2018 Abierto Mexicano Telcel R2 Preview: Dominic Thiem vs Denis Shapovalov


(3) Dominic Thiem vs Denis Shapovalov

Tough Openers Test Both

Dominic Thiem was provided with a stiff test by British qualifier Cameron Norrie in his opener at the Abierto Mexicano Telcel on Tuesday. Thiem survived 6-3, 5-7, 7-5. The Austrian will be a bit disappointed with the second set as he led 5-4 with a chance to close in two, but was broken two straight service games. Thiem said afterward that he got a little loose with his forehand for some mistakes in that key spot, but was happy overall. The third seed used his powerful first serve to take 84 percent of the points, while winning a stout 64 percent off his second. He was broken twice on three break chances. Thiem was able to break Norrie three times off of eleven opportuntiies.

For Shapovalov, it was a tough three set win over Kei Nishikori. After stalling out in the opening set tie break, the Canadian rallied to cruise to a 6-7 (3), 6-3, 6-1 win. Despite eleven double faults, it was Shapovalov who controlled play with an aggressive first serve. He sported a 78 percent win rate off his first serve and 69 percent off his second. A big part of what El Shapo was able to do off his serve was keep in front of the rallies and hit a ton of forehands early. Shapovalov was able to save nine of ten break points for the match, a big accomplishment against a steady returner like Nishikori.

The Formula

This will be the first meeting between Thiem and Shapovalov and there figures to be a lot of baseline tennis in this one. Shapovalov has the wheels to move forward and test Thiem if he so chooses and that’s always a good game plan I think against the third seed. I would look for Shapovalov to use the same recipe he did against Nishikori on serve. Serve big to keep Nishikori back with his depth and then turn that into an aggressive array of forehands. I think the Canadian will have to be a bit more careful though in going to Thiem’s backhand in those exchanges. Thiem’s one hander packs a punch and the Austrian can turn that shot into quick offense, earlier in a rally.

I’d also look for Shapovalov to move forward when his serve keeps Thiem behind the baseline. Nishikori tried just about everything against Shapovalov’s serve – setting up behind the baseline and trying to take some aggressive cracks inside the baseline off his second. None of that worked consistently with El Shapo doing well with his placement and velocity to keep Nishikori from teeing off in return. Thiem isn’t as good a returner as Nishikori and he’s likely going to set up deep and give himself a chance to get some solid return shots. I think some of that plays into Shapovalov’s advantage, but Thiem obviously has the weapons off both wings to crush some shots and negate that advantage a bit.

For Thiem, the first serve is always so important for him. When he’s controlling rallies and earning easy points from that – he is a very difficult guy to beat. His serve was popping on Tuesday and he will need more of that to avoid the upset. I think he needs that combination of being able to stretch Shapovalov in return and pushing him back with depth to do what he wants to do on serve. I’d look for him to go to the backhand of Shapovalov more with the Canadian lefty able to adjust more off his forehand to hit big in return.

The Pig-nosticator

This one has a ton of intrigue as a first time battle between two talented players. Shapovalov may already be close to being a better hard court player than Thiem because of his ability to mix up his tactics and strategy. Thiem often relies too much on the baseline ball bash. When he gets players to engage in it regularly, he certainly can win that way but it is much harder on hard courts. On this surface, he doesn’t get to set up as well as he can on slower surfaces to slug his heavy ground strokes.

For Shapovalov, I think the key is being aggressive. He did a good job of this against Nishikori and he’s got to do the same to beat Thiem. He needs to take time away from the third seed by pushing the pace. I think the one thing that could really undo El Shapo are those mistakes he was making on serve in round one. The double faults and a first serve percentage right around 50 percent both need to be improved upon tonight. The first serve percentage might just be a brief blip on the radar, but the doubles have been more of a problem this year.

I think if Thiem stays stubborn with his pattern of baseline play, Shapovalov can take him in this one. If you run back through the multitude of losses that Thiem has suffered outdoors on hard courts, it’s been clear what is able to beat him – aggressive ball strikers and speed is always a plus. That’s Shapovalov in a nutshell.

