The Rumble in Roma: Shapovalov vs. Sonego

G’day from Roma,

This match was an old-fashioned tennis brawl – with the partisan Italian crowd right in the middle of it!

Denis Shapovalov defeated Lorenzo Sonego 7-5(5), 3-6, 6-3 in an emotionally charged encounter on Grandstand here in Rome yesterday. I have worked with the Italian Federation for several years and was courtside (front row) for this highly entertaining match!

Sonego broke in the third game of the match for a 2-1 lead and served for the first set at 5-4. He was definitely the better player in the opening set, but it somehow slipped through his fingers. At 5-4, he held one set point at Ad In but missed a low Serve +1 forehand in the net off a heavy slice backhand return. You could make a strong argument that had he won the opening set at this moment, he was in the driver’s seat to win the match.

The main reason to support that was Shapovalov’s rampant negativity. He was constantly berating himself and his body language disintegrated as the set developed. There was a constant stream of negativity directed at his coach’s box and he was primarily focused on the problems in the match – such as his backhand – rather than any solution to get back into the opening set.

What got this match so emotionally charged was an incorrect overrule with Sonergo serving at 4-3, 15-0 which incensed Sonego and the parochial Italian crowd. Everyone in the stands was going ape-droppings at the missed call. The opening set lasted a marathon 91 minutes and Shapovalov squeaked it out 7-5 in the tie-break.

Then things got crazy in the second set with Shapovalov serving at 3-4, Deuce. There was an argument over a second serve ball mark that was ruled out and Shapovalov received a code violation and point penalty for crossing the net to show the umpire where he thought the ball landed.

Check out the video to watch the action.

The double fault brought the point score to Ad Out and the point penalty yielded the precious break of serve Sonego needed to win the second set.

So how did Shapovalov win the match? The following four areas were the pillars of his success.

1: Run-Around Forehands

Shapovalov crushed 24 forehand winners to Sonego’s 13, with a lot of them coming from a run-around forehand standing in the Deuce court (remember, Shapovalov is a lefty). The Canadian’s run-around forehand was the MVP of the match. Sitting in the very front row of the stands just behind the service line gave me such a clear perspective of how HEAVY Shapovalov hits this shot. A “heavy” ball in tennis means that it has both a lot of spin and a lot of speed. This shot was hit with so much spin that it lept high off the court and made it really tough for Sonego to step forward to the ball. The tremendous amount of topspin also enabled Shapovalov to find remarkable angles on the court.

Average Groundstroke Speed

  • Shapovalov = 121 km/h
  • Sonego = 109 km/h

Check out the Hawk-Eye heat map below. The red area represents where Shapovalov was standing where he hit the majority of his shots. And A LOT of those shots were run-around forehands.

Hawk-Eye Heat Map – Player Movement

2: Emotional Reset

At various moments in the match, Shapovalov was literally losing his mind, screaming at himself and his coach’s box. It was a bridge too far as he lost control of his emotions. But to his credit, he was also positive with a fist pump when he played good points. There was a lot of negative, but there was also a lot of positive as well. Shapovalov ultimately won the match by breaking early in the third set and breaking Sonego’s spirit. Shapovalov raced to a 3-0 lead in the deciding set and never looked back, staying positive as he closed in on the finish line. He will look back on this match and readily admit he got too emotional and too negative. But he will also look back and realize he fought well and there was a lot of positive energy when he needed it to close out the match.

3: Powerful Returns

Shapovalov returned well in this match, immediately bringing the ball back deep and heavy to push Sonego onto the back foot in the rally – from which he typically never recovered.

1st Serve Return: Average Speed

  • Shapovalov = 101 km/h
  • Sonego = 93 m/h

2nd Serve Return: Average Speed

  • Shapovalov = 130 km/h
  • Sonego = 111 km/h

The big point of separation was return speed vs. 2nd serves. Shapovalov was crushing these returns at 130 km/h on average while Sonego was much slower at 111 km/h. This then had a follow-on effect for Shapovalov to find a forehand on his Return +1 shot.

4: Stepping Up The Court

Shapovalov won the battle of court position when the players were trading blows from the back of the court. Shapovalov hit a bigger ball and hit it from inside the baseline more often than Sonego.

Hawk-Eye Graphic: Forehand Hit Points

Hawk-Eye Graphic: Backhand Hit Points

Shots Hit Inside The Baseline


  • Shapovalov = 28%
  • Sonego = 18%


  • Shapovalov = 30%
  • Sonego = 10%

These are big numbers that helped fuel Shapovalov’s dominance in baseline play and ultimately helped him win the match.

Front Row Pictures 

I was able to get some cool pics during the match, with the flowers nicely framing the players on the court. Study the pics to get a feel for what was happening with each player. It’s nice to see the technique, but also pay attention to the balance, energy and court position.





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