Life-changing Rogers Cup performance has Shapovalov thinking big
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MONTREAL — Denis Shapovalov expects to have more "dream weeks" after the Richmond Hill, Ont., teenager's exhilarating run at the Rogers Cup.
Reaching the semifinals of the Masters 1000 Series event will raise his world ranking from 143rd to a projected 67th, which should mean more chances to prove himself against top competition and take his ranking even further.
The 18-year-old also caught the eye of much of Canada and the tennis world with a run that included a victory over top seeded Spanish legend Rafael Nadal, but ended Saturday night with a loss to 20-year-old German Alexander Zverev, the fourth seed.
"I just think I'm improving every week," said Shapovalov. "I'm playing a lot, but I'm also working a lot with (coach) Marty (Laurendeau).
"This is still a transition year for me. I'm really trying to improve my game so that I can anchor myself in the top 50, top 20, top 10."
Before the Rogers Cup, Canadians may have known Shapovalov as the whiz kid who won the 2016 Wimbledon junior title. Or as the youngster who upset Australia's Nick Kyrgios in the first round of the 2016 Rogers Cup in Toronto.
Or they might recall his Davis Cup snit in February, when he smashed a ball away in anger only to hit chair umpire Arnaud Gabas in the eye, an injury that required surgery. Shapovalov apologized and said he learned about controlling his emotions from the incident.
Now, it seems everyone knows the flashy left-hander with the shaggy blond hair.
He's the one who had hockey great Wayne Gretzky and multiple Olympic swimming medallist Penny Oleksiak in his courtside entourage as he pulled off improbable wins amid the roar of packed grandstands at Uniprix Stadium. Crowds usually only seen for top stars like Nadal or Roger Federer pressed against the ropes as he exited centre court seeking an autograph or even a glimpse of Canada's new tennis star.
"I don't even think I realize it yet," said Shapovalov. "I mean, it's a huge jump from 144 to 67.
"My whole life has changed in the past five days. It's crazy how it is. I mean, I go from being not known to, you know, being so known in the tennis world, in Canada in general. It's going to be a little bit of a change to me. I'm going to have to adapt."
Shapovalov spent the week staying with Felix Auger-Aliassime, a 17-year-old from Montreal who missed the tournament with an injury but who some feel is just as talented. They won the 2015 U.S. Open junior doubles together and teamed with Benjamin Sigouin to give Canada it's first junior Davis Cup title the same year.
They tried to relax with a little television, but Shapovalov kept appearing on the screen, nailing a winner against Nadal or waving to the crowd after a win.
"On TV, I wasn't expecting to, like, hear my name every two minutes," said Shapovalov. "It's like, all right, guys. Enough.
"It's quite a change going from just being a junior coming up to now, when people consider that I've made the transition and now it's more about stabilizing myself and, yeah, keep advancing. But regardless, this is one week. It's just a small part of this season. I still have to work really hard. I still have so many aspects of the game I can improve."
He said a bonus was that his mother's tennis club in Vaughan, Ont., TessaTennis, got plenty of media attention.
The main question now is whether the Rogers Cup was a flash in the pan or a sign of bigger things to come.
Federer praised his game, and Zverev, one of the ATP Tour's rising stars, predicted a long rivalry with the Canadian.
"I told him that this is just the first match of very many that we will play against him," said Zverev, currently ranked eighth. "Hopefully a lot of other big matches, maybe in Grand Slams, maybe in finals of tournaments.
"On the other hand, I will say 'don't expect him to win U.S. Open in the next few months.' He still needs some time. This is I think the best tennis he played in his life. For him to play this level consistently, it might take him another two to three years."
Zverev ended his first season as an 18-year-old ranked 83rd.
It should also be a good sign for Canada's Davis Cup squad. Shapovalov will be Canada's second-highest ranked player after 10th-ranked Milos Raonic of Thornhill, Ont., moving past No. 75 Vasek Pospisil of Vancouver. It could give Canada two quality singles threats.
"For me, the more depth, the better for the team, the better for the country, the better options we have," said Laurendeau. "It's just one more guy that's great coming up that we can rely on if need be.
"We've got Felix making his way up as well. Milos and Vasek, they have many years ahead of them, so hopefully we can get something good to come out of that."