There are a number of things involved in a player’s first Davis Cup appearance – wearing team apparel, doing media appearances and generally representing the country. They’re significant but in recent years having your own fathead has also been a rite of passage for Canadian Davis Cup team members.

Denis Shapovalov now has his (above) and he played his first match on Sunday, defeating Christian Garin of Chile 7-6(5), 6-4 in the fourth match of a World Group play-off tie in Halifax that Canada had already clinched 3-0 on Saturday.

The 17-year-old from Richmond Hill, Ont., got off to a rocky start, double-faulting twice in the first game and having to save two break points before finally holding serve. He ended up saving break points in four of his six service games on the way to the tiebreak. At that critical juncture, he continued his recent clutch play in tiebreaks. On the 5-all point, he cracked a backhand service return winner right on the sideline and then wrapped up the set with a huge inside/out forehand that the No. 260-ranked Garin couldn’t handle.

In the second set, Shapovalov lost serve to fall behind 4-2 but then ran off four games in a row to seal the victory.

It is widely known that he’s a unique talent and there were a couple of moments on Sunday when that was readily apparent. There was a ball that bounced right near the baseline early in the first set that he almost effortlessly reflexed back on the half volley with his one-handed backhand. Then a few games later he came forward and executed an exemplary two-volley combination, finishing with a forehand winner.


There’s a coltish, rambunctious element to the talented teenager that makes him entertaining to watch.

“It was a lot of pressure, knowing that I would play today,” Shapovalov said about playing his first Davis Cup match. “I hardly slept yesterday. It’s a different match playing for your country. You’re representing your nation. It was tough but I thought I controlled myself very well and I fought as hard as I could.

“It’s not like when I go and play Challengers – you’re playing for yourself there and here I’m representing my whole team, everyone involved.”

He was well aware of the crowd support behind him in Scotiabank Centre, especially a loud group headed by Vasek Pospisil’s brothers Petr and Tom. “Vasek’s army they’re super loud, they’re chanting your name and you feel the hype, you feel your country,” Shapovalov said. “It’s exciting and it pumped me up at 5-all in the breaker. It’s like ‘let’s do it for your country’ and I played some big points and they really helped me.

“It’s a good preparation for the future. I’m hoping to play a lot more Davis Cup ties. Obviously it’s not a three-out-of-five match but it’s a good start and I’m very happy I won today.”

It was necessarily not easy for Shapovalov to begin with last week. He took a holiday in Greece – spending eight days in Crete and two in Athens – after reaching the semifinals of the National Bank Challenger event in Gatineau, Que., on August 15th following a momentous few weeks that included upsetting No. 19-ranked Nick Kyrgios at Rogers Cup the final week of July.   

He had not played in a month and it took him a while to readjust, especially to adapt to the fast-paced courts at the Scotiabank Centre. “These courts are very fast and I like to take big cuts at the ball,” Shapovalov explained. “I had a little problem adjusting the first couple of days. I was staying extra hours at night with Marty (captain Laurendeau) and Guillaume (coach Marx) and the rest of the team to prepare and they really helped me out this week.”

About the court, the reigning Wimbledon junior champion said, “for the most part the ball stays down low and it skids so it’s a little bit like grass. Grass is actually a little slower – I felt like these courts were pretty fast and I was having a tough time adjusting.”

In his post-match, on-court interview, Shapovalov acknowledged the help he received. “I just want to thank everyone on the team, they did a great job this week to help me get ready for this match. I was struggling a little bit on these courts at the start but they really put in a lot of work to make it happen.”

About the actual match against a game Garin, he said, “I stayed mentally strong throughout the whole match. In the first set he was playing a lot better than me and he had way more chances to break me. I stayed strong, took the tiebreak and in the second set I just tried to regroup. When he broke me, I bounced back very well.”

A year ago in July, Shapovalov was a practice partner with the Canadian team in Ostend, Belgium. He was just 16 at the time and yours truly recalls a conversation with Daniel Nestor. Nestor was not that impressed with Shapovalov…until I mentioned that he was only 16 years old. He was completely surprised by how young he was and suddenly had a completely different view of him.

Now Shapovalov is on the team with Nestor, who was unable to play the tie due to a grade two tear in his left calf but was nonetheless very much part of the effort after spending the week with the team. “It’s incredible honestly,” Shapovalov said about his teammates in his on-court interview with Sportsnet’s Caroline Cameron, “hanging out with these elite athletes and they’re such cool guys. I thought they’d be like into themselves but they’re all so cool and I love spending my time with them.”


Watching attentively from the first row with the Canadian support group was Shapovalov’s coach (greeting him above after the victory) Adriano Fuorivia. “He looked a little shaky,” the coach said about his charge at the start of the match on Sunday. “Obviously his first match back in over a month. His serve wasn’t bad, he was hitting pretty good targets but he wasn’t comfortable with his second shot. He’s usually pretty good with it but it was a little shaky and his forehand was a bit on and off. He stayed pretty calm and saved a lot of break points in that first set, which helped him – he stayed mentally tough there.”

