Following a disappointing first round exit at the Australian Open, young gun, Denis Shapovalov returns to action on Wednesday as he takes on fellow Canadian, Vasek Pospisil in the second round of the Open Sud de France in Montpellier.
Great things are expected of Shapovalov this season, especially after his strong finish to 2019, but he is yet to really get going in the new year. He was OK at the ATP Cup, beating Stefanos Tsitsipas and Alexander Zverev; and losing to Alex De Minaur and Novak Djokovic in his singles matches, while he won just one match in Auckland and Melbourne combined.
Shapovalov defeated Pospisil to reach the Auckland quarter finals, where he fell to Ugo Humbert, before suffering a four-set loss to Marton Fucsovics in an admittedly difficult first round draw at the Australian Open.
He is yet to really find the form which propelled him to a maiden career title in Stockholm and a first Masters 1000 final in Paris in a strong end to last season. Shapovalov had a decent start to 2019, reaching the semis of the Miami Open in March, but he lost his way for the next few months, winning just four matches in his next eleven events. The left-hander returned to form just before the US Open, reaching semi-finals in Chengdu and Winston-Salem either side of a third-round run at Flushing Meadows, setting the stage for a big finish to the season.
He ended the year at a career-high 15th in the rankings, while he’s been as high as 13th this year. Currently ranked 16th in the world, the 20-year-old starts his Montpellier campaign on Wednesday when he takes on Davis Cup team mate, Pospisil for the second time this year.
Pospisil wasn’t part of the Canadian team to the ATP Cup, but he instead began his season in Auckland, where he came through the qualifying draw, defeated Joao Sousa in the first round of the main draw before falling to Shapovalov in the second round. He then headed to the Australian Open, where he was beaten by Ivo Karlovic in first round.
The Canadian has returned to winning ways in Montpellier this week, getting past Slovenian, Aljaz Bedene in his tournament opener to set up Wednesday’s rematch with Shapovalov. The world No. 132 hit seven aces, and saved all five break points he faced in his 6-3 6-4 victory over Bedene.
Pospisil has been as high as 25th in the world- back in 2014- but he has not been able to match that level in the last few seasons, and has finished outside the top-100 in four of the last five years. He missed the opening six months of 2019 following back surgery in January, leading to a big drop in his ranking.
He was down at 248th at the start of October, but he finished off the year strongly, winning Challenger titles in Las Vegas and Charlottesville to secure a more respectable year-end ranking of 149th. Along with Shapovalov, the right-hander played a pivotal role as Canada reached the Davis Cup final at the end of last season, capping a very positive end to the year.
Given that he did not play at all in the first half of last season, he’s got a chance to gain some serious ground in the rankings over the next few months. He’s already taken a step forward this week with his first round victory over Bedene, can he pick up another one when he confronts Shapovalov in the second round on Wednesday?
Shapovalov won their only previous meeting in Auckland earlier this year, amd the younger Canadian should again have a bit too much dynamism for Pospisil when they go head-to-head in Montpellier.