While there are two more ATP 500 events at the end of October, a 1000 event in Paris in November and the ATP Finals in Turin still to come, last week in Tokyo and Astana marked one of the final massive weeks of the 2022 tennis season.
That means we will soon be turning our attention to the Australian Open — the first Grand Slam of 2023.
But before we get ahead of ourselves (the excitement for 2023 is real — especially for this site, as it will be our first full season up and running), let’s break down our three takeaways from last week’s two 500 events.
We Got Robbed of One of the Matches of the Year
Carlos Alcaraz vs. Jannik Sinner at the US Open was insane (in fact, there were multiple insane matches in New York this year). The Rafael Nadal-Daniil Medvedev five-set final at the Aussie Open was a thriller. And Nadal-Novak Djokovic at Roland Garros had a wildly high level of play.
But the match between Djokovic and Medvedev on Saturday in the Astana semifinals was special, too.
Medvedev was playing the best tennis I’ve seen him play in a while, acting like a backboard from the baseline, picking his spots effectively on groundstrokes and serves, and frustrating Djokovic (something we all know few players can do). He won the first set 6-4 and honestly looked destined to pull off the upset in straight sets.
While Djokovic wasn’t serving at his best, his play was undoubtably strong himself, especially late in the second set when he started to stage his comeback.
Medvedev missed a routine volley that could’ve been the game changer, helping Djokovic win the second-set tiebreaker 8-6 to even the match at a set apiece.
We were headed for a thrilling third set in a match that would’ve most likely been the best non-major battle of this tennis season.
Unfortunately — and to the shock of many, including Djokovic — Medvedev retired immediately following his second-set defeat.
It was odd to say the least, at least to many of us watching the match. The Russian didn’t visibly seem like anything was bothering him physically.
Even Djokovic’s reaction was of pure shock, as he mentioned post-match that he didn’t expect Med to retire despite him showing signs of slowing down during the late stretch of the second set. He also mentioned that the Russian was the better of the two players in both sets.
Medvedev later explained his retirement to the media, mentioning a “strange pop in my adductor.”
Medvedev has beaten Djokovic four times in his career in 11 meetings, so it’s not shocking that he was able to assert himself against the 21-time Grand Slam winner.
But what was shocking — and disappointing — though was the fact that we were all robbed of arguably one of the best and most elite matches we’ve seen this season.
Denis Shapovalov Coming Into His Own
First of all, hats off to Taylor Fritz who beat US Open semifinalist and fellow American Frances Tiafoe in the Tokyo final (7-6, 7-6).
Fritz has had an up-and-down last two or so months, losing in the first round of the US Open to Brandon Holt, putting forth a questionable performance in the Davis Cup and nearly blowing a second straight lead to Cam Norrie in the Laver Cup.
But ultimately, the American captured his third title of the season and is now ranked in the top 10 for the first time in his career.
Fritz may have lifted the trophy, but there’s another player that I’m even more impressed with.
That man is Denis Shapovalov.
One week after reaching the final in Seoul, Shapovalov made another deep run at Tokyo, getting to the semifinals before dropping a three-setter to Fritz.
Shapo had a strong chance to win that match, too — he was up a break (3-1) in the third set.
But that’s besides the point, as Shapo’s attitude seems tweaked (it’s too early to say changed). He seems much more focused and energized, showing less outbreaks and disturbing mental mistakes on the court.
Nick Kyrgios has turned over the same leaf in 2022, and Shapo seems to be (hopefully) following his path.
Like Kyrgios, Shapo has undeniable talent. We know the pace on his groundstrokes are incredibly difficult to prepare for and execute against, and his serve is no slouch. He doesn’t nearly have Kyrgios’ upside, but they face similar obstacles in their careers that they seem to be working on.
Yes, Shapo told the crowd at the Italian Open to “shut the (expletive) up” earlier this season, forcing his ex-coach to drop him following that tournament. He also has finished seasons strong in the past.
But maybe this time is different, especially since Mikhail Youzhny reunited with the 23-year-old before the US Open and there have been positive results in Asia.
Obviously, things continue to evolve with the Canadian because one outburst could ruin this entire narrative. But at least for now, Shapovalov seems to be playing at a high level, which can be explained in part because of a potential shift in attitude.
Tiafoe Isn’t Going Anywhere
This takeaway may seem obvious to those who watched the US Open. Tiafoe was a semifinalist, beat Nadal and took the eventual champion of that same tournament, Alcaraz, to five sets. His serve was nearly untouchable the entire event and his maturity level was impressive.
Even after the Grand Slam result, I actually was still questioning whether Tiafoe would be a consistent contender at a high level.
And it turns out I’m wrong.
Because Tiafoe sure did compete this week.
He reached the final at Tokyo, and looked strong while doing so. He did get bageled by Soonwoo Kwon, but that was the only set he lost before the final — plus Kwon has been playing excellent tennis in his own right.
Tiafoe absolutely smoked No. 32-ranked Miomir Kecmanovic in their quarterfinal match and again looked like a worthy top-10 player for most of the event.
My reasoning for questioning Tiafoe has always been his consistency. Sometimes he can get wild with his groundstrokes and his serve hasn’t always been this effective. But his confidence is sky high and reaching a 500-event final (even if the draw was much weaker than Astana) shows that his trend is continuing upwards.
And it doesn’t show signs of slowing down anytime soon.