Denis Shapovalov was scribbling autographs for a throng of fans crowded around his practice court, as cheering echoed constantly from the opposite end of the tournament grounds. His close friend Félix Auger-Aliassime was orchestrating something big on Centre Court.
In the hours before hometown boy Shapovalov would easily dispatch Frenchman Jérémy Chardy 6-1, 6-4 at the Rogers Cup in Toronto on Tuesday night, the Canadian wild card Auger-Aliassime pulled off the day’s most riveting upset. The Montreal native – ranked a career-best No. 133 – needed just 78 minutes to finish off world No. 18 Lucas Pouille of France 6-4, 6-3.
It sets up a Canadian-filled Wednesday in Toronto, when Auger-Aliassime, Shapovalov, Milos Raonic and Peter Polansky all play second-round singles matches.
A victory was expected Tuesday for 19-year-old Shapovalov, who is ranked No. 26 on the ATP Tour and enjoyed a deep run on Canadian soil last summer. But Auger-Aliassime – on the eve of his 18th birthday – was making third appearance in the main draw at a Masters 1000 event. It was his first win over a top-20 player.
“I think it’s kind of a statement, you know, for me to win these matches, to prove to myself and others that I can compete with these guys. That I have the level to be there, to compete in the top 100,” Auger-Aliassime said. “I have a long-term vision, and this is just another great step in my career.”
The quick-footed Auger-Aliassime swiftly moved Pouille across the court and delivered big winners. The youngster saved five of six break points and converted on three of six. He fired five aces, four of them in the second set as he finished off.
It was reminiscent of what Shapovalov had done when he last played Toronto in 2016. Fresh off hoisting the junior Wimbledon trophy, the Torontonian – just 17 at the time – upset then-World No. 19 Nick Kyrgios. Auger-Aliassime, too, has a junior Grand Slam title on his résumé – he was the 2016 U.S. Open boys singles champ. Perhaps his time has come to break out on the ATP Tour.
The two teens have trained together often and won a junior Davis Cup together for Canada. Shapovalov is a lefty with a one-handed backhand, while his friend plays right-handed with a two-handed backhand. They’ve been carrying on a Snapchat conversation for 70 successive days. They talk about everything and nothing. Shapovalov soon made it up to the player restaurant overlooking Centre Court, and cheered his friend on.
“It’s tough to do much when Félix is nailing balls left and right,” Shapovalov said. “I’m really happy for him, really proud of him. In a way, he kind of pumped me up with his win. I thought, ‘Let’s make it back to back. Let’s have two young Canadians advance to the second round.’ ”
Auger-Aliassime had missed last year’s Rogers Cup with an injury and watched his friend spin a magical run to the semi-final in Montreal, which included jaw-dropping upsets of Juan Martin del Potro and Rafael Nadal. In the year since, Shapovalov has surpassed Raonic as Canada’s top-ranked male singles player.
York University’s Aviva Centre was about half full for Auger-Aliassime’s afternoon match, but it swelled to nearly full for Shapovalov’s in the evening. Edmonton Oilers superstar Connor McDavid was on hand, and fans in ‘El Shapo’ hats dotted the stands.
Canadian fans saw a stronger, quicker Shapovalov than last summer in Montreal. He broke World No. 46 Chardy early and moved the 31-year-old Frenchman consistently from side to side. He showed more discipline. There was evidence of the intensive work he’s done on his serves with his mother, Tessa, his coach.
“I feel like last year when I was coming out to these matches, I had to close my eyes and try to hit the lines to win the matches. Now I feel I’m able to compete with any of the players on any day. My game is just there.”
Polansky will open the day for Canada on Wednesday with an 11 a.m. match against Wimbledon champ Novak Djokovic. Next up is Raonic, facing American Frances Tiafoe, then Shapovalov taking on Italian world No. 14 Fabio Fognini. Auger-Aliassime will face Russian qualifier Daniil Medvedev late Wednesday night.