Jan-Lennard Struff fought very hard against his own demons to find a way to close out that match against Denis Shapovalov (6-3, 4-6, 7-6). The German (32yo, 152 at the ATP) is known for three things on Tour: his incredible serve, his so powerful forehand, and the way he can struggle under pressure. But on Thursday, he closed the door when it mattered and raised both arms up in the sky in the end as the winner of that first match. A great upset for Germany as Canada’s lineup this year is clearly a huge title contender.
“It was brutal to get the break there”, Struff
Up 4-1 and then 5-3 with a match point, Struff suddenly made all the wrong choices, rushing to the net on all the wrong balls and getting passed again and again. “I played maybe two too many serves and volleys in that game. I didn’t play bad volleys, but Shapo was returning well and passing very well. It was brutal to get the break there. I was so close. It was very tough to stay calm, but pushing as well”, admitted Struff after the match.
In a panic, he lost that serve on Shapovalov’s fourth break point and when the Canadian started firing winners again all over the place, saving a second match point at 4-5, “Shapo” was the one looking on the verge to clinch that battle .
After a shaky start where he lost his serve on a double fault (10 in that match) and couldn’t find his timing, Shapovalov (23yo, 18th at the ATP) found his best range in the middle of the second set when he broke at 3-3 on a couple of incredible shots before basically zoning until the end of the set. Again, when he plays like that, he can beat anyone and win anything.
Shapovalov’s issue today in the end was that he couldn’t sustain the flamboyance long enough to make up for the mistakes that kept coming to kill the magic again at the start of the third set. In that tie-break where the pressure was through the roof again, his serve let him down like at the start of the first and third sets, and the shots that would land on the lines or right on the corners in the second set decided to escape off limits.
Struff, back to thinking straight again, stayed away from the net and trusted what had been the winning strategy today: putting pressure on Shapovalov from the baseline, taking time away from him, and pushing him to miss or to give a short ball to then come to the net. Indoor, Struff’s flat shots were anyway doing enough damage to allow him to stay on that baseline.
It’s the whole mystery of what goes through a player’s mind that it took Struff to nearly lose a match that was in his racquet to get back to his senses right before the finish line. But with 12 wins and 8 losses in Davis Cup, Struff confirmed today that with a team on the bench and the feeling of playing for his country, he can be relied on to finish the job.
“It was a very tough season”, Struff
“It’s always special to play for Germany. We have such a good team behind the players. We connect very well. I think we have a good atmosphere and a great team spirit. That makes it special to play for Germany. That makes it special for me to play, and that motivates me and gives me a lot of confidence when the guys are outside and pushing behind me. Personally for me it was a very tough season. I was injured, did not start the season well, I dropped to over 150 in the ranking now, so I will start the Australian Open qualifiers. I had some good matches, and good tournaments in between since the injury, but it’s not easy to come back that fast. I feel like a lot of good players are out there. I will try. I’m not the youngest guy, but I want to play for a few more years, definitely. I want to come back and play good tennis. You said top 20? The first step is to come back to 10, then we can talk again. If I play like this today, definitely I can reach it, but let’s see what the next year brings. I’m totally motivated to come back.”