Tennis Prose



Canadian Brothers Duel at US Open


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Image may contain: one or more people, people playing sports and tennis
By Scoop Malinowski

“No two men can be half an hour together, but one shall acquire evident superiority over the other.” Samuel Johnson


Denis Shapovalov considers his good friend Felix Auger-Aliassime to be his “brother.” The two brothers were forced to duel each other in an intriguing US Open first round spectacle yesterday on court 17. And the long-awaited clash of young Canadian titans lived up to expectations.

Both displayed their marvelous, extraordinary games. It was an odd match filled with supreme and sloppy tennis. When siblings have to try to destroy each other in sport it’s always going to be a weird affair. I still remember Alexander Zverev telling me two years ago having to play his brother, to try to beat his brother, was the worst most suffering moment of his career.

So I’m sure there were a lot of mixed emotions yesterday with FAA and Denis trying to beat each other. Denis made the QF last year and has a ton of points to defend. FAA is still looking for that breakout win on the ATP Tour. Both had different kind of pressures and tensions to deal with, along with the formidable games each possess.

FAA lead 5-2 but lost five in a row to blow the first set. Then Denis had the second set in his grasp and he too bungled it. The two young tigers stood even at a set each.

To my eyes, I thought Felix looked just a little better, sharper, composed, more accurate, he has that steely Djokovic focus on his eyes and body language. I could be wrong though, the are both so close in talent, physicality and court IQ. Denis is more explosive but Felix is steadier and smoother. Not much separates these two and either can win on any given day. I will say my gut instinct feeling about projecting the future: I can see this eventually becoming a Djokovic vs Nadal rivalry with Felix, with many back and forth titanic struggles, each alternating wins and losses. But down the road, eventually I can see Felix, like Djokovic, showing a slight fraction of superiority.

Another aspect of this budding rivalry is that these two consider each other to be “brothers” and there will be an element of emotional baggage in all of their matches. It’s easier to detest an opponent than to love or admire one. Respecting an opponent too much can lead to a psychological deference by little brother (FAA) for big brother. Or the perceived weaker talent to the perceived superior. So far, these two seem more interested in sustaining their brotherhood and friendship than crushing each other.

Yesterday in the third set, Felix crumbled physically (or mentally?) went down 1-4 and retired. It was said he has an irregular heartbeat. Felix cried and was embraced warmly by his big brother. It was an incredible, unforgettable moment of tennis love and also racial harmony.

It’s going to be so interesting to see this racial union of two brothers evolve and how the media will be forced to portray it. Of course we know the media thrives on media disharmony and division but Felix and Denis can slam that agenda into smithereens by continuing to set their example of brotherhood and friendship before fame and fortune and tennis glory.

We witnessed something very special last night on court 17, the beginning of a very unique rivalry that will evolve for years and years to come with many twists and turns and who knows what else. Felix and Denis are going to give tennis something fresh and new, something the sport has never seen before.

Photos by Harry Cicma

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  • catherine · August 28, 2018 at 9:23 am

    Did you and Dan watch the same match ?

  • Hartt · August 28, 2018 at 10:43 am

    Catherine, this is a good example of how subjective we are when we rate a tennis player or match.

    I have yet another perspective. I have watched these 2 youngsters for several years now, including junior matches and Challengers, so I have a lot to compare that match to.

    Understandably, both were very nervous. This was a big match on a big stage, made more complicated by having to play a very good friend. Neither played close to his best, although each had patches of playing well. Overall, I was disappointed in their level. And of course Felix having to retire because of the rapid heart rate was so unfortunate. Perhaps they would have settled down and played better in later sets.

    But as I said before, it is not fair to judge them on this one match. Felix is slated to play a big Challenger in Chicago next week and I hope he is able to take part. And I am looking forward to seeing Denis, and perhaps Felix, play here in Toronto in mid-Sept in the Davis Cup tie. The atmosphere will be electric!

  • catherine · August 28, 2018 at 11:31 am

    Hartt – yes, this is the first of many matches one hopes. It’s always difficult playing a friend. You can either subconsciously hold back a bit or go full out and then have to deal with that.

    Billie Jean King and Rosie Casals were good friends, doubles partners for 8 years and played each other many times. At W’don in 1969 or 70 I think BJ met Rosie in a sf and beat her 0&1 in 29 mins, still a record. Friendship didn’t come into it. BJ was the better player.

  • Scoop Malinowski · August 28, 2018 at 11:54 am

    They are not friends, Denis said they are “brothers.”

  • Hartt · August 28, 2018 at 12:17 pm

    Scoop, just another way of saying very good friends.

