Wimbledon: Murray out as ruthless Shapovalov ends third title dream

By Sports Desk July 02, 2021

Andy Murray's Wimbledon adventure is over – for this year at least – after Denis Shapovalov put an end to his challenge in a one-sided Centre Court clash.

The doughty two-time former champion insists retirement is not at the forefront of his mind, but a 6-4 6-2 6-2 loss to 10th seed Shapovalov was a fresh reminder of his current place in the tennis pecking order.

After hip resurfacing surgery gave Murray another shot at the career that at one stage looked all but over, it was a Wimbledon return which was high on his list of priorities.

This was Murray's first appearance in the singles since 2017, the year he was last defending champion.

Earlier this year the former world number one spoke of a belief that he could win the tournament for a third time, but he will be 35 by the time next year's championships come around and many have doubts about whether he will still be playing. He came into this fortnight at 118th in the rankings.

Not even the closure of the Centre Court roof could save Murray this time. That had been the spur, coincidentally or not, for his two previous late-night matches to swing around in the Scot's favour, as he saw off Nikoloz Basilashvili and then the unheralded German Oscar Otte to reach this last-32 stage.

Murray and Shapovalov went off after the second set of this contest, as evening turned to night in south-west London and the lights came on, but Murray did not return with super-human strengths this time, and his opponent raced to victory.

Shapovalov told Murray at the net that the Scot was his hero, and spoke eloquently about his appreciation of his comeback, and perhaps Murray would have quietly admired the Canadian's skill in moving in for the kill.

 

This match had been all one way for much of the first set too, but then Murray found a spark and pulled back from 5-1 adrift to 5-4, the crowd beginning to believe it could be his day again.

Murray believed too, of course, but this match proved a step too far for the champion of 2013 and 2016. There were flickers of Murray at his best, and he will represent Great Britain at the upcoming Olympics, where he is a two-time defending champion, but Murray's days of being a grand slam contender are, on the balance of probabilities, pretty much over.

His career has been a spectacular affair, and there was a familiar ovation as he departed Centre Court.

Shapovalov had rammed down an ace on match point, clinical in his despatching of the crowd's favourite.

Speaking at the end of the match, Shapovalov said in an on-court interview: "This is a dream come true for me.

"I've put countless years of hard work into every practice so that one day maybe I could play on Centre Court – to play against a legend like Andy today, to play a match like this. First of all, huge shout-outs to him. What he is doing nobody has ever done. He's truly an inspiration to many people, including me.

"I just told him at the net that he's my hero. Achievements aside, what he's been able to do in the sport with an injury like this and to play the tennis he's playing and moving the way he's moving.

"In his second match it was like vintage Andy and it was just so much fun to see as a fan. I was really excited and the first set today was super, super intense.

"It's incredible what he's done to make it to the third round like this and he's just starting back up so it's going to be amazing to see what he can do."

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    Peng was not seen in public for several weeks after leveling the accusations against Zhang Gaoli, the ex-vice premier and member of the Chinese Communist Party's Politburo Standing Committee.

    She posted the allegations on social media site Weibo in early November, though her post has since been removed and her whereabouts have been unclear.

    In mid-November, an email allegedly sent by Peng was received by WTA chairman Steve Simon, who expressed his confusion and disbelief at the message, which claimed the sexual assault allegations were false and that the tennis star was safely at home.

    The WTA also welcomed pictures of Peng on a video call with International Olympic Committee president Thomas Bach, but a spokesperson for the women's tennis organisation insisted that did not alleviate the concern.

    Simon called for a full investigation into the incident as he said the prior email only heightened his worries over Peng's safety, also threatening to suspend WTA tournament action in China until the matter was resolved.

    He has since confirmed the suspension will be imposed on tournaments in China in a statement released on Wednesday.

    "When on November 2, 2021, Peng Shuai posted an allegation of sexual assault against a top Chinese government official, the Women's Tennis Association recognised that Peng Shuai's message had to be listened to and taken seriously," Simon's statement read. 

    "The players of the WTA, not to mention women around the world, deserve nothing less.

    "From that moment forward, Peng Shuai demonstrated the importance of speaking out, particularly when it comes to sexual assault, and especially when powerful people are involved.

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    The statement outlined a number of grievances with the way the Chinese state has handled the matter, before adding: "As a result, and with the full support of the WTA Board of Directors, I am announcing the immediate suspension of all WTA tournaments in China, including Hong Kong.

