By Yoo Jee-ho
SEOUL, Sept. 29 (Yonhap) -- Canadian tennis star Denis Shapovalov thinks South Korean player Kwon Soon-woo is "one of the nicest guys" on the ATP Tour. When it comes to facing Kwon in matches, though, Shapovalov has a whole different perspective.
"I love him as a person, hate him as a player," Shapovalov quipped after winning his first round match Wednesday at the ATP Eugene Korea Open in Seoul. "He's a great person, always super polite and always super fun to practice with him. And the matches that we've had have been absolute battles."
One of those battles came in January this year, in the second round of the Australian Open. Shapovalov outlasted Kwon 7-6 (8-6), 6-7 (3-7), 6-7 (6-8), 7-5, 6-2, a five-set thriller that lasted four hours and 25 minutes. The Canadian left-hander had also defeated Kwon in the second round at the 2020 U.S. Open, needing three hours and 42 minutes for a four-set victory.
"To be honest, I really think he had me in Australia this year. It was a great match," Shapovalov said. "He was playing some unbelievable tennis. It was jaw-dropping for me a little bit sometimes, seeing how well he was playing. I was super lucky to get that win against him this year."
As the No. 4 seed at the Korea Open, Shapovalov, the 2021 Wimbledon semifinalist, got a first-round bye and beat Jaume Munar of Spain 7-5, 6-4, in the round of 16 Wednesday. Shapovalov and Kwon could meet in the semifinals in Seoul on Saturday.
But on that side of the bracket, No. 2 seed from Britain, Cameron Norrie, is the favorite to reach the final four and possibly beyond. The world No. 8 also has a 2-0 head-to-head edge over Kwon, though the South Korean pushed Norrie at the Madrid Open, an ATP Masters 1000 event, before losing 7-5, 7-5 in May this year.
Norrie and Kwon have been as friendly with each other off the court as they have been competitive on it.
"Soon-woo is one of my best friends on the tour. And we get on great and he actually took us out to dinner a few times in the last couple years with his old coach," Norrie said. "He's a really good guy and a very talented player."
As the top-ranked British player who marched into the semifinals at this year's Wimbledon while riding the wave of local support, Norrie understands what it must be like for Kwon to be playing in front of home fans.
"I think it's very cool for him to be playing at home and experiencing that, and to be showing his people what he's capable of and letting them see him play live," Norrie said. "The Korean public don't get to do that and already he's inspiring so many Korean juniors and younger players to play. And hopefully, that gives them a chance to come to the tournament this week and get a chance to see him play, which is very cool because he's a really talented player."
Norrie, too, is quite the talent. In the semifinals at Wimbledon, Norrie took the first set against Novak Djokovic before dropping the next three against the eventual champion.
Norrie said he hopes to build on that Wimbledon experience and continue to build his season around the four Grand Slam events, adding that time spent facing big names like Djokovic is "invaluable."
"I feel like I need to improve in all areas but it's a good sign to be making semifinals and be taking a set off Djokovic," Norrie said. "I'm going to have to soak in all those moments and learn from those, and keep improving mentally and physically as much as I can."