TORONTO — Denis Shapovalov was straight-faced and wearing a t-shirt that misspelled tennis — ‘TNNS,’ it read in big blue letters — when he sat down in a room full of reporters and let out a big exhale.
“Unfortunately,” said the Last Canadian Standing in his national tennis open, “I had a bit of an off day.”
Yes, the kid who captured this country’s attention a year ago on this very stage did. And it means the 19-year-old is done at the Rogers Cup, ousted in the third round on Thursday night — a two-setter that took a little over an hour under the bright lights on Aviva Centre’s centre court.
When Shapovalov sent his final backhand long, an attempted cross-court winner, his shoulders slumped, he looked up at the sky, and walked to the net to shake hands. It took just one hour and 14 minutes, this 7-5, 6-2 loss to Robin Haase, which featured a slew of unforced errors from the Canadian, particularly in the second set.
Shapovalov wore that frustration, at times. He looked over at his mother and coach, Tessa, during the match, throwing his arms up in a shrug. He whacked his racquet after sending a backhand into the net. He talked to himself quite a bit. He looked up at the sky while walking to his white court-side chair after Haase broke his serve for the second consecutive time in the second set.
None of it helped.
Positives from this match? “It’s tough,” Shapovalov said, trying to find any. “I’m such a professional, it’s tough to take out good things right now out of the match.”
The one he did pick out: At least he didn’t have a meltdown.
And so it wasn’t a banner day for some of the bigger names and draws in this tournament — the local kid, Shapovalov, and Wimbledon champion Novak Djokovic, who was upset in his third round match in the day by Greek teenager Stefanos Tsitsipas.
It was 18-year-old Shapovalov who went on a dream run to the semifinal at the Rogers Cup last year in Montreal. This time around, though he’s still a teenager, Shapovalov is a known commodity, the top-ranked local in the field at No. 26. But don’t blame nerves or the weight of expectation for those uncharacteristic errors, he said: “I didn’t feel any pressure whatsoever.”
Shapovalov did get off to a good start, very early on. He didn’t relinquish a point on his first service game, and led 0-40 on Haase’s first service game, though he couldn’t convert on any of those break chances. He was 1-6 in all.
His serve, which had been dynamite earlier this week, was solid early in the match, but then faltered and was far from dynamite on Thursday. Shapovalov had six double faults, and hit just 52 per cent of his first serves.
The tide turned for good when Haase got a late break in the first set to make it 6-5, and Shapovalov never really recovered.
“Robin did a good job today of really playing with my game, and he played me really smart today,” Shapovalov said. He found it difficult to play at the slow pace Haase was presenting. And with the wind on the court — later, the rain came — the Canadian said it was tough to get behind balls and be his usual, aggressive self.
“Obviously, I wasn’t having a good day. I think if I have a better day and I’m feeling it, you know, I’ll obviously be making a lot more shots and taking it to the guy,” he said. “He saw that I was missing quite a bit today so that he kept doing that [slowing down the play]. I don’t think it’s going to be an issue for the next time.”
When his run here was over, Shapovalov picked up his huge red Yonex bag and walked off the court, doing a 360-degree rotation while clapping to thank the fans.
They’d cheered him on when he was down 0-40 on his service games, and they’d clapped extra hard for the comeback that never happened when he trailed 5-2 in the second set.
“I’m sorry I kind of disappointed [the fans] today with a little bit of, you know, not poor play,” Shapovalov said, “but I wasn’t able to perform my best.”
And then Shapovalov made a promise for when he’s back at this tournament, no longer a teenager.
“I’ll be stronger next year,” he said.