Alexander Zverev can make it two straight finals with a win over Canadian wild card Denis Shapovalov. The 18-year-old has been the story of the last few days after upsetting top seed Rafael Nadal and moving into the semifinals. He is the youngest player to contest a Masters 1000 semifinal in ATP World Tour history.
(4) Alexander Zverev vs (WC) Denis Shapovalov
Normally a 20-year-old making consecutive finals would be the big story, but 18-year-old Dennis Shapovalov has forced himself into the spotlight over Alexander Zverev this week. Shapovalov stunned Rafael Nadal in a three set thriller in the third round and then followed that up with a 2-6, 6-3, 6-4 win in the quarterfinals over Adrian Mannarino. Oh and he also beat Juan Martin Del Potro in round two, albeit a pretty poor version of the Argentine. Shapovalov may not be playing the cleanest tennis, but he’s been bold and come up large at key moments this week.
As for Zverev, there has been no let down after taking the Citi Open crown last weekend. Zverev did struggle early against Richard Gasquet in his opener, but rallied past the Frenchman in a third set tiebreak. Since then, he’s rolled through a pair of straight sets wins over Nick Kyrgios and Kevin Anderson. Sascha has been broken just three times through three rounds with two of those coming in his opener. He’s been consistent, although not over powering on serve this week as he’s taken just over 70 percent of the total points played. He’s also been clinical in converting break points as the tournament has progressed. After securing just two breaks on eight chances against Gasquet, he’s scored six breaks on his last nine chances in the last two rounds.
One of the things that has served Shapovalov well this week is his ability to contend with pressure. Obviously there is a lot playing the top seed in Rafael Nadal, a big name like Del Potro and then trying to get to a Masters semifinal. Even though he’s fallen behind, he’s shown the ability to keep grinding and found a way to get back into matches. Shapovalov doesn’t look like much physically as a stringy six footer without a lot of weight behind him. Still, his ground strokes have been breath taking at times this week, showing power and precision. His one-handed backhand has been a big weapon and he’s shown plenty of whip with his lefty forehand as well.
Zverev meanwhile has performed well under a different kind of pressure, the growing pressure of expectation. After winning the Citi Open last week, I’ll be honest – I didn’t expect him back in this position again. He had tough times turning around after titles earlier in the season, but has shown great growth mentally this week with another run towards a possible final. The real litmus test was his opener against Gasquet. Sascha certainly did not have his best, but buoyed by that now epic 49 shot rally late in the match, he fought off multiple match points and found a way to win. That’s the makings of a great player – not playing your best, but grinding out positive results.
Despite seemingly playing with unending confidence and never, this could be a really nervy spot for Shapovalov. He’s one step away from his first ATP level final and it’s in his home country. Up until now, he’s been playing with house money. He’s not the favorite obviously, but there is now a certain expectation placed on him after following up the Nadal win with a win. If I’m Sascha Zverev, I try to expose those nerves early and often. That means Sascha needs to start with his serve in rhythm to put pressure on his Canadian counterpart to match him. Shapovalov has been doing enough on serve to win, but there have been opportunities missed by his opponents. The Canadian has seen 22 break chances against him the last two rounds, but managed to save 17 of those chances. With Zverev converting at a high clip, Shapovalov will need to do better and allow less looks at breaks.
He can do that with good variety and placement on his serve. Having not played Zverev, it should be advantageous to him early. Vice versa, Zverev should have an edge serving early as well with both players trying to get a measure of the other. The longer Shapovalov can go without letting Sascha see break chances, the better his confidence will be that he can keep contending. He went after Mannarino’s backhand return to help set up better court position on Friday, but he may not get that luxury with Zverev as a better quality returner. If Zverev is able to get good returns on serve, then Shapovalov will want to move himself into a centered position on the baseline. That’s where he’s done a lot of damage this tournament with the ability to hit the ball inside-put off either wing from this position.
For me, Zverev has the edge if the battle involves more movement along the baseline. He’s shown the ability to hit winners on the run consistently. Shapovalov has good movement, but I’m not sure if he can consistently hit winners moving east to west. He does however possess very good skills north to south from what I have seen and he looks comfortable at net. Zverev is good there as well, but as he prefers to stick to the baseline, Shapovalov might look to force him in a few times to see how that works.
The Pig’s Bottom Line
Everyone will be eager to see if Shapovalov can keep his run going. He’s obviously beaten really good players this week, but I think to that end, players who have made plenty of mistakes to keep him in matches. I think if Zverev continues zoned in as he’s been for the better part of two weeks, Shapovalov will meet his match. That’s not to suggest that Shapovalov can’t raise his level and score another upset, but I think Zverev is a guy playing with confidence and precision. Del Potro was not. Nadal made some strategic mistakes to me in staying too far behind the baseline on return and Mannarino simply didn’t have the power and precision to take the best advantage.
Credit to Shapovalov for beating those guys and taking advantage of those things and proving that he can contend with his own weapons. The feeling for me however is that Sascha has too much in all departments if he employs solid strategy in this one. I could see Shapovalov taking a set with Sascha having to figure out the young Canadian’s game, but in the end, I see Zverev advancing to his sixth final of the season.
Prediction: Zverev wins in three sets