At just 18 years of age Denis Shapovalov has achieved quite a lot in tennis. His flashy style of play is very easy on the eye and he has that something special that makes people want to watch more. Many youngsters have showed promise and have not delivered but the Canadian teenager has shown numerous glimpses that he is the real deal.
Denis Shapovalov has an impressive CV which is constantly growing. Although it may be in juniors, a Grand Slam is still a Grand Slam. Last year Shapovalov captured the Wimbledon Junior title beating some very good players along the way including Stefanos Tsitsipas and Alex De Minaur (both of whom are currently top 200 players in the senior ranks). This victory at SW19 catapulted him into the eyes of the tennis world as a potential future star of the sport. Just a few weeks later he secured the biggest win of his career at the time in front of his home fans in Toronto. An electric atmosphere charged up Shapovalov as he shocked Nick Kyrgios – then the world #19 – in the first round. His run ended in a straight sets defeat to Dimitrov in the next round but he certainty was not overawed.
The ATP Challenger Tour is tough and rigorous. The draws are often packed with rising stars, experienced veterans and even former top players who have stumbled down the rankings. If you get through a Challenger draw you know you are in good form. In March this year 17 year old Shapovalov captured his first Challenger title in Drummondville as an unseeded player. In the semi finals Denis defeated fellow Canadian teenager Felix Auger-Aliassime. The pair are in fact really close friends and will surely be big rivals on court in the future. The final was a simply emphatic performance from Shapovalov as he beat Bemelmans for the loss of five games.
A second Challenger title was won by the Canadian in Gatineau in July and this just highlighted that he is here to stay. This win was slightly different because this time it was expected, and he delivered on Canadian soil. He entered the tournament as the #7 seed and really did not look like losing all week.
Exciting Style of Play
The Canadian plays with a loose and fearless style of play fuelled by instinct. If a shot is there to be hit Shapovalov will hit it – highly confident he will make it. No matter the opponent, score or venue he will take risks and go big. It is this attacking style that makes him so watchable and entertaining. He is the type of player that can attract new tennis fans from around the world as well as keeping current ones glued to their seats. Shapovalov is made for big arenas and he takes pride in showing people what he can do.
He is supremely talented and is blessed with an aesthetically pleasing single-handed backhand, a fluid service action and a clinical forehand. The Canadian also possesses plenty of raw power which may surprise people due to his more slight frame if you compare it to some of his contemporaries. He is also very comfortable at the net and displays a classic, refreshing all-court game.
The teenager also has a captivating personality both on and off the court. On the court he is hungry and passionate not afraid to pump up the crowd as he celebrates – he wears his heart on his sleeve. Off it, he is a humble person who is very likeable. A match that springs to mind that captures him perfectly is his epic match against Tomas Berdych at the Queen’s Club. Throughout the match he believed he had a chance to win and fought right to the end. He ended up losing the match 7-5 in the third (he only lost serve once which was the final game of the match) and instead of storming off the court he did quite the opposite. He walked over to his team and applauded the crowd on his way as they cheered back. He then thanked his team and took photos with fans before leaving the court and still applauding the crowd. That day he gained a huge number of fans not just in Britain but around the world. He is the type of personality that can transcend this sport in the way Federer and Nadal have.
Recovery from Controversy
Every follower of tennis or even general news will be well aware of the unfortunate events that Shapovalov was involved in. In a Davis Cup tie between Great Britain’s Kyle Edmund and Canada’s Denis Shapovalov, the young man lashed out his anger in the worst way possible. Once he went down a break in the third he smacked a ball out the stadium in anger and the ball landed straight in the eye of the umpire, Arnaud Gabas. The ball was struck with such ferocity that Gabas had a fractured bone under his left eye and would later go on to have a successful surgery. Although the actions of the Canadian were completely accidental he immediately defaulted and he was given a hefty fine of £5,600.
The world could see how apologetic and distraught Shapovalov was – after all he was only seventeen. He posted a very mature and sensible apology on his social media pages. Everyone had their different opinions on the incident but the general consensus was that this was just an honest mistake. An event of this magnitude could destroy a career of someone so young but instead it made Denis Shapovalov even stronger. Since the incident he has won his first two Challenger titles which is some achievement for the teenager. Every city he performs in he seems to attract new fans as his personality comes through. It is safe to say that he has successfully recovered from his first bite of controversy.
Handles Pressure Well
The Rogers Cup is a massive event. Hosted in Canada in front of thousands of eager tennis fans hungry for high class tennis. The event is a Masters 1000s on the ATP World Tour so all the big names compete. This year has seen top players plagued with injury and four Grand Slam champions were not able to compete in Montreal (Djokovic, Murray, Wawrinka and Cilic). The absence of these great players has put more focus on Canada’s next big thing Denis Shapovalov. The amount of pressure and attention on him would seem unbearable and he showed us what he was made of in his first round match.
The draw saw Shapovalov face Brazil’s Rogerio Dutra Silva. The Brazilian is an experienced, solid player who accumulates most of his wins on clay so the fans in Montreal were anticipating a Shapovalov win. The match did not follow the script and Dutra Silva stood on the cusp of victory, only a tiebreak away. The Brazilian held four match points but the Canadian denied him, producing his very best tennis on each of the four points including an audacious drop volley. Shapovalov accelerated to victory after two hours and twenty five minutes. It is remarkable that Shapovalov delivered the goods when he really needed it under such intense pressure of his home fans. Champions play their best tennis when it matters most.
That hard fought win earned him a meeting with Juan Martin del Potro. The Argentine is ranked down at #31 but he plays a level much higher than that. A long injury layout combined with tough draws have lead to his low ranking. He is still a former US Open champion and a two-time Olympic medallist. Despite the accolades his opponent had, Denis Shapovalov showed no fear in a stunning straight sets victory to the delight of the home fans. We learned another lesson on the champion mentality of the Canadian: he believes.
Belief would be his biggest weapon against the mighty Rafael Nadal. Scheduled as a night session in front of a packed crowd made you think you were about to witness something special. Shapovalov impressed in the opening few games like many people expected but Nadal just had too much for him. However, he persevered to come through the match and defeated the 15-time Grand Slam champion in front of his home fans. The biggest win of his career without a doubt – and at only eighteen. A star had been born. Shapovalov was utterly relentless as he hit an astonishing 49 winner to Nadal’s 18. In years to come we will contemplate on this day as a special day for tennis.
Not only did the Canadian defeat the legend that is Rafael Nadal, he also defeated the so called “Rafa Curse” which has haunted so many players. In recent years the player who eliminates Nadal goes on to lose his next round more often than not. Shapovalov was able to find an antidote to this by knocking out Adrian Mannarino. This win made him the youngest ever semi finalist in a ATP Masters event, quite a feat when you look at all the great players who have competed in these events since 1990. The stellar run was sadly bought to an end by fellow “NextGen” star Alexander Zverev. The match was a closely contested affair with very little between them but maybe the elite level experience carried the German over the line. This will certainly be a rivalry for years to come that will ignite arenas.
Denis Shapovalov is destined for great things in tennis. At only eighteen years of age he has achieved an awful lot in a highly competitive sport. On the court he plays the game in a flashy, instinctive and a loose style which is very easy on the eye and off it he is a very likeable character. The Canadian has handled his first bit of controversy with such maturity whilst being the focus of the world. What we have seen of him not just this week, but his entire career is very exciting. Denis Shapovalov is the real deal.