Asked what he enjoyed most about coaching Shapovalov, Fuorivia paused to think about it for a moment and then answered with a slightly apologetic smile, “almost what I don’t like – the unpredictability about him. Because sometimes you don’t know what you’re getting.

“There’s so much upside. There’s a lot of things he can do and he can come up with the shots, come up with what you need. That keeps things fun because it’s not just a regular guy who does the regular routine out there. There are a lot of different things that he brings and it keeps it fun.”

Nestor, now 44, had the breakthrough win of his young career at 19 in Davis Cup when he upset world No. 1 Stefan Edberg in Vancouver in 1992. Shapovalov is now two years younger than he was then. “He always had great composure,” Nestor said about Shapovalov. “These guys… Milos (Raonic), Vasek from a young age, they’ve showed great composure and that’s what makes them special. Denis has got like a 15-2 tiebreak record this year in Challengers. So obviously he handles these moments well.”

What was he himself like at 19? “I was swinging for the fences,” Nestor said. “I was a shy kid and I was kind of embarrassed to win that match. He feels very comfortable on this stage.”

P1300588Shapovalov will now head home to spend a few days before going to California to play two or three Challenger events.

The hype has obviously begun to build with his winning junior Wimbledon, raising his ATP ranking from No. 1130 to No. 245 in the first eight months of this year and now making his Davis Cup debut.

“Of course there’s going to be attention on me,” he replied when asked to comment on the expectations that come with his success. “But I play for myself and if I stop working hard and I let the attention get to me, I’m not going to be here in a year. So I keep working hard – gotta stay grounded. I’m not a guy who’s going to think too much of myself like ‘oh I won a Davis Cup match, I’m God’s gift to tennis.’ I’m still a nobody. I’m still trying to get to the top and I’m still going to keep working hard to get there.”  


Captain Laurendeau, seated on the court with Shapovalov, had the best view of the talented lefthander’s inaugural Davis Cup match. “This kid is impressive,” said the former ATP No. 90. “You forget he’s just 17 years old. He should be playing juniors and here he is playing Davis Cup. It’s not like the 1980s or early 1990s where teenagers were able to make their mark on the pro tour. This kid is special and I think it was a perfect beginning for him. We had secured the win, he plays at home. He plays a match where he can breathe a bit easier but it still means a lot to him and to us. You couldn’t ask for more from Denis’ part. He got as ready as he could and was able to beat a player that I thought was playing very loose and very well today. He can play better but he got the job done and a first Davis Cup match is not an easy task.”

Frank Dancevic won the fifth match – 6-4, 6-4 over No. 177-ranked Gonzalo Lama – to make the official score of the World Group play-off 5-0.

Canada has secured its spot in the World Group for 2017 – it’s sixth in a row – and awaits a draw in London on Thursday to see who it will play next in the first round from February 3-5 next year.  

Here are the possibilities:


Belgium        Great Britain

Argentina      Switzerland

Serbia           Czech Republic

France          Croatia

Summing up a successful weekend in Halifax, with job one to protect its precious position in the World Group, captain Laurendeau said, “without Milos (Raonic) and Daniel (Nestor) it wasn’t easy to fill those voids.”

Tipping his hat to Pospisil, Dancevic and doubles specialist Adil Shamasdin who each contributed to the victory, he added, “they had opportunities to get out there and show what they could do and they got us some big wins. I’m really happy for the team effort, that they were able to do it. It feels great to get a good win at home.”

Halifax vignettes

Back Side of a Fathead


It was somewhat annoying for fans on the opposite side of the Scotiabank Centre on Saturday to constantly see the back of the Vasek Pospisil fathead seen on the left here. But it did allow, upon closer inspection, a chance to read what is written on the back – “This Popsicle Don’t Melt.”

The Nestor Girls


They may not have followed every single point of the tennis over the weekend, but Daniel Nestor’s daughters Tiana, 7, and Bianca, 3, weren’t afraid to get into the spirit of the occasion.

Cheer Stick Art


Cheer sticks have been given out at Davis Cup ties for several years. At the Scotiabank Centre over the weekend, they were transformed into a new form by some creative young fans.

Raonic returns


Milos Raonic, last seen (near court above) in a second-round loss to Ryan Harrison at the US Open while suffering from cramps, returns to tournament play this week at the ATP 250 event in St. Petersburg, Russia.

He plays the $986,380 event as the defending champion and is seeded No. 2.

After a bye in the 28-player field, Raonic will face the winner of a match between veterans Mikhail Youzhny (34) and Janko Tipsarevic (32). In the quarter-finals he would likely play either No. 5 seed Alexander Zverev or 20-year-old Karen Khachanov of Russia. The latter is coached by Raonic’s former coach Galo Blanco.

One wild prediction here – top seed and US Open champion Stan Wawrinka will not win the event. He’s not known for performing well after the great victories in his career.

Halifax post card


This is an unusual sight in the usually busy with ferries, and traffic of other kinds, Halifax harbour. The shot was taking midday Sunday looking eastward.