Denis Shapovalov, who had not won a tour-level match on clay until last Sunday, was today bidding to become the youngest Masters 1000 finalist since Richard Gasquet, who reached the 2005 Hamburg final at the age of 18. For now, the 19-year-old will have to settle for the distinction of being the youngest semi-finalist in Madrid Open history, as he was beaten 6-4, 6-1 by Alexander Zverev in a match that lasted a mere 57 minutes.
With Shapovalov serving first, the opening set proceeded on even terms for the first four games. Shapovalov was taken to deuce in his third service game after holding a 40-15 lead but recovered well to take the next two points and close out the hold. Both players defended their serves comfortably until the score reached 4-4; this was the point at which Zverev upped his intensity on return and capitalized on the untidiness of his younger opponent’s play. Shapovalov appeared to be in touching distance of a routine service hold at 30-0 up, before he double faulted and lost the next two points. Zverev subsequently converted his first break opportunity with a bullet of a backhand return up the line, which was in response to a wide serve on the ad side. Shapovalov had outwitted Zverev with that serve throughout the set, so it was all the more sastisfying for the German to get a read on it and send his reply back with interest. Zverev, attempting to serve out the set in the tenth game, looked to have it in the bag when he won three consecutive points. Shapovalov struck back to take the game to deuce, then Zverev, with exemplary poise, regained control during the next two points and made the first set his.
The first set finished 6-4, and in the ten minutes that followed it, Zverev essentially eradicated the possibility of the second set lasting anywhere near as long. Shapovalov lost his first service game of the set owing as much to his untimely errors as Zverev’s crisp, clean hitting. Zverev next held to love, then broke Shapovalov to love when the Canadian sent a topspin backhand drive beyond the baseline. Shapovalov, by this stage of the match, was offensive-minded to a fault. He was hurt particularly by rash decision making, often taking on overly ambitious shots because he wasn’t confident in his ability to hang in the rallies with Zverev. Although Shapovalov managed a convincing hold in the fourth game, he couldn’t get any momentum going and Zverev continued to hit winners practically at will. Leading by five games to one, Zverev broke Shapovalov for the third time in the set, the fourth time in the match overall, and decisively to clinch the match.
Zverev is entering his second Masters 1000 final of the year—and second on clay at this tournament level—with the utmost confidence having won the title in Munich last Sunday and not dropped his serve all week. In the final, he will face Dominic Thiem, who has found a rich vein of form himself after halting Nadal’s unchecked rampage in the quarter-finals of this event and dispatching big-serving South African Kevin Anderson in the semis. It will be well worth watching, if only to reveal which player should be considered the second favourite after Nadal to triumph at the French Open, which commences on 27th May.
An earlier version of this article was published entitled “Zverev Eases Past Shapovalov and Books Place in Madrid Open Final.”