It’s harder and harder not to believe in Denis Shapovalov. He beat Juan Martin del Potro and Rafael Nadal in Montreal at Rogers Cup three weeks ago and then survived the proverbial “trap game” last week when he dropped down to inferior competition yet still won three rounds of US Open qualifying.

Wednesday night’s 6-4, 6-4, 7-6(3) victory over world No. 12 Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in Arthur Ashe Stadium was yet more proof that Shapovalov’s level is good enough to challenge almost anyone. A French journalist suggested, after Shapovalov’s dissection of Tsonga, that he would have chopped up Roger Federer if the Swiss played the kind of inconsistent tennis he did in his opening round, five-set win over Frances Tiafoe on Tuesday night.

Tsonga, a former world No. 5 (2012) who has played in a Grand Slam final (Aussie Open 2008) and two Wimbledon semifinals (2011-2012) was asked about any regrets he might have following his loss. “After a match there always are,” he replied, “but he (Shapovalov) was ahead the whole match. There was never a time I was ahead in the score.

“He’s already a very good player. He’s very aggressive, and very athletic too. I noticed that because I had a lot of trouble trying to overpower him on the court. On top of that, he’s left-handed – so that’s a game-style you don’t face too often.”

On Wednesday night, Shapovalov broke the Tsonga serve – the Frenchman failed to make a first serve – on four points in the opening game of the match and never looked back.

He served extremely well – especially using his left-handed slice and kicker wide in the ad court to exploit the weaker Tsonga backhand. And he was on any short ball in a flash, ending points with heavy accelerations off both wings.

While he had looked shaky at the net at times during his run to the semifinals of Rogers Cup earlier this month, his volleying was crisp and decisive against Tsonga.

He was a tidy 23 of 32 (72 per cent) in points played at the net.

At just 18, he displayed remarkable poise in his first ever match on a Grand Slam centre court, especially against an experienced player like Tsonga – as well as in the confines of the largest arena in the sport, Ashe Stadium with its capacity of over 23,000 spectators.

“I stayed loose from the beginning,” Shapovalov said about the environment and the overall experience. “Obviously it’s intimidating, it’s so big, there’s so much going on. The screens are working during the points. There’s a lot of people moving and talking. It’s not easy to play in. “I was playing loose. Like I said before the match, I was going in with nothing to lose – I was having fun on the court. There were a couple times during the match I was just smiling, having a good time, enjoying the atmosphere. It’s a dream come true for me to play a night match on Arthur Ashe. I mean, I grew up wanting to do this.”

There’s certainly something of “to the manor born” about Shapovalov.

Thierry Ascione had a front-row view of the current world No. 69 on Wednesday night, sitting courtside as Tsonga’s coach. The 36-year-old Frenchman was unequivocal in his praise. “When you’re able to beat all the guys like he’s doing now,” Ascione said Wednesday night about the 18-year-old from Richmond Hill, Ont., “he’s on the right course and things are going to happen quickly for him. He plays very well.”

Asked if Shapovalov reminded him of any other 18-year-old, Ascione replied, “he doesn’t remind me of any other 18-year-old because tonight he managed things so well in the important moments. He already has a routine that’s pretty impressive – he takes his time on every point. He’s energized to get fired up and move well on the court. That’s impressive. When he moves into the court – whether it’s the forehand or the backhand – the points can end very, very quickly. Even if maybe he has a technique that’s just average on his backhand, once he gets into the court he just puts the ball away. He’s very impressive and it’s fun for him and fun for all the people around him. There are two or three “sympa” (nice) people around him, which is good.”

Until he had a hiccup when serving for the match at 5-4 in the third set, Shapovalov had only faced one break point – erasing it early in the second set with a wide serve to the Tsonga backhand in the ad court followed by a brisk forehand winner into the open court.

“I knew being a lefty would help me,” he said about his tactics heading into the match against Tsonga. “Obviously I could do it more with the out-wide serve. It’s my forehand to his backhand. “I just think my shots were there when I needed them today. Like I mentioned, I stayed pretty loose throughout the match. It definitely helped me a lot. But not every day is going to be this pretty. I’m going to have to try to figure out some things – might be a little bit tougher in other match.”