    "In good conscience, I don't see how I can ask our athletes to compete there when Peng Shuai is not allowed to communicate freely and has seemingly been pressured to contradict her allegation of sexual assault."

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    For many, Ralf Rangnick's arrival at Old Trafford has come eight years too late.

    Manchester United have struggled since Alex Ferguson delivered a 20th league title in his final season in 2012-13.

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    There have been Europa League, FA Cup and EFL Cup successes and a couple of runner-up finishes in the Premier League since Ferguson left, but United have never looked close to competing for the title.

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    "But when they say, 'Yes, this is the type of football we want to play,' and it seems like it's going in that direction, then clearly you can see [that identity] with all the clubs that he's worked at. Hoffenheim is a club that he brought from scratch and now they have that clear identity. Leipzig's another one. This [United] is different because this is a big, traditional club and they already have an identity of their own. I think the football they play is very similar to that style."

    Rangnick will have his work cut out with a United side well adrift in terms of pressed sequences (12th, 164), passes allowed per defensive action (14th, 14.6), high turnovers (11th, 98), kilometres covered per game (17th, 104.6), defensive actions (17th, 296) and pressures in the attacking third (15th, 589).

    "When you think of the old Manchester United days under Ferguson, it was always very attacking, very exciting type of football," Zdrilic said. "So, this certainly has its similarities. So that's going to be exciting to see how that develops."

     

    Zdrilic knows Rangnick better than most – the pair's relationship dating back to 1998.

    A 30-time international, Zdrilic was signed by Rangnick during his time as head coach of 2.Bundelsiga outfit SSV Ulm, who had just stepped up from the third tier of German football. The 63-year-old left for Stuttgart before the end of the season, though the club went on to gain promotion to the top flight.

    They reunited at Leipzig, where Rangnick brought Zdrilic to the emerging Bundesliga outfit as a youth-team coach over three years.

    Recalling life under Rangnick at Ulm, Zdrilic said: "It was not only the football, but just the way he approached his philosophy. Basically, his philosophy was just at the forefront for him from day one, and that was something I wasn't used to. We were playing football, but we weren't really talking about tactics in that degree back then. But he was very, very convinced in his philosophy.

    "When I joined, they had just come up from third division to second division. I had one year in Switzerland and then he signed me for Ulm. When we were there, I just remember one conversation I had with him and we were talking about, because we started the season really well and by the halfway point in that year we were first and he was getting a lot of attention because of the way we were playing. The German public were looking at it, going, this is a new way of playing this pressing style with a back four. Everybody was playing a sweeper back then. A conversation I had with him was about, you know, how this season's going to go. In my head, you don't go from third division to second division, then straight to first division. So, I joined in second and I sort of said something to that effect, like, 'Yeah, but you know, it's not really realistic that we're going to go straight up to the Bundesliga.' The way he looked at me was incredible, it was like, 'Why not?' But not, 'Oh, why not?' It was like looking at me like I'm stupid, 'Why not?' Then sure enough, third division, second division, Bundesliga. He did it with Hoffenheim, third division, second division, Bundesliga, and then obviously with Leipzig, he took them from the fifth division all the way to Champions League and to one the best clubs in Europe now.

    "It's just incredible that he has no doubts that that's possible, whereas most people would say you can't do that. He just knows 100 per cent that this is possible and he brought that from day one. That's something I saw and it stuck with me, not only in my playing days, but then as a coach was exactly the same thing about how we approach coaching, developing players and coaches. Everything is just like he knows 100 per cent what he wants and how to do it and that conviction is why he's so successful."

    At Leipzig, after spells with the likes of Hoffenheim, Hannover and Schalke, Rangnick took charge of the team in two different spells, having initially joined parent company Red Bull as director of football in 2012.

    Under Rangnick's leadership, Leipzig had gone from the regional league to Champions League qualification by 2017.

    Rangnick – who will become only the sixth German to manage in the Premier League – was promoted to the head of sport and development for Red Bull in 2019, before eventually joining Lokomotiv earlier this year.

    Indeed, Rangnick has only faced United twice in his managerial career when in charge of Schalke, who were outclassed over two legs in the Champions League semi-final in 2011 as Ferguson's side made their third final in four years.

