Dubai: For Denis Shapovalov, the idea of merely going to the beach when on ATP Tour constitutes the ‘unbelievable’ these days.
Fresh from his Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championship quarter final defeat of Jeremy Chardy, Shapovalov spoke of how he felt like a captive inside the bubble created to keep players on the ATP Tour safe during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Revealing the grim reality of living within strict protocols, he said life on Tour had become ‘mentally draining’ for most because of having to live in isolation. He was, however, quick to praise organisers in Dubai and Doha for stretching the realms and giving players a bit more freedom, which has made things seem a bit more normal than elsewhere.
“I think Dubai has done an amazing job. Doha was unbelievable. We had the beach right there and we could go to the beach, but it’s still the feeling that you don’t have freedom where you can go to a restaurant,” Shapovalov said.
“Dubai is one of the best bubbles that we are gonna have; else it’s just hotel rooms and the tennis court and it can get really tough and depressing. Here (at the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Club), you’re looking across the pond and you’re looking at regular life and it’s still better. There’s people literally across the pond at a restaurant, and they’re looking at you, but you just can’t go there and grab a bite. It’s better, but it’s still difficult.
“It’s just mentally taxing after a while. You can do it for 1-2-3 weeks but a month, two months in it becomes very difficult for you mentally.”
Canadian Shapovalov will reconsider his own schedule if the bubble situation continues to persist.
He’d rather have out for the time being. “I’ve been trying to stay out of the bubble as much as possible,” the World No.12 added.
“After Australia I felt like it took a toll on me, so I came to Dubai just to practise and relax, and pulled out of Rotterdam because I didn’t feel ready.
“I am trying to play as few tournaments as possible and sometimes new tournaments for me like this helps because it’s something new, it doesn’t feel like a routine. It’s something to look forward to when you play new tournaments.
“I feel like it’s more interesting because everything is new: the courts, the restaurant, it’s a new experience, so it’s a little bit easier for myself. I definitely don’t want to play too much this year if it’s going to be a bubble life because it is extremely difficult mentally to be locked up like this.
“Of course it’s amazing to play, but as the weeks go on, you kind of lose that passion for tennis and a lot of players are struggling with that. So we are trying to take the approach of kind of minimizing that as much as possible and just enjoying every match that I do go out and play this year.”
The grim reality might be one thing, but Shapovalov acknowledges the fact that with much of the top brass keeping away from touring on account of safety reasons, and a drop in prize money offered at non-slam events, youngsters like himself stand a chance of enhancing their rankings.
“I definitely think there’s going to be a lot of withdrawals and a lot of people not going to tournaments because I do agree the prize money is low and in a way it’s not really motivating to play every week and play all the big tournaments just because there’s not really a lot in it for us other than the Slams.
“The players are in this situation and hopefully the ATP or someone can do something to improve the prize money and bring it back to what it was, but it is what it is right now.
“We have other obligations from sponsors and contracts that oblige us to play as well, and I’m sure that’s one of the reasons why a lot of players are still playing otherwise a lot would not play at all. I feel other sports have been able to find solutions to keep the prize money and keep their salaries so I feel there are better ways to solve this problem.”
“I do want to achieve certain things - like win big tournaments and go up the rankings but I think for the bigger guys it’s not really motivating. They’ve been there, won Masters, won Slams, so they don’t have a reason to go and play.
“I think there’s way more guys pulling out in Masters - so definitely more chances to win and there’s more opportunities for sure. It’s good for young guys like us.”