July is a month characterized by two antipodean halves. The first half is set aside for the Wimbledon Championships, where this year Roger Federer bagged his eight title on the court that has been his own personal kingdom since the mid-noughties; the back half of the month, on the other hand, is crammed with regular ATP and Challenger tournaments that provide an opening for the tour’s journeymen, rookies and clay specialists alike to hoover up ranking points they missed out on during the grass season.
As a reminder to anyone who missed it, player of the month in June was Feliciano Lopez. Our pick for July is young Canadian Denis Shapovalov, whose impressive performance on the Challenger tour over the past fortnight has gone some way to improving his chances of qualifying for the Next Gen ATP Finals in November.
The year started off badly for Shapovalov when he was engulfed in a furor for giving umpire Arnaud Gabas the bruising of a lifetime during a Feburary Davis Cup tie against Great Britain. In typically predacious fashion, the media was unforgiving in its appraisal of the incident. Immediately afterwards, a contrite Shapovalov apologized for his unseemly behavior. Whatever flavor of humble pie he tasted in the aftermath of that disastrous Sunday is one that he should regularly incorporate into his diet, for the Israeli-born left-hander’s stock has been steadily rising ever since.
Just six weeks after the ignominious Davis Cup episode, Shapovalov got his hands on his maiden Challenger trophy at Drummondville. A week later, he powered through to the final at the Jalisco Open in Guadalajara, Mexico. Then came six consecutive Round of 32 losses, a last 16 showing at Queen’s, and a first-round humbling at Wimbledon inflicted on him by Polish dynamo Jerzy Janowicz.
Shapovalov took a couple of weeks off after Wimbledon and rebounded in style at the next event he played, which was a Challenger in Gatineau. In the final, he saw off countryman Peter Polansky in 3 sets to win the second Challenger title of his career. Last week, the 18-year old made the short trip to Granby. There, he picked off Marinko Matosevic, Yuki Bhambri and Mackenzie McDonald, before falling to Polansky in the semis on Saturday.
July certainly wasn’t perfect for Shapovalov; the title in Gatineau was sandwiched between a defeat to Janowicz and another in a winnable match against Polansky. And that is to be expected- there will be a lot of stumbles and own-goals at this stage of a player’s career, regardless of how talented he is. Shapovalov, nonetheless, deserves to be recognized as player of the month for July because he has shown fantastic resolve to back up his results from earlier in the year after going through a barren spell in April and May.
With each passing week, he is looking more like a player who has what it takes to get to the top of the game than another ‘NextGen’ dud. That unplayable lefty serve, rocket-fueled forehand and brilliantly versatile backhand of his have left me in no doubt that Shavopalov will start putting his age-mates to shame sooner than most people would anticipate.
An honorable mention is reserved for Yannick Hanfmann. The world No.125 battled through qualifying and a nightmare draw in Gstaad to reach his first ATP final in what was only his third tour-level event. Although Hanfmann lost to Fabio Fognini in straight sets, he has progressed immensely from his days playing college tennis for USC. Plaudits also go to John Isner, who always plays well in North America and continues to do so this year. Former University of Georgia stalwart Isner got the better of Ryan Harrison to become a four-time winner at the BB&T Atlanta Open, following directly on from his successful run in Newport.
Which other player(s) caught your attention during the month of July? We encourage all readers to let their thoughts be known in the comment field below.