It was a tough call as to which American had the toughest challenge at the Miami Open’s Grandstand on Monday. Eighth-seeded Jack Sock faced Borna Coric, a semifinalist at Indian Wells earlier this month. Frances Tiafoe faced tenth-seeded Tomas Berdych, a former Wimbledon finalist, in a measuring-stick match for the 20-year-old. And before those two contests, Sam Querrey was tasked with facing Denis Shapovalov—just 18 and unseeded, but who may be the toughest challenger of them all.

Why? The Canadian has ice in his veins.


You are sorely mistaken if you think that’s a lazy allusion to ice hockey, the sport of Shapovalov’s country and my own personal favorite. Rather, Shapovalov said it himself, in a clever nod to the National Basketball Association’s D’Angelo Russell, who made the celebratory phrase go viral during his time with the Los Angeles Lakers.

Shapovalov was in a celebratory mood because of his pressure-packed, 6-4, 3-6, 7-5 win over the No. 11 seed. A tight contest from the start, both men used their potent serves—Querrey doing more damage up the T; Shapovalov exploiting his left-handed delivery by going out wide—to great effect. Shapovalov, who can also wallop an ace up the middle, didn’t give Querrey a break chance in the first set; Querrey offered Shapovalov but one in the second set. While Shapovalov did make the most of that chance, Querrey broke his flashy adversary twice to force a decider.

In Shapovalov’s first match in Miami, he edged Viktor Troicki in a third-set tiebreaker. The fact that Shapovalov didn’t need a final-set tiebreaker against Querrey is a testament to the ice in his veins. Shapovalov saved seven break points in his final four service games, none bigger than the one at 5-5, 30-40. With momentum firmly with Querrey after a three-point run, Shapovalov relied on a pattern that has made him one of the game’s most tantalizing young talents: wide serve to the backhand, fire the ensuing forehand for a winner. Shapovalov double faulted plenty in this match, but when he had to have a serve, or had to make a shot, he did just that.

TenniStory: Denis Shapovalov:


The sequence left Querrey dazed and in a challenging position: forced to hold in a set he appeared to have had a grasp of. He couldn’t answer in kind, broken for the match in no small part thanks to two Shapovalov backhand returns—his jaw-dropping one-hander works well on defense, too. At 30-30, a Shapovalov rifle return caught Querrey off guard, and at 30-40, he pushed the American back with a high, deep backhand. When Querrey made his fourth error of the game, it was over.

We’ll see what kind of threats Coric and Berdych turn out to be later today, but they’ll be hard-pressed to match Shapovalov’s combination of grit and grace. His preternatural ability to play his best in a match’s crucible belies his inexperience, and he was once again, worth the hype. To do so against Querrey—a 2017 Wimbledon semifinalist, a consistent Top 25 player and perhaps the most underrated U.S. men’s player in the post-Andy Roddick era—speaks to Shapovalov’s great potential. Ice on the inside, fire on the outside.


Ice in his veins: Denis Shapovalov edges Sam Querrey in Miami

Ice in his veins: Denis Shapovalov edges Sam Querrey in Miami

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