Prediction: Shapovalov wins in straight sets


2018 Abierto Mexicano Telcel #TinyTuesday Preview



(6) Juan Martin Del Potro vs Mischa Zverev
H2H: Del Potro leads 1-0

Quick Notes
Del Potro went 1-1 in Delray Beach, his first matches since the Australian Open. The Argentine went 1-1 in Acapulco last year, losing to Novak Djokovic in round two in three sets. Zverev broke a five match losing skid with a first round win in Marseille last week. The German has still lost his opening match at eight of his last 12 tournaments. DelPo won the only previous meeting in straight sets at the 2009 Australian Open.

Keys to Victory
First serve for Del Potro. It’s often the tell-tale sign of whether or not the Argentine is going to win a match. In his loss to Frances Tiafoe at Delray Beach, his 1st serve win rate was 67 percent. In his loss to Tomas Berdych, it was 62 percent and 67 percent against Roberto Bautista Agut in a loss in the Auckland final. The close to 80 percent, the better his chances of winning.

For Zverev, he’s got to find a rhythm with his serve and volley early. He could definitely throw DelPo for a loop if he’s hitting his serve with precision and getting to net to finish off points. For the Argentine, he’s got to be aggressive on return and look to hit those big passing shots that are necessary to beat the serve and volley technique.

Prediction: Del Potro wins in straight sets

(1) Rafael Nadal vs Feliciano Lopez
H2H: Nadal leads 9-4

Quick Notes
Nadal returns for the first time since injuring his hip during a quarterfinal loss at the Australian Open. Motivation shouldn’t be a factor, but match fitness and rhythm will be a question mark until he proves it. Rafa has been in this position plenty though, so it’s not a huge concern. Lopez is 4-4 this season and owns a two match winning streak in this head-to-head. Those two wins came on hard courts, but were back in 2014 and 2015 when Lopez was playing more consistently in singles.

Keys to Victory
Rafa will be looking to find consistency in his game as quickly as possible. It starts with the serve in order to avoid letting Lopez put too much pressure on the top seed. I think Nadal will be comfortable getting into his trademark long rallies to work up a lather and give himself chances to hit his forehand and backhand to find their measure during match play.

Lopez’s first serve can be extremely effective. When he is in position to win, the first serve win rate for Lopez is in the high 70s or better with a good amount of aces. When he’s struggling, the number dips low. Against a quality returner like Rafa, if he can keep this number in the mid 70s, he’s going to have a chance to pull off an upset or at least be right in each set.

Prediction: Nadal wins in three sets

(2) Alexander Zverev vs Steve Johnson
H2H: Johnson leads 1-0

Quick Notes
Zverev has lost two of his last three matches with a disappointing effort against Andreas Seppi being the last one. Sascha did not have a good serve that day and struggled for consistency overall. Johnson comes in off his best week in months, having made the Delray Beach semifinals last week. It was the first time he had scored back-to-back wins since Shanghai last Fall, a stretch of six tournaments.

Keys to Victory
Serve for both. Johnson is a very serve driven player in that if his serve is not popping and getting him easy points, he usually doesn’t grind through to find other ways to win. Likewise, Zverev seems to dip in level overall when his serve isn’t producing the needed. Johnson as always will need to get to the forehand as much as possible. He’ll look to use that slice backhand in rallies to do so.

In their first meeting in Miami in 2016, Johnson won in straight sets with both going to tie breaks. Zverev out aced Johnson 14-3, but his 1st serve win rate was just 70 percent while Johnson’s was at 88. I think Zverev has improved his first serve as he’s packed on more muscle in the last few years. He needs to match Johnson and go after the American’s backhand. Zverev is more even off both wings and should be able to do damage in longer rallies as a result. This is his Acapulco debut, so he will have to adapt to conditions.

Prediction: Zverev wins in three sets

Kei Nishikori vs Denis Shapovalov
H2H: 1st meeting

Quick Notes
Both come in off semifinal runs at 250s with Nishikori doing that indoors in New York and Shapovalov in Delray Beach last week. Nishikori now has ten matches under his belt in working back from wrist surgery and New York saw him with his biggest test, a third set tie break loss to Kevin Anderson in the semis. El Shapo is still looking for a top tier win in 2018, but has been solid at 5-4. He has not beaten a player inside the top 50 this season. Nishikori is ranked #26, but obviously is a top ten talent.

Keys to Victory
Nishikori is one of those players whose serve can come and go during a match. In mounting this comeback from injury, he has been pretty solid overall on serve. I think a key for Kei is being aggressive on the return ball. He wants to be the one controlling the rallies and that is normally a good way to set yourself up for success. I’d also look for him to try and get to El Shapo’s backhand. His backhand is good, but not as good as his forehand.

