Denis Shapovalov is no longer “that guy who hit the umpire in the face with a ball”

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After a dramatic 3-6 6-4 7-6(4) victory in Montreal over the tournament’s top seed Rafael Nadal, teenager Denis Shapovalov has catapulted to the center of tennis fan’s radars for the second time this season. However, those two times in the spotlight were for very different reasons.

Chair Umpire Incident at the Davis Cup

Many tennis fans remember Canada’s Davis Cup tie against Great Britain in February, where Shapovalov was chosen to play the deciding final match. After falling two sets and a break down, he smacked a ball out of frustration. In a stroke of awful luck for both parties, the ball went straight into the face of the chair umpire. Shapovalov was immediately disqualified from the match, costing Canada the tie as well.

Although he should not have taken out his frustration in that manner, it was truly an honest mistake with luck going against him. He is not the only player to find himself in a similar situation. Novak Djokovic tossed his racket out of frustration during the 2016 French Open and came within a foot or two from hitting a line judge. Had that line judge not ducked out of the way, he could have been disqualified and prevented from winning what is currently his only title at Roland Garros. Shapovalov, just 17 years of age at the time, handled the difficult situation well, issuing a public apology and taking the blame for letting his team and country down. Not only is this win great for his confidence on court, but Shapovalov can breathe a sigh of relief that this will help people forget and move on from this mistake.

Early Career Highlights

The chair umpire incident was the first time he was at the center of tennis news, but it is not the first time Denis Shapovalov began to make a name for himself. Last season, he won the Wimbledon junior boy’s title, and his junior ranking climbed to 2nd in the world. This helped him earn a wild card berth in his home country’s tournament the Rogers Cup. He made the most of this opportunity, shocking World #19 Nick Kyrigos in the first round. He struggled in the Challenger circuit the rest of the season, unable to enter larger tournaments due to his low ranking. Although he did not rack up too many wins, he gained valuable experience as a young player.

2017 is proving to be at least the start of the young Canadian’s breakthrough. After moving past the incident in February, he made back-to-back Challenger finals in March, winning one of them. Shapovalov picked up his first ATP tour-level win of the year in London, over world number 47 Kyle Edmund, ironically his opponent in the infamous Davis Cup match. He picked up another Challenger title in July, pushing his ranking to a career high #130.

Breakthrough in Montreal

Although he showed flashes of brilliance throughout 2017, Shapovalov could also be very inconsistent. Due to this, he has not yet been able to get many high level matches under his belt. At this Rogers Cup however, he seems to have put that all past him. In the second round he topped former world number four and US Open champion Juan Martin del Potro in straight sets. He then stepped onto center court for the most anticipated match of the day. One of the greatest to ever play, gunning to take over the number one ranking, winner of one major this year and finalist in another, again this young hometown favorite playing exciting tennis with nothing to lose.

Although Nadal did not play his best tennis, he battled for every point, and pushed Shapovalov to play at an incredibly high level. That is exactly what he did, and after splitting the first two sets, Shapovalov gave many loud exclamations of “Come on!” and fist pumps to energize himself and the crowd after all six of his service holds. The tiebreak was no easy task, with Nadal quickly jumping out to a 3-0 lead. Shapovalov was unfazed by this early deficit, as he proceeded to win 7 of the next 8 points against the legend, and fell to the court with emotion after the match had been clinched. He plays Frenchman Adrian Mannarino today in the quarterfinals as the youngest ever quarter-finalist in a Masters 1000 event and is not looking to stop there.
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This thrilling win is very likely a sign of great things to come for the Canadian. He still lacks consistency, but having turned 18 in April, should have no problem becoming much more consistent as he matures over the next couple of years. He is likeable to tennis fans, and may be the player to become the face of Canadian tennis after Milos Raonic. The talent is clearly there, and as he racks up both physical and metal experience, we will likely have many more reasons to say the name Denis Shapovalov for years to come.

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