Editor’s Note: Denis Shapovalov is into his first Grand Slam semi-final at Wimbledon. This story was originally published on 9 June 2021.

Denis Shapovalov will return to the ATP Tour this week as the top seed at the MercedesCup, an ATP 250 grass-court event based in Stuttgart. The No. 14 in the FedEx ATP Rankings, who is 14-11 on the season, will be eager to improve his record in the German city, having lost in the first round in 2018 and 2019.

The 22-year-old Canadian, who is searching for his first title of the year in Stuttgart, sat down with ATPTour.com to discuss his love for grass-court tennis, his memories of the John Isner-Nicolas Mahut epic at Wimbledon – and why he has a ‘love-hate relationship’ with his favourite surface. 

What is the biggest adjustment you have to make when switching to grass?

I just think it is a lot smaller steps on the grass to adjust and you can’t take big steps because then you are going to be out of place, or you are going to be more likely to slip. I think it is just those little steps here and there and it puts a lot of pressure on the legs and the calves, so that is the biggest adjustment.

The first thing that comes to mind when it comes to grass-court tennis?

Probably diving. It is the season to dive, even though I am too scared to do it. I will just watch the other guys do it.

Do you suffer from allergies on the grass?
Yeah, I have been dying the last two days, it has been brutal. Usually, this is the time of year I have allergies, so for sure it is difficult as my nose gets stuffed, and my eyes get itchy. It is brutal. Normally during the match, I will be fine. It is after in the evening and with the pollen too, it just gets to you, but I still love it, so it is a love-hate relationship.

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Your favourite thing about playing on grass?

Just the feeling, standing on the grass. The feeling under your feet is soft and so different. It feels like a different sport, almost. To play on the grass and the history behind it, it is just amazing to be out there. It is a really short part of the season but probably the most fun.

The worst thing about playing on grass?

That the season is so short it is tough to get into it. You have to be sharp right off the bat otherwise it is tricky, and you will get to Wimbledon, and other guys are more comfortable than you and you haven’t really adjusted, so it is important to feel good from the first day.

Most memorable Wimbledon match as a fan?
A lot of Roger Federer’s matches. Him against Andy Roddick when he beat the record for Grand Slams [moving to 15 in 2009], and I remember watching the match and it was such great tennis. Also, the Mahut-Isner match [in 2010] was unbelievable. I can’t even remember if I watched that match or just saw it play out over the three days. It was pretty cool to know that it was a part of history, but I was not watching for the whole entire 11 hours, though!

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For playing on grass, do you prefer all white or something with colour?

I am not a big fan of the all-white, to be honest. I get that it is a part of history and this and that, but I think it could be cool to have at least some colour. But I do understand it and appreciate the history behind it, but I like to have some style, of course, being young you don’t want to follow all the rules. If they let you put some colour on, I would probably pick the shoes and make them super flashy.

You get the Royal Box + 1, who would you bring?

My girlfriend, Mirjam. Of course, she would appreciate it and we would have a blast. She is a big tennis fan.

Serve and volley or chip and charge?

Serve and volley. I do it more often, but I do appreciate a good chip and charge, I just don’t think I am as good as that, I will leave that to Roger. I’ll just let rip from the return games and then serve and volley.

Fresh cut grass or worn-down grass?

Fresh cut, not about the feeling but it just looks so nice. Once it is worn down it does not look quite as neat. You are doing well in the tournament if it is worn down, but unfortunately, besides juniors, that has not been the case for me.

If you could play any player from any generation on grass, who would it be and why?

Who is terrible on grass? I would want an easy match. No, maybe Bjorn Borg or Pete Sampras, just to feel what it’s like to play against them, especially on that surface where they’ve had so much success. Roger as well, but hopefully I can still get that chance. If I had to choose one, I’d say Borg and we’d go wooden rackets, and I wouldn’t win a game.

Build the perfect grass-court player – forehand, backhand, serve, volley, slice?
Milos Raonic on the serve, his serve is a joke, especially on the grass, his kick would be crazy. Forehand Rafael Nadal. That heavy spin is hard to handle, and I want to save Roger for the volley. The return has got to be Novak Djokovic, I don’t need to go further. Backhand, Andy Murray, it is so compact. Slice would be Feliciano Lopez, it is incredible.

Three things you would bring while waiting in the Wimbledon queue overnight?

Well, I’d bring a tent, sleeping bag, and a portable battery for my phone. Even though that is four things, I can bring the battery attached to the phone.

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