The 2020 season may be suspended for now but there are still plenty of things to celebrate in the tennis world, and today’s a big day for ultra-talented Denis Shapovalov, who turns 21. A top junior, Shapovalov’s transition to an elite player on the ATP tour has been a fast one.
Just over a year after winning the Wimbledon boys’ title in 2016, Shapovalov burst into prominence when, as an 18-year-old and No. 143-ranked wild card, he made it all the way to the final four of the 2017 Rogers Cup in Montreal. The youngest player ever to reach a Masters 1000 semifinal, he also upset then-No. 2 Rafael Nadal along the way.
“You could tell why he’s won so many Grand Slams. He’s such a warrior out there,” Shapovalov said after that shocking win over the Spaniard. “It’s a dream come true for me to beat a player like that.”
Fast forward two and a half years and he is now a fixture in the Top 20. The left-hander is currently at No. 16, but knocked on the door of the Top 10 earlier this year, going as high as No. 13 in January.
One of Shapovalov’s biggest breakthroughs came in Stockholm last fall. Having been 0-7 in ATP semifinals previously, he didn’t just reach his first ATP final at the indoor event, he won the title.
“My tennis was getting there, and I felt like in Stockholm I had a chance to have a good run,” he told ATPTour.com. “I did really well lifting that title, and from there I felt like it was a big weight off my back. There were a couple of tournaments where I kept losing semis, semis, semis, and to kind of get over that barrier and eventually win that title was huge for me. After that I was just kind of playing free.”
Two weeks later he made his first Masters 1000 final in Paris, finishing runner-up to No. 1 Novak Djokovic. He also led Canada to the Davis Cup final, falling to Nadal, who had since taken No. 1 back from the Serbian.
“I was able to keep my form together in Paris and go for another great run,” he said. “That whole week I was really zoning. I beat some really high-level players. Confidence-wise, it was a really big tournament for me. And then having success at Davis Cup got me motivated to keep working harder.
“I had a good start to 2020 as well, beating top players, so it’s great that it’s been kind of continuous.”
Shapovalov’s upward trajectory towards the Top 10 may be on hold for now as the tour is suspended until at least July, but the Canadian is keeping in touch from home through social media—and he recently sent a special shout-out on Instagram to the heroes of the coronavirus pandemic.
“I just want to thank all the first responders, firefighters, policemen, people working at the hospitals, doctors, everyone putting their life at risk every day trying to take care of this and manage it as much as possible,” he said. “It’s heroes like this that truly inspire me and a lot more people, so thank you to them. I know it’s tough for everyone, but let’s get through it together.”
Shapovalov is still the second-youngest player in the Top 40. Compatriot Felix Auger-Aliassime, 19, is ranked No. 20, just four spots behind Shapovalov.
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