    Their friendship is so much fun. Some people say it can’t survive when they become big rivals on the court, but I don’t agree. Denis has to be one of Felix’s biggest fans – he is quick to praise his friend.

  • Scoop Malinowski · August 28, 2018 at 12:40 pm

    Hartt, which one thinks he’s better? … “No two men can be half an hour together, but one shall acquire an evident superiority over the other.” – Samuel Johnson

  • Hartt · August 28, 2018 at 1:36 pm

    Scoop, I can’t answer your question, except that Shapo thought he had an edge in this match because he has experience in playing Slams, and this was the first time for Felix.

    But this is what Denis has said about Felix:

    “Shapovalov was generous in his praise of Auger-Alassime, who veteran ESPN commentator Brad Gilbert claimed has a bigger upside career-wise than Shapovalov. “He’s such a talented player,” Shapovalov said about Auger-Aliassime. “He goes for his shots, which I really like. He doesn’t hold back. He’s got a huge serve. When it’s on, it’s unreadable and untouchable. I think he’s going to be an unbelievable player in the next couple years coming up.”

  • Scoop Malinowski · August 28, 2018 at 1:50 pm

    Hartt, silly of me, neither will show any arrogance and disrespect for the other or to show arrogance to the public. Both probably really don’t know which one is actually better and this adds to the intrigue of the rivalry and to the tension. Either one could step up on any given day and both realize that. They both have so much respect for each other, that is very clear. We are entering a new era and a new dimension of pro tennis. This rivalry is something else. Last night proved both players are exactly as was billed – just about exactly even. These two may end up defying and disproving the historical quotation of Samuel Johnson I posted.

  • Hartt · August 28, 2018 at 4:28 pm

    Denis and Felix have played a lot of practice matches against each other, and from what they have said, it is never clear who will win.

    For example, the “Sombrero Match” that they played before leaving for the USO last year. They found a bright, touristy sombrero left behind from the Rogers Cup. Denis wanted the loser to wear it to the airport, but Felix, the more sensible of the two, said the loser would have to wear it around the site.

    From a Globe and Mail article:

    “Mr. Shapovalov launches into an excitable point-by-point description of their set – making it sound as theatrical as one played between John McEnroe and Bjorn Borg in a Wimbledon final.

    “Yeah, I watched them play for the sombrero, and believe me it was intense,” Mr. Laurendeau would later corroborate. “Usually they play for ‘butts up,’ which means the loser turns around and bends down and the other gets to fire a serve across at his butt and that stings. But this was different. It was a hell of a tiebreak, very intense. Everyone had set points. That’s the kind of dynamic they have. These two really push one another to get better.”

    Mr. Auger-Aliassime emerged the winner after a 10-8 tiebreak. Mr. Shapovalov was left to wear the big goofy party hat of shame.”

    And Denis wanted the reporter to take a photo of him wearing the sombrero, which was included in the article.

    This gives some insight into their friendship and rivalry and is also a reminder of just how young they are.

  • Scoop Malinowski · August 28, 2018 at 4:56 pm

    Yes they have a special relation. They are both great and continue to risk one becoming the second banana. The Spaniards used to all train together and help each other. The Americans are divided and stay apart in different cliques. Laurendeau is not at the US Open because of some injury supposedly. What is the injury? Or is the real story that they are phasing him out? I spoke with a Montreal journalist who covers both and he says Laurendeau must go and a coach with top 20 experience or winning majors experience should be hired.

  • Hartt · August 28, 2018 at 6:18 pm

    Scoop, Laurendeau has a severe back problem. It is a legitimate concern for him.

  • Scoop Malinowski · August 28, 2018 at 6:55 pm

    Let me make a prediction. Laurendeau will step down within two months because of the back problem.

  • Dan Markowitz · August 28, 2018 at 11:15 pm

    I have to say I like Tiafoe better than AA and I think he has a higher upside. Mardy Fish announcing the Tiafoe v Mannarino match today said he thought Tiafoe will be a top 10 player. And did you see the way Tiafoe went out with a big yelp on winning his first match at the US Open? Great stuff.

  • Doug Day · August 31, 2018 at 3:57 pm

    McEnroe Question: Has there ever been a person (politicians excluded) who advanced further on negative emotions? (Is there something in the water in Queens?)

  • Scoop Malinowski · August 31, 2018 at 4:17 pm

    Doug, McEnroe’s schtick is an act, he’s a deeply positive person, that’s why he was able to become a legend in tennis, he believed he could do it against all odds. Some players fake negativity to trick and deceive their opponents into a false sense of security. I have experienced this on all levels and see it in the pros too.



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