Shapovalov’s forehand. This is such a big weapon for the Canadian teen. His one handed backhand is good as well, but the lefty forehand is wicked. It provides great depth that can push his opponent back. Even with Nishikori’s agility, if Shapovalov is on with his forehand, he’ll have chances to aggressively finish points by pushing Kei back and finishing off points at the net.

This should be an aesthetically pleasing match, likely the best of the day for me.

Prediction: Kei Nishikori wins in three sets

2018 Davis Cup World Group Preview: Part II


This is part two of the Davis Cup preview for this week’s first round action in the World Group. Be sure to check back in on part one with some updated information on the match-ups.

Serbia vs USA
Surface: Indoor Clay

Laslo Djere
Dusan Lajovic
Nikola Milojevic
MIljan Zekic

Sam Querrey
John Isner
Steve Johnson
Ryan Harrison

It will be interesting to see if this Serbian squad puts up a good fight. They made the semifinals last year and won the opening rubber against the French, before losing the next three. Lajovic is the experience for this side with an 8-6 mark in singles. This time around however, the 27-year-old is being counted on as the anchor for his side with no Viktor Troicki or Novak Djokovic to depend on. Djere opens play on Friday against Sam Querrey. The 22-year-old made his Davis Cup debut against France last year, losing in straights to Jo-Wilfried Tsonga on clay. Querrey himself only has 16 singles rubbers played with a 7-9 record. Only two of his career Davis Cup wins have come on clay. Clay is Djere’s preferred surface. Experience is the obvious drawback, but don’t believe he’s not without a chance if Querrey doesn’t play well.

Lajovic will feel like he has a great shot to beat Isner in the second rubber. The Serb is 1-3 against Isner at the ATP-level, but that one win was on clay in Buenos Aires in 2016. He has also taken a set off of Isner the last two times they met, despite ultimately falling in three sets. Isner is 13-11 all-time in Davis Cup action, going 7-5 on clay. This is going to be a real battle I think and depending on what happens in the opener, there could be a lot of pressure on Isner. The doubles rubber should favor the Americans with Johnson and Harrison. Serbian Captain Nenad Zimonjic has Milojevic and Zekic set to pair up, but they have zero experience in this competition. It would not shock me to see Lajovic subbed into one of those spots or he could roll the dice and see what they are able to do.

Pig’s Bottom Line
When you don’t see Djokovic or Troicki on the nomination list, the temptation is to think this should be a win for the USA. Not so fast. Surface is big here as the Americans have only played one clay court tie in this competition since 2012. The indoor nature of the event could give them a bit of help, but the Serbs they face are very crafty. While you might consider Lajovic the key component for the Serbs, I think it’s actually Djere. Lajovic’s record of fighting tough against Isner and a win against Querrey on hard courts means he probably will at worst split those two rubbers. I think doubles goes to the Americans, so that means in order for the Serbs to spring an upset – Djere needs at least one win and that might not be enough.

Djere did have the perfect prep to face these hard hitting Americans though as he played Ivo Karlovic at the Australian Open. He lost in straight sets with two going to tie breaks. That gives him a little taste of the power serves he will face. I’m just not sure he’ll be able to keep pace with them even with clay being somewhat of an equalizer. I think this tie is going to be fairly intense and an upset would not be the biggest surprise here for the home side. I do think as long as the Americans don’t get swept on Friday though, that they will tough it out with the doubles rubber perhaps being the big get for them this weekend.

Prediction: USA wins 3-2

Australia vs Germany
Surface: Outdoor Hard

Alex De Minaur
Nick Kyrgios
John Peers
Matthew Ebden

Alexander Zverev
Jan-Lennard Struff
Peter Gojowczyk
Tim Puetz

Edben was a late sub for Jordan Thompson and don’t underestimate the importance of that move. Thompson provided big wins for the Aussies during their run to the semifinals last year and teamed with Peers for a win against Belgium in their semifinals loss. Ebden meanwhile has not played Davis Cup since 2013. All eyes will be on De Minaur in rubber #1 on Friday. The 18-year-old makes his Davis Cup debut after his star rose dramatically with big runs in Brisbane and Sydney prior to a first round loss at the Australian Open to Tomas Berdych. It’s a big ask for the teen though as he faces off against Zverev. Sascha is still pretty green in this competition himself with just a 1-3 mark in singles, but those matches are a big experience edge. Kyrgios faces Struff in the second rubber. Those two have never faced each other either.

