Canada’s Denis Shapovalov fell just short of capping off a strong week with a title as he lost to Japan’s Yoshihito Nishioka in the Korea Open final last Sunday. Shapovalov will be extremely confident ahead of the Rakuten Japan Open match against Steve Johnson.
2022 ATP Tour
Rakuten Japan Open
Ariake Coliseum, Tokyo, Japan (Outdoor Hardcourt)
Selected Round of 32 Matches- 5th October
Denis Shapovalov (27/100) vs Steve Johnson (26/10)
Denis Shapovalov must be one of the most frustrating players on the planet. How on earth does a player with his talent only have one title to his name? He has shown on multiple occasions that he can take down anybody.
He has numerous deep runs in Masters 1000 events (including a run to the 2019 Paris Masters final). And he has also shown some improvements in Grand Slam tennis of late.
He reached his maiden Grand Slam semi-final at last year’s Wimbledon Championships and reached the quarterfinals of this year’s Aussie Open. But his form completely capitulated as the season progressed. He has endured eight first-round defeats since reaching the Dubai semi-finals.
It’s as if he crumbles under the weight of expectation every time he approaches greatness. But he does come into this match with some form after reaching the final of last week’s Korea Open.
Shapovalov should still be a heavy favorite when he faces 32-year-old American journeyman Steve Johnson. It hasn’t been a terrible year for the America. It just hasn’t been that great.
He reached the quarterfinals at Newport and Los Cabos and also managed to sneak his way into the 3rd round of Wimbledon. But he has gradually slipped outside of the top 100 in the world and comes into this event in pretty dire form.
He was knocked out of the US Open at the opening hurdle and followed that up with yet another first-round exit at the San Diego Open. He spared himself the ignominy of three straight first-round defeats with a victory in Korea last week.
Verdict: Shapovalov to win in three at 11/4- Shapovalov won their only previous match at the 2019 Indian Wells Masters. I think this will be tighter than people think. Johnson is still a powerful server who can dominate on his delivery.
Shapovalov was typically erratic in the Korea final last weekend I can see him spraying around a plethora of errors. Still, the Canadian should have enough over three sets.
Miomir Kecmanovic (84/10) vs Yoshihito Nishioka (94/100)
23-year-old Serb Miomir Kecmanovic will be looking to reestablish himself as one of the most dangerous dark horses in world tennis. He started the year brilliantly but has sputtered during a disappointing 2nd half of the season.
The hard-hitting Serb showed his potential with an encouraging 4th round run at the Aussie Open. He then made the quarterfinal stage or better at six consecutive events between Rio and the Bavarian International. This included brilliant back-to-back quarterfinals at the ‘Sunshine Double’.
I still contest that his Miami quarterfinal defeat to Carlos Alcaraz was arguably the greatest match of the year (though Sinner vs Alcaraz at the US Open was also pretty sick). But since that run he has only reached the quarterfinal stage of one in eleven events. Ouch. This included a dismal first-round defeat to the virtually unknown Kovacevic at last week’s Korea Open.
Life on tour has generally been a struggle for 27-year-old Yoshihito Nishioka. He has been billed as the next Kei Nishikori for years but has struggled to impose himself on the tour.
He last won a title in 2018 and has had to fight for success on the Challenger Tour. But the energetic baseliner has found something in the last few months. He reached his first ATP final in two years at the Citi Open.
This included a semi-final victory against Andrey Rublev (his first victory against a top 10 player since 2019). He then won his first title in five years at last week’s Korea Open, beating yet another top 10 player in Casper Rudd. And that is crucial for me. Sure, winning the Korea Open and reaching the Washington final are excellent results. But picking up two huge victories against established top 10 players is key.
They are simply not the kind of victories thar the Japanese workhorse is accustomed to. He has obviously found some more gas from the back of the court.
Verdict: Kecmanovic to win in three sets at 10/3- These two share the head-to-head spoils 1-1. Kecmanovic won their sole hardcourt encounter at the 2019 Indian Wells Masters.
I am making a bit of a ‘Hail Mary’ choice here in backing the bang out-of-form Serb. I just think he has far too much power and ability to struggle indefinitely. He has been ultra-competitive against much tougher players than the Japanese this year.
Sure, the home support will be fully behind the recent ATP Tour winner Nishioka. But I think we can also possibly expect a bit of a hangover from last week.