Denis Shapovalov lost five of his last six matches before the COVID-19 pandemic caused the suspension of the ATP Tour. But since returning in August, the Canadian has been on a tear, reaching his first Grand Slam quarter-final at the US Open as well as making the Internazionali BNL d’Italia semi-finals. There’s something that at the very least has contributed to his success.
Nearly five months ago, Shapovalov began working with a sports psychologist named Vadim. The lefty’s coach, Mikhail Youzhny, suggested doing so to help improve the mental side of his game.
“He really recommended him so for me it was really exciting to start,” Shapovalov said. “I felt like it was a big part of my game and overall something I can really improve on. I feel like he’s helped me just unbelievably. He’s really helped me get rid of all the anger and emotions I have in the matches and just let myself play freely and it lets me just play my game at all times.”
Shapovalov’s game is dynamic. At full flight, his big serve, forehand and one-handed backhand are dangerous for any opponent to deal with. The 21-year-old is capable of controlling points with unrelenting aggression. Youzhny, who began working with Shapovalov before last year’s US Open, saw there was room for improvement, and he was glad his charge was open to new ideas.
“When you work with a player like Denis, who wants to improve his game [and] who is ready to try some new things, this is a good thing,” Youzhny said. “You would like to work with this guy. This is why I’m feeling well and for me it’s really interesting.”
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Shapovalov’s power and shotmaking skills have never been a secret. At 18, he defeated Rafael Nadal and Juan Martin del Potro en route to the Montreal semi-finals. But Youzhny has helped refine those skills to make Shapovalov a more complete, well-rounded player.
“I think he just made me a smarter player. I’ve always had the flashy shots: the big serve, the big forehand,” Shapovalov said. “But he’s definitely helped me implement my net game and returns and just making myself a trickier player to play against and making it harder for other opponents to play against me.”
That was the type of tennis Youzhny played on the ATP Tour. The Russian never had the weaponry Shapovalov does, but he always mixed things up and found ways to trouble even the best players in the world. The former World No. 8 has enjoyed working as a coach, two years after completing his career at the St. Petersburg Open, where Shapovalov is the second seed this week.
“I don’t have too much experience as a coach because being a tennis player is a little bit of a different career,” Youzhny said. “But for me it’s interesting to learn day by day. Also with Denis, I think he has a good future, but you need to improve and you need to work day by day.”
Shapovalov will try to continue doing just that when he plays Ilya Ivashka in the second round.