Kyrgios is 8-4 in singles play in DC action, while Struff is 4-2. Struff has a big serve to match Kyrgios, but lacks the overall electricity of NK in his ground game. The worst case for the Aussies should be a split on day one. The Germans will likely make a sub for doubles on Saturday. Puetz teamed with Struff last year in the World Group play-off with the pair pulling out a five set win against Portugal. Given Struff’s recent run at the Australian Open in doubles, it seems a natural switch. That could make the doubles rubber a tough call. With Peers and Ebden not having played together before, chemistry might be an early issue.

Pig’s Bottom Line
All eyes are going to be fixated on a possible Kyrgios-Zverev showdown on Sunday in the fourth rubber. I don’t see either country sweeping through the first three, so it should set up to be the key rubber of the tie. Kyrgios is 3-1 against Sascha in tour events and arrives with a better vibe than Zverev from his burn out against Hyeon Chung in Melbourne. Still, a best of five setting makes this all the more intriguing. Zverev has had his issues as we know in that setting in Grand Slams, but this figures to be a quick paced match void of a lot of heavy rallies. That helps both players, but the key may be NK’s increased calm on court that has kept him a bit more even keel in matches. Zverev has shown a propensity for going away when things go wrong for him in these best of five matches. Given the way the universe works though, I would not be surprised if this tie gives De Minaur a shot at glory or to be totally gutted in a fifth rubber.

Prediction: Germany wins 3-2

Croatia vs Canada
Surface: Indoor Clay

Borna Coric
Viktor Galovic
Ivan Dodig
Franko Skugor

Peter Polansky
Dennis Shapovalov
Vasek Pospisil
Daniel Nestor

Two things stand out in this one: no Marin Cilic (at least on Friday) for Croatia and Polansky getting the singles shot over Pospisil. I think that might be more to due with Pospisil winning a Challenger title in Rennes in recent days and Captain Martin Laurendeau fearing burnout. That puts Polansky into DC play for the first time since 2014. He faces Coric in the opening rubber. Polansky did beat Coric back in 2014 in qualifying for a Challenger event as their only meeting. The 21-year-old Croat is just 5-6 all-time in DC play, so this is a challenge for him to raise his level as the lead singles player. He has not played a singles rubber since 2016, but do recall he has some heroics under his belt. Remember the win over Jack Sock in the 5th rubber that led Croatia to an upset win over the Americans in the quarterfinals?

I think it is a huge spot for Croatia and Coric NEEDS to win if they are going to take this tie. A loss and you put a ton of pressure on inexperienced Viktor Galovic. Galovic is 27, but has just one DC rubber to his credit and it was a dead one in Croatia’s World Group play-off win over Colombia last year. Shapovalov got some good big match experience in this competition last year and helped spearhead the Canadians win over India in the playoffs with two singles wins. I don’t see him losing to Galovic. The doubles rubber turns pivotal on Saturday with both teams bringing a wealth of experience. Dodig has played 24 doubles rubbers in his career, while his partner is far less experienced – Skugor and Dodig have played twice in DC play together and are 2-0. Pospisil and Nestor are very familiar. They played twice in DC action last year, going 1-1 and are 6-4 for their careers together in this competition.

Pig’s Bottom Line
It is crucial for Croatia to get a win from Coric in the opener. A loss there and this could go quickly to the Canadians. The doubles rubber is really hard to call with both teams being experienced in big matches. The home factor could just edge that one for Croatia and put the pressure on Shapovalov to beat Coric in the fourth rubber. That’s a big one that I am really looking forward to and hoping it’s a live rubber! Those two have never met and I think El Shapo’s offense against Coric’s defense would be something to behold. This is another tie that I really think could come down to the final rubber and who isn’t all-in on a Galovic-Polansky decider?

Don’t forget than Marin Cilic and Vasek Pospisil are on their respective squad’s nominations list and likely available Sunday for singles. There is no way in hell that Cilic doesn’t lace up his sneakers on Sunday if Croatia needs a win in the fifth rubber. As such, I think Croatia probably just gets it done in this one unless Coric flops in the opener and then there is a good chance that Cilic doesn’t come into play at all with Canada stealing the tie.

