Dennis Shapovalov: The sooner the better
There's no doubt Dennis has become one of, if not the best so-called 'nextgen' players, simply due to his character, style of play, and obvious potential. Because of this, it seems many people are backing him to do well, and we're talking top 10 potential here.
His highest ATP ranking is 23, which is phenomenal baring in mind he's only 19. He is also the youngest player since 2005 to break the top 30. The numbers don't lie. Therefore, we would presume that he is going to crack on and become a top 10 player and possibly even a grand slam champion. However, after some thought, and some careful analysis, we have looked at areas of his game which we feel he could develop in order for him to stay in the game for as long as possible. We're not saying what he needs to work so that he will become a better Tennis player, that's for his coach to decide. We're simply looking at ways in which he will be able to play the game for longer, which in turn might increase his chances of winning titles, similar to that of Roger, Rafa and Novak have done as they got older.
Dennis's strengths are his speed, flexibility, a cracking single-handed backhand and his phenomenal ability to use his body to its maximum, such as sliding, skidding, jumping, leaning etc. Now, of course, these skills won't be with him forever, so we are hoping that the first of all, he stays as fit and healthy as possible and secondly, that he learns new ways of winning without using the extreme forces of his body. That's something that maybe he will develop naturally as he gets older.
Secondly, Dennis has what we call a very 'modern game'. He hits with immense power and spin and dominates from the baseline, and of course is very successful at this. However, if you look at the current top 3 players, as they have got older they have developed more of an all-around game. Rafa is now drop shotting more often, Novak now has more of a net presence and Roger is simply Roger. In other words, each player has now got a plan B, a plan C, and even a D. This is something we would like to see from Dennis so that when things aren't going his way, he can change his game (whilst playing to his strengths). His results in the grand slams show that when he has struggled he hasn't quite been able to adapt. Of course, this is something that he will learn.
Thirdly, and this is something we have heard many times is how Dennis needs to develop more of a net presence. With such battering baseline shots its inevitable for his opponent to hit shorter and allow him to move inside the court. But, strikingly, what is important is, if he doesn't start to develop these skills now, he may find them slightly harder as he gets older, and, as he gets older might need to think about finishing points off quicker such as Rafa and Roger now do.
Finally, what is important for Dennis is to develop the ability to effectively slice. Of course, he can do that now to an incredibly high level as his ranking shows. You can't have that ranking and not be able to slice! However, his reluctance to hit a slice fits in well with his disability to change to his plan B or C. Yes, of course, his topspin backhand is great, but just sometimes he might need to adopt a slice backhand to control the time, slow his opponent, etc. This also fits in with how Dennis returns serve. What we know with Roger Federer is that, yes a slice or a block return might not get him 'up' in the rally, but what it will do is get him in the point and it might set him up to eventually become 50/50 in the rally, whilst having the certainty of making that important return. During Shapovalov's loss to Kevin Anderson at this year's US Open, Dennis hit less than 6 block or slice returns, and that's against Kevin Anderson, who has arguably one of the biggest serves in the game.
Of course, we aren't preaching what Dennis needs to work on as he's clearly one of the best at what he does. But we feel that if he can develop the ability to slice, block and volley to an even higher level now, it will pay dividends for his confidence and skill when he is older. It's much harder to develop skills at an older age, so it's important that Dennis and his coach work together for the long-term plan as well as the short term.
All views are our own.
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