When human beings try to make sense of sports competition, results emerge which test their views and preconceptions. One of the challenges of making predictions about sports is found in the process of evaluating the significance of a result.
Does this match REALLY matter in the grander scheme of things, or is it a throwaway result? Is this an indicator of larger forces at work, or is it a relatively random occurrence with minimal meaning for both players?
I give you Denis Shapovalov beating — nay, THRASHING — Alexander Zverev, 2 and 2, in Brisbane at the ATP Cup.
Is this a sign that Shapovalov, who did well at the Pique Cup in Madrid last November, is picking up where he left off, and is ready to make noticeable (sustained) improvements this season?
Is this a sign that whatever magic or momentum Zverev had after reaching the ATP Finals semifinal round has evaporated?
Is this all an illusion, with no real connection to what we are about to see in Melbourne?
My answer: I don’t know… but it sure does tease the mind, does it not?
It is so easy to fall in love with Shapovalov’s eye-pleasing shots (when they land in). It is natural to hope that Shapovalov’s big game, married to a little more consistency and common sense, plus more forays to the net, will become a supreme force on the ATP Tour in the 2020s, a decade which could become a golden age for Canadian tennis.
It is also very easy to think that a bad match against an offense-based player is a bad sign for Zverev. We saw a passive Zverev sink into bad habits last year before breaking free of those habits in Shanghai, part of his post-Laver Cup revival.
Yet, as well as Shapo has been playing and as familiar as this loss seems for Zverev, is all of this enough to override what we know: namely, that Zverev owns a pile of Masters titles and has considerably more upside as a player?
As I said at the start of this piece, it is tricky to predict sports precisely because it is often hard to decide what to conclude from a given event which tests our preconceptions and leanings.
Does a match possess enough power and resonance to change the way we view two players, or are we going to remain convinced that the loser will bounce back and that the winner won’t keep the music playing?
Shapo d. Zverev is a fascinating case study, early in this 2020 tennis season. Oui gonna see how this match does — or doesn’t — shape the short-term futures of these competitors.
Will the wall of your mind remain strong, or has this outcome weakened your intellectual framework? Changing thoughts and perceptions can be good, but only if there is enough information to warrant such a shift. Does this match contain enough of that information?
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