Prediction: Croatia wins 3-2

Belgium vs Hungary
Surface: Indoor Hard

Ruben Bemelmans
David Goffin
Julien Cagninna
Joris De Loore

Marton Fucsovics
Atilla Balazs

The Hungarians do have more than just Fucsovics and Balazs on their roster, but they’ve been listed as the players for all five potential rubbers this weekend. That is nothing new for Hungary’s dynamic duo who played in all eight of their country’s Davis Cup rubbers in 2016. The Belgians finished as runners-up in 2017, the second time they’ve accomplished that in the past three years. Goffin is the obvious star in the field and he’ll be expected to win twice if needed. Bemelmans is experienced, but being called on for singles for the first time since Belgium beat Germany in this round last year. He’s been utilized more in doubles. Fucsovics has beaten him twice in Challenger play and arrives hot off his fourth round showing in Melbourne. I do think Hungary can get a win to open. That means Goffin will be expected to be Balazs to pull the Belgians even on Friday. Balazs is 10-7 in DC play in singles, but he’s rarely had to play anyone of Goffin’s caliber.

Don’t be surprised to see Bemelmans or Goffin sworn in for doubles duty on Saturday. Cagninna is a Davis Cup virgin and that doubles rubber is one the Belgians would like to win to set up Goffin for a potential clincher in singles on Sunday. As such, I would bet that Bemelmans might be the choice with the thinking that if all goes well – he wouldn’t be needed on Sunday in singles any how. Fucsovics and Balazs definitely won’t be pushovers as they helped crafted a win over the Russians last year in the playoffs that had what most would consider better talent. They will need the doubles rubber to have a realistic chance at a possible upset.

Pig’s Bottom Line
Fucsovics is the one to watch in this tie. He’s playing with confidence, so it will be interesting to see how he matches up against Goffin. Goffin will be happy to be playing indoors where weather plays no factor in his demise as it did in Australia. He’s been ridiculous in Davis Cup play at 21-3 in singles. He’s won nine straight rubbers since Andy Murray beat him in the fourth rubber in Great Britain’s 2015 Davis Cup clinching victory. He’s been an animal at this event, perhaps taking a cue from “The Shark” Steve Darcis, his Belgian teammate who isn’t included in this squad due to injury.

Prediction: Belgium wins 3-1


2018 Australian Open R2 Preview: Jo-Wilfried Tsonga vs Denis Shapovalov


(15) Jo-Wilfried Tsonga vs Denis Shapovalov

Tsonga Grabs Win in First Match of 2018

Jo-Wilfried Tsonga delayed his start to the 2018 season due to a wrist problem, but looked pretty solid in getting the win over qualifier Kevin King in round one. Tsonga did not have his serve broken in the 6-4, 6-4, 6-1 victory. Tsonga flashed some of his usual power on his first serve with a win rate of 80 percent and 51 percent off his second serve. He faced five break points and staved them all off. Tsonga was all over King’s serve, crafting 15 break chances and cashing in on five. He ripped off 43 winners and had just 24 unforced errors.

The win pushed Tsonga’s career record in Melbourne to 35-10. This has always been a solid tournament for him and he’ll be looking to extend a streak that began back in 2012 in which he has made the fourth round or better each year. His higlight of course was making the final in 2008, where he lost in four sets to Novak Djokovic. Last year’s Australian Open quarterfinal finish was Tsonga’s best Slam result of the season with the Frenchman’s other best result being a third round run at Wimbledon.

Shapovalov Nets First Aussie Win

The 18-year-old Canadian scored his maiden Australian Open win with a straight sets win over Stefano Tsitsipas 6-1, 6-3, 7-6 (5). Shapovalov wasn’t in tip top form, but he was the better of the two with his serve leading the way. El Shapo sported win rates at 83 percent off his first serve and 69 percent off his second. He was broken just once on two chances. He did a good job of getting into the Greek’s serve with Tsitsipas winning just 65 percent of his first serve points. Shapovalov broke him five times on eight chances. Shapovalov was close to a 1:1 ratio on winners and unforced errors with 33 winners and 32 UEs.

Overall though, Shapovalov said he thought he was striking the ball pretty cleanly. The unforced errors come with his big hitting and risky ground game at times, so he wasn’t displeased with those numbers. The forehand was ferocious and his backhand was pretty solid overall. The serve was the big plus for the day with Shapovalov’s second serve being a huge hinderance in early season losses to Kyle Edmund in Brisbane and Juan Martin Del Potro in Auckland. He won a combined seven points on 22 second serves in those two matches.

