At just 19 years old, Denis Shapovalov has established himself as a rising young star; and has demonstrated the ability to hold his own against the ATP’s best.
The lefty’s exciting style of play and his mental toughness has earned him respect from some of the ATP’s biggest names.
“I think so far in his pretty young career, (he) has played great tennis, especially in the big stadiums in front of thousands of people. That bodes very well for him moving forward,” said Anderson after a 4-6 6-3 6-4 4-6 6-4 victory over Shapovalov in the third round at the US Open.
“He’s a really exciting player. Obviously he’s going to continue to mature and get more experience,” added the 2018 Wimbledon finalist. “You’re definitely going to be seeing a lot of him in the future.”
Looking back, Shapovalov made his big breakthrough as a pro in 2017 – thanks to his semifinal run at the Rogers Cup in Montreal, which was then followed by a run to the fourth round at the US Open.
While the results in his second full year as a pro have been less flashy, the 6-foot Canadian teen has enjoyed steady improvements in his overall game – and currently, finds himself ranked inside the top 30.
Touted as someone with the potential to win a Grand Slam, Shapovalov’s humble beginnings on the tennis courts began in the northern suburbs of Toronto.
“Basically my mom was coaching my brother at the time. I was five years old. I was always begging her to play. Eventually she gave in and she started working with me, too,” recalled Shapovalov after winning the Wimbledon junior boys crown in 2016.
“She’s just been a huge role (model) in my life. My dad, also, he’s been helping along the way. He’s been managing everything for me. He’s been a big part of my life.”
With the full support of his parents and his team, Shapovalov decided to turn pro in the summer of 2016 after his triumph at junior Wimbledon.
He raised a lot of eye brows when he defeated Nick Kyrgios 7-6(2) 3-6,6-3 later that summer at the Rogers Cup in Toronto.
But what was more important about the upset victory was that it opened his eyes to his own potential.
“Obviously I didn’t expect to win. But like I said before, I’m just going to go fight for every point. That’s what I did. The outcome was very good today,” said the then-17-year-old after beating Kyrgios.
While 2017 was his breakthrough year, it certainly didn’t start the way he would have liked.
At the Davis Cup in Ottawa, Shapovalov was frustrated with his level of play in a match against Kyle Edmund; and out of frustration he accidentally smashed tennis ball into the face of chair umpire, Arnaud Gabas.
That would result in his immediate disqualification from the match; and would hand Great Britain a 3-2 victory over Canada.
Shapovalov would bounce back from that embarrassing incident; and would go on to make headlines for all the right reasons later that summer.
At the Fever-Tree Championships, he avenged his Davis Cup lost to Edmund 7-6(4) 4-6 6-4, before dropping a competitive three-setter against Tomas Berdych in the second round.
After winning the Gatineau Challenger in July, he would carry that momentum into the Rogers Cup in Montreal.
Shapovalov would beat Rogério Dutra da Silva in the first round and Juan Martín del Potro in the second round to set up a meeting against Rafael Nadal in the third round.
The Canadian teen would then shock the tennis world by beating Nadal 3-6 6-4 7-6(4).
“It’s honestly, like, a dream come true for me to beat a player like that,” said Shapovalov after his big win.
“It just felt really surreal, you know. I mean, I couldn’t believe it actually happened. Yeah, it’s tough to explain the emotions that were going through my head at that moment. But it was just pure happiness,” he added.
Next, the then-18-year-old would go on to beat Adrian Mannarino before bowing out to eventual champion Alexander Zverev.
Shapovalov would follow his Rogers Cup run by making it to the fourth round of the 2017 US Open.
While the young Canadian has yet to win a tournament in 2018, he has enjoyed steady results.
Shapovalov made it to the semifinals at the Delray Beach Open in February, and the Madrid Masters in May, and recently the Rakuten Japan Open earlier this month.
Currently, the 19-year-old sits inside the Top 30 in the ATP rankings and is optimistic about his overall development as a player.
After his tough five set loss to Kevin Anderson at the US Open in New York, Shapovalov spoke candidly about his progress.
“I think so far my season has been better than I expected. I’ve been playing unbelievably well throughout the season. I’ve really improved on clay courts. To be honest, my main goal this season was to improve my game,” he said.
With his dad being a former volleyball player and his mom being a former tennis player, Shapovalov is gifted with natural athleticism – but he points to the development of his mental toughness as something that he’s most proud of.
“I feel like I’ve improved so much in my game, mentally. I just feel like I belong out there this year. I’m able to compete with anyone out there,” noted the young Canadian.
Despite a recent first round defeat at the Shanghai Rolex Masters, Shapovalov has the understanding that in the long journey ahead, he learns just as much from the difficult losses as he does from the victories.
And looking at the big picture, the mature 19-year-old chooses to take a long-term view; and knows his journey to the top is not a sprint, but rather, it’s a marathon.
Perhaps, the rising Canadian tennis star expressed this best after his five-setter against Anderson at Flushing Meadows.
“It’s not the biggest deal if I don’t win a title this year,” Shapovalov pointed out.
“I’m 19, so the main thing is to keep improving. Even if the results don’t come now, I’m trying to improve my game for years to come.”
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