The new coaching voice in Denis Shapovalov’s ear is a fellow Canadian he’s known since he was a little kid, hailing from the same hometown.
Peter Polanski is also a novice in coaching, and still considers himself an active player.
So if Shapovalov, now 23, is an out-of-the-box tennis player, his decision has made 33-year-old Polanski of Richmond Hill, Ont. , his new full-time coach isn’t suitably fit.
Hiring Delgado to start the 2022 season – for better or worse – was the first decision Shapovalov made when he took ownership of his career.
“It’s not that things didn’t click, it wasn’t necessarily something he was doing wrong,” Shapovalov said.
“I think he’s a great coach. I think he’s a great guy. And we got on really well. But something was missing. He’s kind of unspeakable.”
“Sometimes it’s just a little intuition, a little bit of a feeling. My intuition was just telling me to go and go full time with Peter just because I feel so comfortable. I can feel how much better it is when he’s on court with me, so it was really hard for me not to take this opportunity “.
Shapovalov said the arrangement with Delgado was a test run this spring across Miami.
The Briton wasn’t due to be on board during the clay season, perhaps a few weeks later, as Shapovalov weighed turning the demo into a permanent party.
Ahead of the Rome tournament earlier this month, Shapovalov said he called Delgado to say he’s going with Polanski alone.
Also along the clay are Adriano Fuorivia, longtime budding coach Shapovalov and a man he considers family member.
For Polanski, a former top rookie who has been advancing at the various levels of professional tennis for 15 years but has never broken into the top 100, the opportunity has come at the right time.
The arrhythmia he’s managed has deteriorated throughout his career, and led to episodes on the field that forced him to retire mid-game on several occasions over the past six months.
A few months ago, Polanski had a procedure to address the problem and was planning to take a break from tennis to recover. So the timing was a coincidence.
Polanski worked with Shapovalov for a few weeks during the downturn at IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida, at Shapovalov’s request. Polanski was an assistant coach under Delgado at Indian Wells.
Polanski quickly sensed the direction things were going after several good weeks working with Shapovalov prior to the Madrid and Rome tournaments.
“Honestly, I wasn’t really sure what to expect in this,” Polanski said. “I’ve never really trained before. Having traveled on my own for many years, I kind of learned what I wanted if I had someone around to help me or take care of me.
“Maybe it’s my attention to detail. I think I really put his interests at heart. And he sees that too. It’s kind of hard when you’re on top. Everyone kind of wants a piece of the pie.”
History between player and coach
Despite the 10-year age difference, Polanski and Shapovalov date back.
Both trained at the old Player’s Edge Academy at York University when Polanski was young and Shapovalov was just getting started.
A few years later, when Polanski was already in the professional circle, they got to know each other a little more.
In the summer of 2017, the two met on the court for the first time in back-to-back tournaments.
It was the last time Polanski had overtaken Shapovalov in the ATP Tour rankings.
“The most important thing I think is that he is one of the smartest players I know and I think he has a lot of interest in the game as well,” Shapovalov said.
“Even the matches I played against him – whether he played or not – I felt him think of my game and put me in situations I didn’t like, and use that to his advantage.”
Two weeks after facing Granby, 18-year-old Shapovalov beat Juan Martin del Potro and Rafael Nadal on his way to the Rogers Cup semi-finals in Montreal.
Immediately after that, he qualified for the US Open and advanced to the fourth round.
Suddenly he was in the top fifty list with a bullet.
“It passed my level very quickly,” Polanski said.
Ups and downs, based on potential
Shapovalov was a disappointment across Indian Wells and Miami on the hard courts in March, winning just one game.
The clay court season has begun slowly. But reaching the quarter-finals in Rome included a victory over Nadal.
Nadal has been a bit of a hacker physically, for sure.
But Shapovalov took a match point against the 13-times French Open champion the last time they played in Rome as well.
The Canadian has not played the French Open since the fall edition in 2020.
But Polanski knows what his mission can do.
He is committed to making sure Shapovalov’s base level is higher – as is the case for the best players in the world.
“In my opinion, when he’s in the box, his high is intimidating,” Polanski said. “It’s probably fine in the top three.”
“I saw him play Novak Djokovic in the ATP Cup twice, both times he had good chances to win those matches and the level was really high,”
“So for someone like Dennis, if you can achieve that level more consistently, and have fewer ups and downs, he will gain that confidence and he can build on it.”