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Match of the Day: Shapovalov sinks Sinner in epic

  • Reem Abulleil

Denis Shapovalov ended Jannik Sinner’s 10-match winning streak by putting in a mammoth effort on his way to a 3-6, 6-3, 6-2, 4-6, 6-4 success in a late-night first-round encounter on Margaret Court Arena on Monday.

The build-up

It was the match everyone circled as THE one to watch of all the first rounds in the men’s draw, and with good reason.

Shapovalov, 21, and Sinner, 19, are two of the hottest young prospects on tour, and two of the most exciting to watch, thanks to their flair and supreme shot-making.

Shapovalov is the 11th seed and has more experience at the majors, compared to the unseeded Sinner, who was contesting just the fourth Grand Slam main draw of his career. Yet it was Sinner who probably had the odds in his favour, with momentum clearly on his side coming in.

The Italian teen entered the contest surfing a 10-match winning streak, having captured the Great Ocean Road trophy in Melbourne on Sunday, after closing out his 2020 season by winning his maiden ATP title in Sofia last November.

Shapovalov on the other hand lost his last six matches on tour prior to Australian Open 2021, although it’s worth noting his two defeats in the ATP Cup last week were close results against world No.1 Novak Djokovic and No.7 Alexander Zverev.

Sinner and Shapovalov each have one Grand Slam quarter-final appearance on their resume – the former making it to the last eight on his Roland Garros debut in October and the latter at the US Open a few weeks earlier.

Story of the match

In the first meeting between the pair, Sinner sent out an early warning when he fired a backhand passing shot that earned him triple-break point in Shapovalov’s opening service game. The Italian converted his third chance and consolidated his break advantage with a love hold for 3-0. That set the tone for the first set, which he captured in 39 minutes.

“Sinner is a silent assassin,” tweeted Jamie Murray during the match.

Shapovalov dug deep to save three break points in a nine-minute opening game of the second set and despite continuous pressure from Sinner on his serve, the Canadian found a way to break and he levelled the match.

Fatigue seemed to be catching up to Sinner, who missed an overhead then double-faulted to surrender a break in game five of the third and Shapovalov kept his foot on the gas to break again en route to a two-sets-to-one lead.

MORE: All the scores from Day 1 at AO 2021

An exhausted Sinner double-faulted to get broken early in the fourth but he somehow found a second wind to break twice and force a deciding fifth set.

Shapovalov received treatment on his left shoulder between sets, which meant he was denied a request to go off court for a toilet break – a situation that resulted in a heated argument with the chair umpire. That seemed to fire him up as he started the fifth set by breaking the Sinner serve. It was all Shapovalov needed to secure a well-deserved victory after three hours and 55 minutes of play.

Key stats

Tennis is very often all about capitalising on your opportunities and it was Shapovalov who was better at that on Monday night. The 11th seed converted 5/10 (50%) break point chances compared to a disappointing 3/20 (15%) for Sinner.

Shapovalov’s high-risk game saw him unleash 62 winners and 71 unforced errors, while Sinner’s ratio was a more disparate 26:44.

Sinner had a higher first-serve percentage overall, and dropped just seven points on serve in the first set, but that changed as the match went on as Shapovalov started returning better, while also improving his own win percentage behind his second serve.

What this means for Sinner

Sinner’s career is still in its infancy stages, yet he has already racked up five top-20 wins and is quickly showing he can go toe to toe with the game’s elite. After spending two weeks practicing with Nadal in Adelaide, and winning five matches en route to a title in Melbourne on Sunday, the Italian did not have enough left in the tank for such a lengthy and physically-taxing opener.

He is likely to be seeded at the majors moving forward which could translate to better first-round draws in the future. This was a tough hand to be dealt, in atypical circumstances and on the back of unusual preparation for a slam. He will be disappointed but should still leave Melbourne with lots of positives for the future.

What’s next for Shapovalov

This was a much-needed victory for the Canadian, who snapped a six-match losing streak dating back to St. Petersburg last October. He kept his cool when Sinner was the better player for nearly two sets and upped his level with every passing set. His next test comes in the form of Australian former top-20 player, Bernard Tomic, who had a strong AO qualifying campaign in Doha last month. It’ll be their first meeting and Shapovalov will be looking to match his best previous appearance in Melbourne (2019) by reaching the third round.

“I’m going to try to recover as much as possible and get ready. Of course Bernard is no joke as well, he’s been a great player, he’s a really tough opponent, he’s got a great serve, he’s super solid from the back, so that’s going to be another tricky match heading into Wednesday,” said Shapovalov.