A magical couple of weeks in the spotlight have ended for 17-year-old rising Canadian tennis star Denis Shapovalov. Now the next chapter in his promising career begins.
Two weeks after winning the junior boys Wimbledon title, the youngster from Richmond Hill, Ont., became a surprise story at the Rogers Cup, stunning World No.19 Nick Kyrgios on Monday in just his second-ever ATP match. His run ended Wednesday in a second-round loss to World No. 40 Grigor Dimitrov, 6-4, 6-3.
The precocious lefty wildcard was not only the youngest player in the Rogers Cup main draw, but he became the youngest Canadian in the Open era to win a main draw singles match at this event. His week was filled with interviews and autograph-seeking fans lining the court as he practiced. Fans hollered his name and filled the stadium to get a look at the auspicious kid. A photo of the fiery, fair-haired player topped the Rogers Cup website Wednesday, alongside those of Milos Raonic and World No.1 Novak Djokovic.
Shapovalov – pronounced 'Shapo-valov' – took the court Wednesday night just minutes after famed Canadians Raonic and Genie Bouchard had each dusted their competition in straight sets. York University's Aviva Centre seemed to be dusted in feel-good Canadian mojo.
The youngster broke Dimitrov just minutes into the match. The Bulgarian had turned pro himself at age 17. He climbed as high as No. 8 in the world back in 2014, but then plummeted out of the Top 20 in the past year. It was conceivable to imagine that maybe Shapovalov could capitalize on the recent inconsistencies of 25-year-old Dimitrov.
But Dimitrov's superior experience began to shine through. He handled Shapovalov's serve well and benefitted as the Canadian suffered with unforced errors. Shapovalov kept fighting even when it became apparent another upset wasn't in the cards. He even had a between-the-legs trick shot that delighted the fans and pointed to the kid's cool demeanour. Shapovalov took what he could from the experience.
"I think I really need to improve my serve. I thought I had a good serve until I played Kyrgios who was just bombing aces past me; same with Dimitrov. He was blocking my serve back like nothing when I was putting it in," said Shapovalov. "I felt like Grigor really figured me out after – you could see he really thinks during the match. I mean, that comes with experience. Just playing more matches – more tough matches like that – will improve me."
Shapovalov is the No.2-ranked player in the junior boys' singles world rankings after his back-to-back titles at Roehampton and Wimbledon, in addition to a semi-final appearance at the Junior French Open. He began the 2016 tennis season ranked No. 1,132 in the ATP World Rankings, and climbed to No. 370 coming into Toronto – still the youngest player in the Tour's Top 400. He is expected to crack the Top 300 for the first time next week.
"He's been doing incredible things," said Raonic, who watched Shapovalov play this week and at Wimbledon. "It's an exciting time for Canadian tennis. It's a big spotlight, so it's a pleasure to share."
He will now resume play on the ATP Challenger Tour – the ATP's secondary circuit – part of his quest to become a regular on the ATP Tour in coming years. He said he plans to play two Challengers in Quebec next month: in Granby and Gatineau.
"I'm not gonna think about this result too much. Every week is not going to be like this," said Shapovalov. "I'm trying to see my game, you know, one, two years from now, how to hit the top 100, how to hit the top 50."