#NextGenATP Canadian Denis Shapovalov, the youngest player remaining in the Rakuten Japan Open Tennis Championships 2018, saved match point in a second-set tie-break on Friday before ousting German Jan-Lennard Struff 4-6, 7-6(7), 6-4 to reach the semi-finals.
"In the third set I felt a little bit more momentum," Shapovalov said. "I felt I was able to free up a bit more and I managed to get an early break and from there I just kind of ran with it."
The 19-year-old advances to the last four at a tour-level event for the third time this season, after also doing so at the Delray Beach Open and the Mutua Madrid Open, where he became the youngest quarter-finalist and semi-finalist in tournament history. Shapovalov will attempt to make his maiden ATP World Tour final when he clashes against compatriot Milos Raonic or Russian Daniil Medvedev.
"It's another opportunity for me to try to make my first final at an ATP event. But honestly, like I always do, I take it one match at a time. I'm very happy to escape today and I have another tough match tomorrow... I'm not too focused on the situation. I'm just going to try to focus on the things that I could do well in terms of how I play tomorrow and what I do, my strengths and stuff like this. And yeah, just try to win the match. Obviously it's a good opportunity, but I'm just going to focus on the match itself."
Shapovalov broke onto the ATP World Tour in a big way in Montreal last year, defeating Juan Martin del Potro and Rafael Nadal en route to the semi-finals. And the left-hander has kept the momentum going in 2018, earning his 34th tour-level match win of the year against Struff. He will look to make it even better, as he has not won a set in any of his three career semi-finals.
The No. 3 player in the ATP Race To Milan was on the verge of not making it that far. Struff constantly pressured Shapovalov's serve in the second set, getting to 15/30 three times and then earning a break point at 5-5, 30/40. And even after escaping all of those jams, Shapovalov faced match point with Struff serving at 7/6 in the tie-break.
Shapovalov was the steadier player under pressure, though. And after earning two consecutive mini-breaks, he punctuated the tie-break with an ace and stormed to victory in the third set after two hours and 22 minutes, continuing his pursuit of a spot at the Next Gen ATP Finals in Milan from 6-10 November. The moment reminded Shapovalov of his match at this year's US Open against Kevin Anderson, in which he won a tight fourth set before losing that momentum in the decider.
"After the [second] set I wanted to take a washroom break to just kind of refocus myself," Shapovalov said. "I tried to stay on it, tried to keep going with the momentum that I had. I was trying to put a lot of pressure on his serve. Obviously it was tough to do, he was serving really well today... I think I did a really good job of turning the match around today. Obviously it was tough. I think the first two sets, he really outplayed me, so I'm happy to come out of that."
It won't get easier against Medvedev, who is playing the best tennis of his life. While Shapovalov has won their two previous FedEx ATP Head2Head meetings, Medvedev has captured his first two ATP World Tour titles this season (Sydney, Winston-Salem), and the Russian is up to No. 32 in the ATP Rankings.
Medvedev did well to take care of his own serve, losing just 12 service points. He did not face a break point, but Medvedev broke the big-serving Canadian on his only chance in the second set en route to his one-hour, 15-minute triumph.
Did You Know?
On 11 June, Shapovalov became the youngest player to crack the Top 25 of the ATP Rankings since then-No. 19 Richard Gasquet on 25 July 2005. Shapovalov has climbed as high as No. 23.
Photo Credit: Hiroshi Sato