Canadians Raonic and Shapovalov Reach Montreal Second Round
By Charles David Mathieu-Poulin
(August 5, 2019) MONTREAL, Canada – There has always been a love affair between French players and the Coupe Rogers crowd in Montreal; it makes sense, as Montreal is one of the largest French-speaking cities in the world and hosts a large crowd of expats from France. But this (French!) connection was put on hold today as four Canada-France clashes were scheduled back-to-back on Center Court, in what felt more like a Davis Cup encounter than the opening day of a Masters 1000 event.
Highest-ranked Canadian Milos Raonic was first up against Lucas Pouille: the 13th seed was trying to avenge his loss to the Frenchman in the quarterfinals of this year’s Australian Open, which marked the first time Pouille even won a set against Raonic after three failed attempts.
Raonic, the 2013 finalist, drew first blood in the first set, breaking for a 2-1 lead. He then went on to put on a serving masterclass, hitting 10 aces in the set (including two in the last game), to seal a 6-4 lead. In the second set, both players managed to hold comfortably early on, in a match where rallies were a rare sighting. A missed volley by Pouille at 2-2 gave Raonic his first look at a break point in this set, later saved by the Frenchman with a solid forehand winner. Two points later, Pouille saved a second break point with an ace, but a down-the-line forehand winner gave the important break to Raonic on his third try. The Canadian never looked back, holding comfortably all the way to a 6-4 6-4 win, never facing a break point.
In the second round, Raonic will face the winner of the all-Canadian affair between Vasek Pospisil and Félix Auger-Aliassime. ‘’Obviously I wish we could be more evenly spread out, Raonic mentioned. They play first round, then I await the winner of that match. It’s unfortunate it played out that way at home.’’
Friends or Foes?
Pospisil and local Auger-Aliassime are good friends: they even decided to team up in doubles at this year’s event, losing 7-6(7) 7-5 earlier on Monday to Frenchmen Fabrice Martin and Jeremy Chardy in the second match scheduled on Center Court. After Auger-Aliassime defeated Pospisil in the first round of Wimbledon last month (in Pospisil’s comeback match from an 8-month hiatus due to a back injury), the pair exchanged a hug and nice words at the net.
Little did they know that fate would once against reunite them (on opposite sides of the net!), as they are schedule to face off on Tuesday afternoon, in arguably the most anticipated first round match of this year’s event. Asked about this unfortunate turn of events, Auger-Aliassime showed once again great maturity for his age: ‘’Now we are friends, we will be less friends for two hours tomorrow. But after, things will be back to normal. What we both do is we play the best we can, we compete the best we can, and this is the best respect we can show each other’’.
Shapovalov edges Herbert
Denis Shapovalov was excited to get back to Montreal, where he stunned the tennis world in 2017 by reaching the semifinals as a 143th-ranked 18-year old, by notably beating both Juan Martin Del Potro and Rafael Nadal. The Canadian, who has been struggling to string victories since a run to the Miami semifinals in March, was looking to regain some of that energy in his primetime opening match against France’s Pierre-Hughes Herbert, who had beaten him earlier this year on hardcourt in Montpellier.
Shapovalov’s intensity was seen right from the get-go, as he produced some of his trademark shot-making to break Herbert for an early 2-1 lead. Letting out a huge roar after hitting a spectacular backhand crosscourt passing shot, the Canadian ran to his chair to huge cheers from the partisan crowd. ‘’Every point, the crowd is so engaged, Shapovalov confirmed post-match. I feel that brings the best out of me. I’m able to play more freely and just enjoy myself.’’ The rest of the set wasn’t smooth sailing, but Shapovalov found big serves when needed, saved all three break points he faced, and won the first set 6-3.
The second set didn’t produce the most spectacular tennis, as both players stayed close until 5-all. But, as he did in the first set, Shapovalov managed to find his aggressive game when needed, used the crowd to its advantage and wrapped up the 6-3 7-5 win on his fourth break. It was the best we had seen of crowd favorite play since his semifinal run in Miami in March, and he attributed a lot of it to the crowd: ‘’It’s honestly a dream come true to be going out there prime match, playing in front of so many people that are backing me. I was excited the whole week for this moment, win or lose. Honestly, it really brings a lot of joy for me. It’s moments like this why I chose to pick up a racquet.’’
In the second round, Shapovalov will face second seed Dominic Thiem, who is just coming back from a title on home soil in Kitzbuhel. The Austrian will be looking for his first Rogers Cup win in his sixth attempt.
Charles David Mathieu-Poulin is covering the Coupe Rogers in Montreal for Tennis Panorama News.