11 Jan 2018

Tennis: Hyped clash failed to live up to its billing

11:51 am on 11 January 2018

The much hyped Shapovalov vs Del Potro match at the ASB Classic didn't quite live up to its billing, writes Jamie Wall.

Juan Martin Del Potro (left) and Denis Shapovalov.

Juan Martin Del Potro (left) and Denis Shapovalov. Photo: PhotoSport

The talk all week had been about this one: the early match in the night session between Juan Martin del Potro and Denis Shapovalov.

How this match would be something you'd see in the late stages of a Slam, and what it meant for the organisation of the tournament this year. So the crowd showed up, packing out Stanley Street for a second straight night. Again, the weather played its part, with the temperature perfect for sitting back and having a beer or champagne.

On one side, the big Argentine del Potro, who wouldn't look out of place jumping at two in a Super Rugby lineout. On the other, precocious talent Shapovalov, who took out Rafael Nadal last year at the Canadian Open.

Read more from Jamie Wall at the ASB Classic:

There's been plenty of interest in the 18-year-old Canadian, in fact it's probably the most interest you'd ever see for a world number 50. His ride or die style is fantastic to watch, however it only pays off when he gets it right.

The Auckland ATP is full of tales of young players doing well, indeed a young del Potro himself was a winner here way back in 2009. The even more illustrious Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer both played here as teenagers, but perhaps the famous success was that of 17-year-old Bjorn Borg in 1974.

Unfortunately though, the match failed to live up to its billing. It only took del Potro a little over an hour to dismantle any hopes Shapovalov had, and he barely broke a sweat doing it. He took advantage of the impetuous nature of the youngster, calmly waiting for the inevitable rush of blood to the head and simply letting Shapovalov commit unforced errors.

He broke him early, and took the first set 6-2, then had little trouble taking the second 6-4.

The crowd, not quite believing the match hadn't come anywhere near to meeting the hype that had been built up around it, gave Shapovalov a standing ovation as he left the court anyway.

It was a display of a seasoned pro and afterwards del Potro admitted he was happy with the result. He told us during the post match press conference:

"I did not expect to have a match of this level early in the year. If he [Shapovalov] plays well he is dangerous...today I broke his serve many times and that was the key."

Shapovalov, to his credit, was warm and friendly at the press conference - a million miles away from the player who once blasted a ball into an umpire's face during an emotional outburst.

"I felt pretty decent, but miss-hit a lot. I'm pretty positive and optimistic heading to the Australian Open." he said.

"He served massive and was playing really well. That's why he is who he is. I think there's so much space for me to improve, it's going to be a lot of work."

There is a long way to go for Shapovalov and he admitted as much. However it is worth remembering he's only 18. Borg did get his Auckland title aged one year younger, and while the only thing he in Shapovalov have in common right now is a hairstyle, it's likely to change in the future.

We can only hope that Auckland next year is one of the places where he recognises his huge potential.

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