Paris Masters 2019: Brilliant Shapovolov ends Monfils’ London hopes

Defending champ Zverev guaranteed third qualification, Berrettini will debut

Denis Shapovalov
Denis Shapovalov (Photo: Marianne Bevis)

Sooner or later, it had to come down to one match, a win-or-lose contest to determine the final qualifier for the men’s tennis finale, the ATP Finals in London next week.

That it would come in the quarter-finals, and feature the 20-year-old star Denis Shapovalov against the Parisian favourite Gael Monfils was perhaps less expected.

At the start of this concluding week, 11 men were still in with a chance of filling the last two places, and Monfils, who had been ranked at just 14 before his semi-final run in Vienna last week, was certainly not first in line to grab one place.

But the potential rivals quickly fell away. First in line Roberto Bautista Agut, then Fabio Fognini, David Goffin, Karen Khachanov, Diego Schwartzman and John Isner all lost their first matches. Stan Wawrinka and Alex de Minaur lost in Round 3.

So many losses meant that the next in line, No7 in the Race Alexander Zverev, confirmed his place despite a third-round loss to Shapovalov. So would No8 Matteo Berrettini, another early loser in Paris, hold onto No8 in the same way, courtesy of his rivals’ losses? It was down to the resurgent Monfils.

If the Frenchman could beat Shapovalov, London would be his, and Berrettini’s brilliant breakthrough year—two titles from three finals, and semis at the US Open, the Shanghai Masters and Vienna—to break into the top 10 for the first time would come to nothing. In short, success was entirely in Monfils’ hands—and those of his young opponent.

It was, in any case, a match that promised much if their only previous contest was anything to go by. Their third-round battle at the US Open went to five sets and more than three and a half hours. Monfils won, but since then, Shapovalov had picked up his first career title in Stockholm, had been the giant-killer in Paris—he put out Fognini and Zverev—and was looking at a career-high ranking if he could reach his fourth Masters semi-final.

The Canadian, apparently oblivious to the partisan cheers in favour of Monfils, was fast out of the blocks, with his explosive single-handed backhand breaking holes in the Frenchman’s game to score the first break, 2-1.

A double fault from Monfils brought up another break chance in the fifth game, and the Canadian jumped all over a second serve to convert, 4-1. Shapovalov threatened again in the seventh game, but would eventually serve out he set, 6-2, after just 27 minutes, 30 points to 18.

It had silenced the Paris crowd, and no sooner had they begun the second set than Shapovalov silenced them again. Two forehand winners, and he was chivvying Monfils in the first game. The Frenchman double faulted for break point, and sure enough, a couple of acutely-angled backhands sealed the break. The Canadian was setting a blistering pace, with big forehands and power serving: He held for 2-0.

And it continued in spectacular style. Whatever Monfils threw at the Canadian, Shapovalov countered, turned defence to attack, slotted some brilliant forehands, and broke again, 3-0. He was focused and confident, but could he put his foot down to reach the finish line without giving Monfils—and more importantly a crowd—any room for encouragement?

The answer was swift. Shapovalov held for 4-0, and although Monfils managed to hold his next two service games, he had to fight to do so, and never looked like breaking the flow and determination of the 20-year-old. Shapovalov served out the win, 6-2, in just under and hour, without facing a single break point, and with 22 winners to just seven from Monfils.

It had been an exhilarating display, and confirmation that this young Canadian, now inside the top 20, will be one of the most feared opponents on the tennis stage very soon. For now, he is into his fourth Masters semi, and will attempt to reach his first final at this level when he meets Rafael Nadal or Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in the semis.

Berrettini confirmed for eighth place for ATP Finals

The 23-year-old Berrettini is the first Italian player to qualify for the Nitto ATP Finals in singles since 1978, and ensures that eight different countries will line up in London.

He is one of three players to debut in the tournament next week, with Daniil Medvedev and Stefanos Tsitsipas, after surging up the ranks from 57 in March to his current No8 in the Race, scoring more than 40 match wins for the first time in his career.

Zverev qualifies despite loss to Shapovalov

Defending ATP Finals champion Zverev became the seventh singles player to qualify for London’s O2, where the 22-year-old German will play for the third time. Last year, Zverev won the biggest title of his career in London, becoming the first player to beat both Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic in the 10 years that both men were in the field. He was also the first German winner since Boris Becker in 1995, and the youngest year-end champion since Djokovic, aged 21, in 2008.

Zverev has notched 40+ match-wins for the fourth consecutive season. He won his 11th title in May in Geneva, and was runner-up in Acapulco and the Shanghai Masters. He also made the quarters of the French Open for the second successive year.

Race to London: the final eight

1 Rafael Nadal

2 Novak Djokovic

3 Roger Federer

3 Daniil Medvedev

5 Dominic Thiem

6 Stefanos Tsitsipas

7 Alexander Zverev

8 Matteo Berrettini

Alternates

Roberto Bautista Agut

Gael Monfils

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