CINCINNATI — Milos Raonic gained a measure of revenge against Denis Shapovalov on Thursday at the Western & Southern Open, beating the teenager 7-6 (6), 6-4 in a matchup of Canada's top male tennis players.
Raonic won the third-round match on his first match-point opportunity when the big-serving veteran showed a little finesse at the net, feathering a shot past Shapovalov to win the match on a break and set up a quarterfinal matchup with the winner of a match between Novak Djokovic and defending champion Grigor Dimitrov.
It was the second head-to-head meeting between Raonic and Shapovalov. The first came in May at the third-round of the clay-court Madrid Open, with Shapovalov winning 6-4, 6-4.
It was a different story on the hardcourt at Cincinnati, and Raonic used his preferred surface to his advantage. The 27-year-old form Thornhill, Ont., had 12 aces to just two for Shapovalov. Raonic won 75 per cent of his service points and had seven break point opportunities, converting two.
Shapovalov said he tried to mix up the ways he was approaching his returns in an effort to better handle Raonic's serves, including backing up from the baseline and moving in.
"It's tough on days like this when he's feeling it so good on his serve — it's not easy to play against. I was just trying to do a bunch of thing," he said.
"Today I figured, you know, he wasn't returning that well off the backhand side, so I kept trying to pin him on that side, and it worked out pretty well for the most part. Maybe I could have moved him around a little bit more, but he was playing really well."
Shapovalov, the 19-year-old rising star from Richmond Hill, Ont., had a chance to take control the match's momentum when he was serving for set point in the first-set tiebreak. But he missed on two consecutive serves and Raonic converted on his first set point.
"It was a good match. I had my chances. Unfortunately, I blew it a little bit," said Shapovalov.
"I rushed a little bit on set point, but it's just experience. Stuff like this happens. I'm only 19. I'm just going to learn from it and move forward."
Raonic looked like he was going to cruise through the second set after getting an early break and going up 3-0. But Shapovalov converted his only break opportunity of the match to make it 4-3, then tied the set in his next service game.
The veteran Raonic proved to be too much in the end, holding serve to go up 5-4 before putting Shapovalov away with a break in a match that took one hour 42 minutes.
Shapovalov said he may have lost some focus after the missed opportunity in the first frame.
"I came in on a couple of balls that weren't good to come in on and just rushed in general a little bit," he said.
"So like I said, it's something I'm going to look back into and just try to take forward. You know, I think on the other side, I did a good job trying to come back. Obviously, he kind of gifted me the game back with three doubles. I still fought and hung in there and tried my best to break and to come back."
The match was originally scheduled as the morning showcase on centre court, but was moved to a small side court after a rain delay of over four hours. They played just three points before the wet weather returned, causing another delay of about half an hour.
The pause in play featured a heartwarming moment as Shapovalov invited a ball boy who was standing and holding an umbrella over him to sit and talk.
"I was one of these kids not too long ago, so I know what it means to have a player you're looking up to or any player really just be so nice to you and kind of just have a chat with you," said Shapovalov.
"You don't get that experience every day, so I'm sure he's gonna remember that and I think, in a way, hopefully it just kind of motivates him. I asked him if he plays tennis. He told me, 'Yeah, he loves it.' Hopefully, it inspires him to get on the court and play.
"Like I said, that's my goal in my career. I want kids to come up and want to play tennis and love the sport, and, yeah, that's what I have been doing. Honestly, it was — he was a really nice guy. We had a nice little chat. It was fun."
Both Canadians looked impressive in their first two wins at the Masters 1000 tournament. Shapovalov opened with a three-set victory over American wild-card Frances Tiafoe before topping Britain's Kyle Edmund.
Raonic, 27, did not drop a set in wins over Serbia's Dusan Lajovic and Tunisian lucky loser Malek Jaziri.
Shapovalov's win in may ended Raonic's eight-year reign as Canadian No. 1. Raonic, a former world No. 3, reclaimed the top domestic spot this week after holding at No. 29 in the ATP World Rankings while Shapovalov slipped to No. 32.
Raonic is the last Canadian remaining in the tournament. Toronto's Daniel Nestor lost his first-round doubles match with American partner Mackenzie McDonald earlier in the week. They dropped a 7-6 (2), 5-7, 10-8 decision to Ryan Harrison and Nicholas Monroe of the United States.
Play continues through Sunday.
The Canadian Press