“I’ve improved standing further back on the returns on the clay court, on the red dirt, just to give myself more time and start the point going a bit heavier, deeper and just moving into the court after that,” Shapovalov said. “I feel like it’s definitely benefitted my clay-court game.”
The 22-year-old added that he does back up “significantly further” for his return on clay compared to his positioning on hard courts, estimating a three-step difference.
“It just gives me time for the ball to come down so I can hit it back up heavy and work myself into the point,” Shapovalov said. “I also feel on clay there are a lot of tough bounces and on the serve. If there’s a little bit of a [tough] bounce, then it’s pretty impossible when you’re standing close. But if you’re far back, you can still react to it.”
Shapovalov is a shotmaker, capable of hitting winners off both wings from anywhere on the court. But the lefty admitted that it’s not always as simple as taking one big swing on clay because of how much the surface slows down the pace of the action.
“I think it just takes time [to adjust to it]. It’s longer points, longer rallies and you really have to get used to the sliding and feeling the surface,” Shapovalov said. “That in itself takes longer to get used to. Usually points are pretty short, but going onto the clay, you’re expecting long points.”
The seventh seed has enjoyed success on clay before. Just seven months ago, he reached an ATP Masters 1000 semi-final on the surface in Rome. This will be Shapovalov’s second appearance in Barcelona, and he will begin his run at the ATP 500 against Frenchman Jeremy Chardy, against whom he holds a 3-0 ATP Head2Head advantage.
“It’s definitely just one of those tournaments that I wanted to get in on to get used to the clay,” Shapovalov said. “It’s the first tournament on the surface this year, so I’m just trying to get my feet wet on it.”