    "His network that he's built and his ability to find talent and produce talent," Zdrilic said of Rangnick's biggest strength. "You just have to go through all the names that he's found and produced. Now just recently you've got [Dayot] Upamecano going to Bayern Munich and he was at Leipzig. [Ibrahima] Konate's gone to Liverpool. Jurgen Klopp takes a lot of the players that he's developed because it's the same principle behind the philosophy. So [Sadio] Mane is over there with him as well, [Naby] Keita he took from Leipzig. All of these guys, so many talented players and he really has a strength in finding those players and developing them and obviously selling them on to big clubs. They are huge talents.

    "I think the thing about him is he has the whole package. He can step in and coach like when he did at Leipzig two times when he wanted to get up to the Bundesliga the first time. He stepped in in the 2.Bundesliga and took them straight up. Then he stepped aside and gave [Ralph] Hasenhuttl the job. Then he did it again when they needed a coach after Hasenhuttl to step in before he got [Julian] Nagelsmann. So, it's just incredible his eye for what is needed and how to correct things. Not everybody sees that at the beginning. They see the results at the end, and that's probably why he obviously controls a lot of things and a lot of aspects. So, it's going to be interesting to see how it goes, not only as the head coach, but then what happens after that in terms of his role in developing Man Utd."

    Rangnick has never managed outside of his native Germany, taking charge of five different teams in the German Bundesliga in his career. The last side he managed was Leipzig, winning promotion with them from 2.Bundesliga in 2015-16 before returning to the club for the 2018-19 top-flight season and leading them to third place.

    Across 294 Bundesliga matches, Rangnick has a winning percentage of 41. He first took charge in the top flight in May 1999 at Stuttgart, losing 2-0 to Bayern Munich, while his last game in charge in the competition came 20 years later in May 2019 at Leipzig, a 2-1 defeat to Werder Bremen.

    His best win ratio in the competition came during his first spell at Schalke (55.4 per cent), whom he led to second place and into the Champions League.

     

    In Europe's elite competition, Rangnick took charge of 10 games with Schalke across the 2005-06 and 2010-11 seasons – his last match in the Champions League was against Ferguson's United in May 2011 in the second leg of that season's semi-final, losing 4-1 at Old Trafford and 6-1 on aggregate. His 10 games in charge have seen 38 goals scored (20 for, 18 against, 3.8 per game), the third-highest ratio of any manager to take charge of at least10 games in the competition as the Red Devils prepare for the knockout rounds this term.

    His best top-flight finish as a coach is second, achieved in 2004-05 with Schalke, a side he took over mid-season and led to a runners-up position and also to the final of that season's DFB-Pokal, ultimately losing 2-1 to Bayern.

    Zdrilic added: "He's very charismatic. He can be very firm, but with the players, I remember back then he knew how to approach the individuals. With me he was very clear, but it was just always the right type of conversation.

    "There was a period when I had a little bit of an injury and I wanted to get back quickly and my head wasn't focused and he knew just to put his arm around and just get me back on track. The conversation just brought me right back to where I needed to be. You hear a lot of reports about players and that kind of connection that he has with the players. But at the same time, in terms of the business dealings and what he needs to do, he's very, very direct and he gets what he wants. He is very clear about that. So he's got all sides of that character, which is again, why he's done so well."

    As soon as news of Rangnick's imminent appointment broke, attention swiftly turned to Cristiano Ronaldo and whether the five-time Ballon d'Or winner can fit into the high-pressing system.

    Rangnick demands hard graft from every player, so can he accommodate a 36-year-old superstar not known for his pressing from the front?

    Zdrilic pointed to Rangnick's time with Real Madrid and Spain great Raul at Schalke, saying: "Now you wouldn't think of Raul as being the typical pressing player, but he played a lot under Rangnick and [scored] a lot of goals. He was able to adapt to account for players that maybe aren't going to press as much as others. I don't see that being an issue.

    "It's always a challenge anyway for any manager generally, but he's certainly equipped to do that. Back in my time, right at the start, I was the guy running and doing the pressing, and I had a striker with me who was a bit older. His name was Dragan Trkulja and he scored a lot of goals. He didn't do the same amount of pressing that I did, but basically still profited from that and was very clever in that system and we were a pressing side. So I have no doubts that he's able to put all the pieces together and find a way to make this team function with his philosophy and with Ronaldo."

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