadian crowd. Then came the biggest shock of all.
Up against Rafael Nadal, three times a champion at the Rogers Cup and the holder of 15 Grand Slam titles, Shapovalov won again. He lost the first set, losing three games in a row from 3-3 to hand Nadal the early advantage. But he recovered magnificently, breaking Nadal early in the second set. Nadal recovered that break, but Shapovalov broke again when Nadal was serving to stay in the set. In the decider, he endured a 14-minute service game and heavy Nadal pressure to reach a tie break. After dropping the first three points, he won seven of the next eight points to record the win of his career and become the youngest man ever to reach a Masters 1000 quarter-final.
In the first set of his quarter-final, where he faced wily Frenchman Adrian Mannarino, Shapovalov struggled. His groundstrokes were misfiring and he could not find a first serve. But in the second set, he started to find some momentum, and a brief rain delay seemed to disrupt Mannarino. Shapovalov broke immediately after the restart in the sixth game. Mannarino was unable to recover the break, and Shapovalov was into his third decider in four matches. He broke early, but let Mannarino back into it. Then at 4-4, they played a marathon game that finally ended with Mannarino netting a forehand to hand Shapovalov the break. He held out to 15 to the delight of the crowd and reach the last four.
How do they match up?
Both men are blessed with easy power and are most comfortable at the baseline. They generally seek to win points with heavy groundstrokes directed to the corner and have shown an impressive ability to hit through defences. Both are also excellent servers. Shapovalov particularly is technically excellent in this area and is also doubtless helped by his left-handedness. Zverev’s height also helps him to serve very effectively. This match will likely be decided by who is more accurate with their attempted winners, and who is able to dominate the short rallies.
Both move well, Zverev particularly so for such a big man, but they are not amongst the tour’s best defenders so they will be looking to start well and control the rallies from the outset. Shapovalov also struggled with his first serve percentage early on against Mannarino and consequently lost the first set quickly. He will need to ensure that he does not encounter the same problems again in the semi-final.
Shapovalov has defied the odds all week, but after three long matches how much does he have left in the tank? Zverev is one of the form players on the tour and should have enough to claim the victory though Shapovalov will not make it easy for him. But look to Zverev’s powerful two-handed backhand to set him up well for the match and eventually force the young Canadian off the court. Zverev in three sets.
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