His third-round Friday will be against Kyle Edmund, the Brit who he was playing in Ottawa in Davis Cup in February when he accidently hit a ball in anger that struck French umpire Arnaud Gabas and ended up fracturing his orbital bone. Edmund, ranked No. 42, won that match 6-3, 6-4, 2-1 def. but Shapovalov turned the tables on grass in London at Queen’s Club in June when he prevailed 7-6(4), 4-6, 6-4.

Looking ahead to the match, Shapovalov said, “I’ve come a long way from the incident (in Ottawa). I’ve been working extremely hard on it. It’s definitely helped me mature. “But I don’t think this match has anything to do with it. I’ve apologized constantly before, and I continue to apologize for my actions. It’s something I have to live with. But for me it’s in the past and I’m a different person and a different player now. So it’s a completely new match.”

With the ouster of No. 8 seed Tsonga and the upset of No. 4 seed Alexander Zverev by Borna Coric of Croatia on Wednesday, the two highest-seeded players remaining in the bottom half of the men’s draw now with Shapovalov are No. 5 Marin Cilic and No. 10 John Isner – creating opportunities for other players. For example, the winner of Shapovalov and Edmund will play either No. 19-ranked Pablo Carreno Busta or No. 115 Nicolas Mahut in the next round for a spot in the quarter-finals.

About the situation, Shapovalov said, “I’m playing Kyle Edmund who is so solid. He’s an unbelievable player. He goes for his shots. He’s not afraid to take it to the guy. There’s no easy matches here. “I mean for a guy like me… maybe for a guy like Zverev or Federer you could say it’s open a bit…for a guy like me, every match is tough and I’m going to have to battle it out.”

While he will definitely have to battle, he is able to do so while taking in all that’s happening around him – or at least he was on Wednesday night in Ashe Stadium where there was the constant drone of conversations – frequently fueled by alcohol – going on.

“It was pretty funny,” he smiled as he spoke about the atmosphere in Ashe. “I was enjoying it. I noticed a couple of guys had a little bit too much to drink. Some of them were standing and, like, just talking to me as if we’re buddies. I was up a break in one game, I think it was probably 40-15. I just miss a backhand. He’s like, ‘ah, no.’ “I’m like, ‘don’t worry, man, I got this.’ “I was just taking it all in. Like I said, it’s a dream come true for me to play a night match over here on Arthur Ashe. So for me it was fun. Obviously it’s not easy to play under these conditions. But I managed to put a positive spin on it.”

Shapovalov’s free-wheeling, explosive game-style has been a revelation to many and has probably never before been as well showcased as it was on Wednesday in a night match on Ashe Stadium. “I played unbelievable today, a very high level,” he said. “I don’t know why, but I just managed to stay loose and go for my shots the whole match, except a little bit at 5-3 or 5-4, serving for the third set. Got a little bit tight, stopped moving my feet on a couple shots, sailed some forehands.”

Shapovalov has become the darling of the US Open and even 75-year-old South African Frew McMillan, who won Wimbledon doubles titles in 1967, 1972 and 1978, is under his spell.

Leaving Arthur Ashe Stadium on Wednesday night after a broadcasting assignment, he said about Shapovalov, “he’s a genius” before adding something many tennis lovers can agree with, “and a pleasure to watch.”

Doubles Duties on Thursday

Daniel Nestor will be one of two Canadians in action on Thursday as the US Open doubles events get underway.

Nestor and British partner Dominic Inglot, are playing the fifth match (from 11 a.m.) on Court 4 against the Russian duo of Mikhail Elgin and Daniil Medvedev.

Nestor, 44, and the 31-year-old Inglot have one tournament victory together – the pre-Wimbledon grass court event at Nottingham last year.

In the ATP doubles rankings, Nestor is currently No. 42 while Inglot is No. 52.

In women’s doubles the ninth-seeded pairing of Gabriela Dabrowski and Xu Yifan of China play their opener – fourth match on Court 14 – against Mirjana Lucic-Baroni of Croatia and Andrea Petkovic of Germany.

Currently ranked No. 19, Dabrowski, with Xu, won her second title of the year last week at the Connecticut Open in New Haven.

The pair also were winners of WTA Premier Mandatory event in Miami in March.

New York Post Card

The 7-train is the most efficient mode of transportation to the US Open. Fans head out from Manhattan on the subway and get off at the Mets-Willets Point stop – which has the baseball Mets’ stadium, CitiField, on one side and the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center on the other.