INDIAN WELLS, Calif.—The keys to success in tennis always include preparation and practice, and Denis Shapovalov has bought into both when it comes to both his tennis and rap game.
The Canadian dismissed Marin Cilic, 6-4, 6-2 on Tuesday to advance to the round of 16 at the BNP Paribas Open. He made beating a Top 10 player look easy, with one break of serve in the first set, and another coming early in the second at 3-2. In that critical game, he unleashed a slick backhand passing shot winner that he proudly called "a screamer."
"Definitely not an ordinary shot," Shapovalov said. "After that, it definitely pumps me up when you know you're probably losing the point and the game is done, and then you hit an unbelievable shot. I kind of tell myself, OK, let's go. This is the moment now, this is the point, this next one."
That's what's so special about the world No. 25. He's not afraid to go big in the biggest moments—it harkens back to a young Andy Roddick. The best don't shy away from playing their game when it matters most, like on game and match points. Instead of being afraid to lose, Shapovalov is eager to earn it.
"I have always been a guy that's not scared to go for it, and maybe that's kind of why a lot of people like to watch me," Shapovalov said. "That's always been kind of who I am. I go for my shots. It's been a process for me to kind of slowing it down, toning it down, and knowing when to go for the shots."
The 19-year-old powerful groundstrokes are thriving on the slow courts in the Californian desert, as he's getting a little extra time to set up his big windups, especially on his one-handed backhand.
"It's just so pretty to watch, first of all, but it's also so effective," Shapovalov said. "I don't think with a two-hander you could hit a shot like I did today. With the one you have a little bit more flexibility to kind of go for and maneuver the ball."
He was firing on all cylinders, and everything was going his way. The opposite can be said for Cilic, who double faulted to get broken again for 5-2 the second set. The Croatian fled the scene quickly, missing Shapovalov's encore performance.
The teen had promised announcer Blair Henley that if he won again on Court 3 he would rap for the crowd, and he was good on his word, and just like his game, he wasn't afraid to go for it. After a few stops and starts, he pulled out the notes he'd prepared on his phone, just in case he was asked to perform.
Like the rap says, the No. 24-seeded Shapovalov will be back on Thursday, to take on unseeded Hubert Hurkacz.
"Today was the prefect day for me," he said. "I don’t think I have an off switch. My foot is definitely going to be on the gas."