The Formula

This is the second meeting between these two with Shapovalov taking down Tsonga in straight sets at last year’s U.S. Open, during the Canadian’s meteoric rise to stardom. Shapovalov took that one 6-4, 6-4, 7-6 (3). Their numbers were pretty similar across the board. It was the Canadian’s ability to convert breaks that made the difference. El Shapo broke Tsonga three times on five chances, while Shapovalov was able to save three of four break opportunities against his serve.

Shapovalov’s shot making in that match was simply sublime. Off both wings, he showed confidence and precision. His one handed backhand was as solid as its been in his young career and he always seemed to make the right decision when he came to net. That pressure kept Tsonga a bit off balance. I think more than anything with being their first encounter, Tsonga was not prepared for the power, pace and precision that Shapovalov delivered in that second round match.

This time around, Tsonga will know better what to expect. I think the big thing for JWT in this one is to have that power packed first serve humming. His game is so much better when he can serve near an elite level. It allows him to go for quicker 1-2 punches off the serve, ending points aggressively and sticking to his forehand as his main weapon. An area I think Tsonga can improve on this time as well is coming to net earlier in the match. He had a good deal of success doing it against the Canadian, but it was a bit of the too little, too late type of strategy i that one.

El Shapo is a good mover and a good volleyer, but I think it’s important to keep him on the run in trying to make his shots. When he is stationary and can choose his weapon from the baseline, he’s got the power forehand and a scintillating backhand that can craft winners from anywhere. For Shapovalov, he doesn’t want to fall into the habit of putting too many second serves in play – that again is a big weakness for him still. If JWT gets a lot of looks at second serves, he’s going to be in control of the ground game more often than not off of those looks. That means the Canadian needs to get his first serve in and use placement to craft himself into solid court positioning for the next bal..

The Pig-nosticator

This is going to be interesting for Tsonga in just his second match of the year. Can he amp up his game to match Shapovalov’s energy? That is the question. Shapovalov already has some big matches under his belt and while he hasn’t won his tougher match-ups, that sort of thing cannot be underestimated in this spot. I think it is important for Tsonga to start quick and find success early against Shapovalov. In their U.S. Open match, he was the one forced to play from behind with all the match pressure – turning the tables there would be a huge plus for the Frenchman.

I think it is equally important for Shapovalov to have a positive start in this one too. He is still a greenhorn when it comes to Grand Slams, having only played in a few. His best success was at the U.S. Open in that fourth round run, where he was consistently on top and not the player under pressure. However, I do still think the pressure is on Tsonga to find the right combination of play, since his plan in their first meeting did not work. If this were a round or two later for Tsonga to have gotten a bit more match play – I’d rate him a better shot.

He’s certainly not overmatched here, but if this match displays the same athleticism as their original meeting and maybe goes four or five, I think that may favor Shapovalov who has had more match conditioning. I won’t be surprised if Tsonga figures it out, but I’m not sure he’s got enough form yet to get the job done.

Pig’s Bottom Line: Shapovalov wins in five sets


2018 ASB Classic R2 Preview: Juan Martin Del Potro vs Denis Shapovalov


(2) Juan Martin Del Potro vs Denis Shapovalov

Del Potro Starting 2018 Healthy

Juan Martin Del Potro makes his 2018 debut in Auckland as he battles Denis Shapovalov in round two action. DelPo is back at the ASB Classic for the first time since winning the title in 2009. More importantly, he is starting a season on time and healthy for the first time since 2015. DelPo will be hoping his season goes better than that one did as Del Potro was done for the year after just four matches. 2017 was an unabashed success for the Argentine as he went 38-16 without missing much time after starting the season late in February in Delray Beach.

Del Potro hit his stride late in the season with his lone title in Stockholm and another final indoors in Basel. That seemed to kick start at the U.S. Open, where he made a semifinal run – his best Slam performance since making the semifinals at Wimbledon back in 2012. The 29-year-old says his season requires multiple hour treatments most days to keep him healthy, but that it is worth being able to play at the level he did last season. He also admitted that he’s now mixed in some finesse to his raw power and that he is enjoying that aspect of his game at this stage.

