At 18, an age when he could be awestruck by superstar athletes, Denis Shapovalov has himself become an idol to an even younger generation.
Following his 7-6(2), 7-6(4), 7-6(3) loss to No. 12 seed Pablo Carreno Busta at the US Open on Sunday, the sensation of the 2017 event told a story about being in Central Park in Manhattan last week. “I was walking with my team and I ran into this kid who – he was shaking seeing me. He tries to talk to me but he really can’t start a conversation – he’s shaking so much. He’s like ‘oh my God, wow, I can’t believe this.’
“It’s honestly inspiring and it’s moments like this…I grew up wanting to play tennis. I want to try to change the sport and hopefully, first of all, in Canada but definitely in America. The best thing in life is to see kids like this, looking up to you and just aspiring to be like you.”
It was remarkable what an impact the teenager from Richmond Hill, Ont. had on this year’s US Open – beating No. 8-seeded Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and playing his last three matches in Arthur Ashe Stadium – the largest arena in the sport.
His swashbuckling game-style – he has all the shots and hits them with gusto and flair – and his heart-on-his-sleeve personality won over New York crowds and made him a household name in tennis with his four-week-run of Rogers Cup in Montreal, the US Open qualifying and four rounds in the main draw of the last Grand Slam event of the year.
No one was closer to the odyssey than his coach Martin Laurendeau. The 53-year-old Montrealer, a former world No. 90, had the following response when asked about how he felt at the end of a wild-ride that has seen Shapovalov go from No. 143 in the world to a projected ranking of No. 51 when the US Open ends. “It’s a terrific feeling after all the summer,” Laurendeau said. “‘Shapo’ had a good season on grass and then he came out and he won Gatineau (Challenger), a semifinal in Granby (Challenger), a semifinal in Montreal (Masters 1000), the qualies here and going through the first week and getting to the second week of a Grand Slam. You could hardly ask for better from a veteran, let alone from an 18-year-old guy.”
Against Carreno Busta on Sunday, there were certainly lots of occasions for Shapovalov to have a better result – he led 5-2 in the first set and held three set points, rallied from 2-5 down in the second set to force a tiebreak and had two break points to take a 4-0 lead in the third set only to falter and lose in three tiebreaks. Unfortunately for him, he fell behind early in all three – 6-1 in the first, 4-1 in the second and 4-0 in the third in a match played with the Ashe roof closed because of rain.
“I don’t think I played as well today as I have been these past two weeks,” he said. “I mean, that’s tennis – it’s going to happen.”
That was a precocious perspective from an 18-year-old, but he also recognized the solid performance of his 26-year-old opponent. “Pablo played a very great match,” he said. “He stayed very tough mentally on the big points. He just played three tiebreaks that were better than mine.”
Carreno Busta didn’t hold back when it came to acknowledging his opponent, praising his impressive accomplishments of late. “He won really good matches – not just against Rafa (in Montreal) – and in this tournament he beat Tsonga and other good players,” Carreno Busta said about Shapovalov.
“So he maybe is on fire, no? He’s playing with a lot of confidence and he’s very young. So in the future, he will be one of the best.”
Overall, Carreno Busta was the more efficient player on Sunday – going 3/9 in break point chances to 3/13 for Shapovalov – and was just more solid from the back of the court. In the third set, ESPN reported that the Spaniard was winning twice as many longer rallies than Shapovalov. In the always telling stat of second serve points won, Carreno Busta was at 60 per cent to just 42 per cent for Shapovalov – with the Spaniard’s lethal, laser-like two-handed backhand cross-court doing much of the damage.
Summing up his take-away from his incredible summer of tennis, Shapovalov said, “the biggest lesson is that I’m able to compete with these guys. I feel like ever since Queen’s (Club in June before Wimbledon), I picked up my level. I took (Tomas) Berdych to 7-5 in the third. From there I had the confidence that I could play with these guys and go for it. I’m playing every match with the belief – just the belief I have within myself.”
Next for Shapovalov will be Davis Cup for Canada against India in a World Group Play-off to be held at the Northlands Coliseum in Edmonton from September 15-17. Then he will travel to Prague to be part of the “Rest of the World” team vs. “Europe” (featuring Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal) in the inaugural Laver Cup.
“This was only his fourth big tournament of the year,” Laurendeau said about his player, “the rest were Futures and Challengers. He wasn’t exposed to many matches of the calibre you get here and in Montreal (Rogers Cup). You can see that he’s at ease, that he’s learning the rules of the road, learning his job. He’s doing the right things to get in and establish himself with the best players in the world.”
As for Shapovalov’s projected plans for the fall season after Laver Cup from September 20-22, Laurendeau said, “he’ll definitely play several tournaments in Europe such as such as Antwerp, Basel and now he can probably get into Bercy (Masters 1000 Paris indoor). Before that it depends on whether or not he goes to Asia. Europe is sure because after that he ends with the under-21(Next Gen ATP Finals) event in Milan.”
Shapovalov, much as Milos Raonic and Genie Bouchard have done, has heightened awareness of Canadian tennis, inside and outside the country. “My goal is to raise the level of Canadian tennis and just have more kids picking up a racquet instead of a hockey stick,” Shapovalov said. “I think I have definitely helped do that and, hopefully, I can keep doing that.”
He got a huge, deafening cheer of support when he walked onto Arthur Ashe Stadium before Sunday’s round-of-16 match and he showed commendable maturity as he walked off in defeat.
About halfway between his courtside chair and the exit, he put down his racquet bag and recognized the support he has received from the crowds by clapping his hands together, blowing kisses, touching his heart and waving.
About his favourite memory of an unforgettable two weeks at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center, Shapovalov said, “honestly, I think it was the sound, the roar of the crowd when I put my bags down and I went to applaud them.
“It was so loud, it was a great moment for me.
“It really has a special place in my heart, now New York for sure – it will always have a special place for me.
“Hopefully, I can come back here for many more years and try to do some damage.”
DABROWSKI SUCCESS IN DOUBLES
Gabriela Dabrowski and Chinese partner Xu Yifan moved in the quarter-finals of the doubles event on Sunday with a 5-7, 6-3, 6-3 victory over Shuko Aoyama of Japan and Zhaoxuan Yang of China.
Seeded No. 9, Dabrowski and Xu will next meet the third-seeded Czech pairing of Lucie Safarova and Barbora Strycova.
In mixed doubles (above) on Sunday, Dabrowski and Rohan Bopanna, seeded seventh, defeated the team of Maria Jose Martinez Sanchez of Spain and American Nick Monroe 6-3, 6-4 in a second-round match. Dabrowski and Sanchez Martinez were former partners in women’s doubles.
This is Dabrowski and Bopanna’s third mixed doubles event in a row. They had the ultimate success at Roland Garros – winning the title.
NEW YORK POST CARD
This hamburger joint in Queens was opened on September 11, 1932 and took in $193.55 in its first week of operation. In its second week the revenue jumped to $630.30…and the rest is history. Located on the same site ever since, one of the early White Castle mottos on brown paper bags was “buy ‘em by the sack.”
The hamburgers are small. A 49-year-old security guy at the US Open remembered he used to be able to knock back 30 of them (at 29 cents each) when he was a kid.
NOTE: No blog on Labour Day – back with Tebbutt Tuesday on September 5th.