Tennis Prose



Felix vs Denis

The US Open match of the day will be contested on grandstand in the later afternoon, when Canadian titans Denis Shapovalov duels his friend Felix Auger-Aliassime.

This is a very unique, special contrast of two diverse tennis gladiators on a concrete tennis court. The two have a brotherly respect and relationship and a history of coming up together in Canada as two highly touted prodigies with unlimited potential. Competitive factors have so far not damaged their connection. So far.

Last year they met in the first round in New York. Shapovalov was higher ranked at 28 and prevailed when Felix, then ranked outside the top 100, had to retire because of a heart issue, in the third set after splitting the first two. That match was played on court 12.

A lot has changed in a year.

Today, Felix has passed his buddy in the rankings and prestige. Felix is ranked 18, Shap, older by a year, has regressed slightly at 33.

“Honestly, it is what it is. It happens a lot,” Shapovalov said. “It’s unfortunate to play a guy from the same country so early in the tournament, but I honestly just treated it as any other match. I think I’m playing well and I’m really looking forward to it. I think I’m coming in here in good shape and regardless of who I play I knew it was going to be tough. Honestly, the draw could be tougher. I could be playing Roger or Novak in the first round. So I’m looking at it in a positive way as well. It’s definitely going to be a tough one, but a really exciting match.”

Three times in one sound bite, Denis used the word “honestly” (a sports interview record no doubt!) which conveys the flood of profound emotions involved in this battle. To express these emotions sincerely is difficult with mere words, and even harder with millions or people reading and watching.

Felix vs Denis has captivated the tennis world. Even Tom Tebbutt of Tennis Canada was out on the grounds yesterday asking fans, players, media (me too) for their thoughts on the showdown. It’s the kind of transcending sports event that could possibly serve as the theme or foundation of a book, not unlike John McPhee’s Levels of the Game (Ashe vs Graebner) or Norman Mailer’s Ali vs Foreman classic “The Fight.”

Felix vs Denis is not just any ordinary match, it’s two brothers at a crucial stage in their careers, one struggling to escape a disappointing slump of stagnation and ordinary results – and the other, a rising force, on the cusp of superstardom.

How will the result affect their bond and friendship? Will they both be able to block out the emotional elements of the match and be able to play their best tennis? Will each show compassion and mercy for each other, turning the match into a mess of errors and inconsistent tennis? Will each decide today that their own careers are more important and make the ruthless decision to freeze the childhood friendship? Or will they play spectacular tennis and still maintain their bond and maybe even somehow become closer after?

These questions and many more may be answered today on the grandstand at US Open.

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  • Michael in the UK · August 27, 2019 at 6:16 pm

    Thanks so much Scoop, that’s a terrific piece with some great detail and context.
    The match has not yet started at 11.15pm in the UK, but I’ll be checking the score first thing tomorrow morning.

  • Scoop Malinowski · August 27, 2019 at 8:11 pm

    Thanks Michael in the UK. Not shocked by the scoreline, big brother syndrome is a factor I believe. Similar to Fed Stan. Tennis is so complicated.

  • Andrew Miller · August 27, 2019 at 8:33 pm

    First, Shapo isn’t a normal first Rd opponent – neither wanted to play this match. Second, Felix has work to do in best of five. I’d argue all these young guys have work to do in best of five. We’ll see if Medvedev can learn quickly because it’s grueling and you think you’ve won but there’s so much further to go.

  • Scoop Malinowski · August 27, 2019 at 8:37 pm

    My theory on this Denis vs Felix result…Big brother syndrome like Fed Stan, with Denis the big brother and Felix subconsciously afraid to beat him. Just like Stan. Can’t play his best tennis vs Shap and that fraction of inhibition kills him. Also the Youhzny factor. Finally Denis has a big time experienced coach who knows the subtle intricacies and nuances of top ten elite pro tennis.

  • Dan Markowitz · August 27, 2019 at 9:18 pm

    I didn’t see any of this match, but I was shocked to see Shapo close it out 1, 1 and 4. Felix might just be a pretender. Any way you couch it; this is embarrassing for Felix. But what a total jerk Shapo was swearing at umpire in last game when he complained I guess about the ump allowing Felix to challenge an out ball Shapo hit. Instead of being 40-love it was now 30-14 for Shapo and he looked like a crass fool laying into the umpire at that point.

  • Scoop Malinowski · August 27, 2019 at 9:29 pm

    Shapovalov definitely can mentally snap, he’s intense and crazy sometimes. The great ones often are touched by madness.

  • Jeff · August 27, 2019 at 10:56 pm

    Scoop, no doubt Felix has a complex playing Shapo. Terrible draw for Felix, who won’t be going to London now for sure.

    Shapo was dead and buried by many on this site but he showed there is life left in the rapper’s burgeoning tennis career.

    I think Shapo will advance all the way to play Nadal and then get routed.

  • Hartt · August 28, 2019 at 12:49 pm

    As you can imagine, I was totally torn over this match. I generally lean towards FAA, but I thought Shapo needed this win more. Félix won their match in Madrid this year, so there was no way of knowing how this match would go.

    As far as the result goes, it is not a big mystery. Denis was “on” and when he plays like that he can beat just about anyone, as we saw during his breakthrough in 2017, and did not see as much since then.

    I continued to count Denis among my favourites, even during his slump. I thought if he learned to play with more patience and with more margin when appropriate he would be back winning matches. I think he has an excellent chance to win his next match.

    Denis and his partner, Bopanna, are scheduled to play doubles today. I think playing doubles regularly has helped improve his singles game.

  • Hartt · August 28, 2019 at 12:56 pm

    Scoop, don’t forget that Stan beat Fed in Monte Carlo, denying Roger the title in one of the few Masters he hasn’t won. So sometimes the “little brother” does win. And, as I wrote, Félix beat his “big brother” as recently as the Madrid Masters.

  • Hartt · August 28, 2019 at 1:41 pm

    Tom Tebbutt has a piece about the match on the Tennis Canada site. Denis talked about what Youzhny has brought to his game:

    “I think I needed a coach who has been through a lot. First I think it was important that he was a player who has gone through what I’m going through right now – both on the court and off the court. And I wanted a one-hander (backhand) because I do think one-handers play the game differently. We see it a bit differently.”



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