Shapovalov Earns First Win, Looking to Recapture Summer Glory

Shaoovalov whipped Rogerio Dutra Sliva 6-3, 6-2 in first round play on Monday to score his first win of the season. El Shapo was dominant, winning 36 of 41 points on serve in the match. He broke the Brazilian three times on three chances. It was a perfect turnaround for him after losing a tough three set battle to Kyle Edmund in Brisbane last week in his season opener. Shapovalov wasn’t poor against the Brit, with a 90 percent win rate on first serve and 18 aces. Edmund however played the big points better down the stretch wth El Shapo failing to convert some key break chances.

The match against Dutra Silva will give him a confidence boost ahead of the rematch against Del Potro. Shapovalov beat Del Potro during his magical Rogers Cup run last summer. That 6-3, 7-6 (4) win helped propel the Canadian through to the round of 16, where he scored a monumental upset of Rafael Nadal. Shapovalov followed that up with a qualifying run at the U.S. Open to the fourth round. After that, El Shapo seemed to run out of gas a bit as he finished just 2-7 for the rest of the season. He did make the “NextGen” finals in Milan, dropping two out of three in round robin play.

The Formula

This will be an intriguing rematch against the guy that Shapovalov calls his idol. Shapo said the win over DelPo was a massive confidence boost and it certainly showed with his results moving forward for the next few weeks after the win. One of the biggest things that Shapovalov displayed in the first meeting was his poise. He fell behind a break in the second set, but broke right back and was able to finish off the Argentine in straights. The Canadian also did a great job on return in the match, something he felt really put pressure on Del Potro over the course of the match.

That return game showed in the numbers with Shapovalov taking more than 50 percent of DelPo’s second serve points and the Argentine winning only 68 percent of his first serve points. That allowed El Shapo to break DelPo four times on nine chances. Shapovalov took a bit better care of his own serve, although he was broken three times on six chances. He would win just 71 percent of his first serve points, but a robust 68 percent off his second serve. Shapovalov has shown good power for his slighter frame and he’ll need that serve to be as solid as its shown so far this season.

I would expect Shapovalov will set up deep on return to give himself some extra time to get a look at Del Potro’s serve. DelPo’s serve surprisingly has some consistency issues, perhaps some of it due to the Argentine’s wrist issues. When on, the power is difficult to contend with, but when it’s not working – Del Potro is vulnerable. That was evident in the first meeting between these two, so Del Potro will need to be much more consistent with his power to push Shapovalov back some.

If the Canadian has time to set up and hit solid returns, he’s going to get himself established well in rallies. I would expect Del Potro to infuse that slice backhand into his game plan again. It’s the new addition from 2017 that is designed to help him get back around to his fierce forehand more often. The problem against El Shapo is that he can turn around quickly and bang the double hander down-the-line, one of his better shots. Del Potro will need to be on alert for that and make sure not to engage Shapovalov too long in rallies, where he opens up the court and is prone to giving up those shots down-the-line.

In the ground stroke battle, Del Potro needs to be aggressive. I think the longer rallies would again favor Shapovalov’s athleticism and shot making ability from both wings. Del Potro’s forehand is the superior weapon in this match-up, but Shapovalov has shown plenty with his own forehand and has that winner maker off the backhand side. Del Potro’s backhand has been relegated a bit more to the slice as mentioned before to help craft him back around to the forehand. He’ll still hit the double hander, but it’s probably his least confident shot after all the wrist injuries. If the Argentine could add confidence and consistency in that shot again, he’d take a real step forward to making himself a powerhouse threat in the top ten.

The Pig-nosticator

This is a tough spot for Del Potro, coming in cold whereas Shapovalov has already played a couple of matches and tasted victory on Monday. That makes the opening set a key for El Shapo to take advantage of some rusty play from the second seed. If he is unable to jump on Del Potro out of the gates, then his job is going to get much harder as the match progresses and DelPo gets comfortable. I think a big key for Del Potro is finding his serve early. Shapovalov’s already looks pretty sharp. If DelPo struggles in that category, it really opens the door for another upset.

I do expect Shapovalov to make this another very competitive battle and at minimum, take a set off of Del Potro with the opener again probably his best bet en route to another win over the Argentine. For Del Potro, this is all about finding a quick rhythm with his weapons. If he can find the serve early and back that up with some good, quick aggressive ground strokes – then he can fend off the challenge.

Pig’s Bottom Line: Shapovalov wins in three sets


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