ATP St. Petersburg: Raonic Sets Up Semifinal Showdown with Coric; Shapovalov to Meet Familiar Foe Rublev
By Max Gao
(October 16, 2020) ST. PETERSBURG, RUSSIA (VIRTUALLY) — With spots in the final four of the St. Petersburg Open on the line on Friday, No. 2 seed Denis Shapovalov, No. 3 seed Andrey Rublev, No. 6 seed Milos Raonic and No. 7 seed Borna Coric all looked mightily impressive, as they all advanced to the semifinals with straight-set victories.
Shapovalov Sets Up Sensational Semifinal Clash With Rublev
In arguably the most highly anticipated match of the day, No. 2 seed Denis Shapovalov eliminated No. 5 seed and three-time Grand Slam champion Stan Wawrinka, 6-4, 7-5, in an hour and 40 minutes.
In a battle of the one-handed backhands, both men came out firing but it was Shapovalov who was able to make the most of his opportunities. After saving four break points in his opening two service games, the Canadian used his all-court game to keep the Swiss on the defensive in the fifth game, converting his first break point with a perfect stretch volley. In the end, that break would make all the difference as the Canadian went up a set in 47 minutes.
The two would trade breaks early in the second set with some stellar shotmaking before exchanging holds until the 11th game, when Shapovalov began to make his move again. With the help of some stellar defense, the No. 2 seed would seize his opportunity to break late in the second before saving two break points in the final game and going on to successfully serve out the match.
“I tried to play both these points from my first serve. I started to make many errors and decided to make one step back and to calm down. I am happy everything went well,” Shapovalov said in Russian during his press conference.
While he was only broken once and won 84 percent (42/50) of his first serve points, the 21-year-old Canadian only won 28 percent (7/25) of the ones behind his second serve, which is a stat that he will need to clean up as he enters the final stages of the event. Ranked No. 12 in the ATP Race, Shapovalov, who has 2830 points, now sits just 30 points behind Gael Monfils and could get closer to punching a last-minute to London.
Shapovalov will now meet a familiar foe in No. 3 seed Andrey Rublev, who needed just 62 minutes to knock out Great Britain’s Cameron Norrie, 6-2, 6-1. The Russian looked extremely impressive in all areas, especially off the return, where he broke five times and won over 54 percent (26/48) of his return points in the whole match.
The 22-year-old Russian, who broke into the top 10 earlier this week, has been enjoying a stellar season despite the midseason suspension and now holds a 32-7 record in 2020, putting him just behind World No. 1 Novak Djokovic in terms of victories this year (Djokovic is 37-2 on the season). Rublev’s victory on Friday also puts him in the final automatic qualifying spot for the Nitto ATP Finals, as he now has 3109 points and is just above Matteo Berrettini (2875) and just below Diego Schwartzman (3180).
Coric Exacts Revenge on Opelka, Gets Raonic Next
In the third match of the day on Centre Court, No. 7 seed Borna Coric continued his solid run of form in St. Petersburg, as he overcame 16 aces from Reilly Opelka to defeat the American, 7-6(3), 6-3.
After being broken easily in his first service game, Coric found himself down 2-5 before he began to rally. After saving three set points at 3-5 with some aggressive, first-strike tennis, the Croat managed to recover the early break and exchanged holds with Opelka until the tiebreak. Coric would get off to a much better start in the tiebreak, earning an early mini-break and never really looking back to take the first set in 52 minutes.
With the first set under his belt, Coric seemed to serve better as the match progressed and earned a decisive break in the fourth game of the second, which he would continue to consolidate to secure the victory in an hour and 22 minutes.
“I was playing some of my best tennis today,” he assessed in his press conference. “In the first set, I started slow and I didn’t find my rhythm. I was not in the shape, but as the match progressed, I was playing better and better. I did find also my [depth] on the return and also in the rallies.
“At the beginning, I was not serving really good when I lost the break. [But] in the return points, I was playing better and better. I did start to read a little bit better his serve and I just felt more confident coming into the return.”
In the semifinal, the Croat will face another big server in No. 6 seed Milos Raonic, who looked flawless in his 6-1, 7-6(1) victory over No. 4 seed Karen Khachanov. The Canadian, who hit 15 aces and won 85 percent (35/41) of his first serve points, saved the only break point he faced and never really allowed Khachanov to work his way into the points. With his 86-minute victory over the Russian, Raonic has now held in all 29 of his service games this week at the Sibur Arena.
“It was a great match for me,” said the World No. 21 in his on-court interview. “From the beginning, I knew it was going to be tough. I knew I was going to have to bring my best tennis and I did from the start of the match. I think that really helped me a lot and I am just happy with my level overall.”
In the only doubles semifinal of the day, No. 2 seeds Jurgen Melzer and Edouard Roger-Vasselin came from a set down to defeat Ben McLachlan and Franko Skugor, 3-6, 7-6(4), 10-7. They will face the winner of the match between Opelka/Alexander Bublik and Marcelo Demoliner/Matwe Middelkoop for the title on Sunday.
Max Gao is a freelance Canadian sports and entertainment journalist that is covering this year’s St. Petersburg Open for Tennis Panorama News. Follow all of his reports throughout the week here and follow him on Twitter for live updates and exclusive, behind-the-scenes content from this year’s event: @MaxJGao.