Denis Shapovalov: Big-hitting young Canadian already dominating

Ahead of the NextGen finals in Milan RealSport profiles the contenders in Milan. Amongst them is Canadian hotshot Denis Shapovalov.


After turning professional last year, Canadian teenager Denis Shapovalov enjoyed a breakout season on the ATP Tour in 2017, rising into the top 50 late in the piece off the back of several strong results. A decorated junior with both a singles and doubles Grand Slam to his name, fans will expect big things next year. That being said, at just 18 years of age, fitness and schedule management will be key to avoiding burnout and a sophomore slump in 2018.

Career highlight so far

So impressive was the young Canadian, the ignominious way his second year on Tour began was almost forgotten. In a February Davis Cup tie against Great Britain, ‘Shapo’ fired the ball into the crowd in anger after dropping an important service game, only the ball never reached the crowd. Instead, it hit umpire Arnaud Gabas. As a result, Shapovalov defaulted both the match and the tie, it being a deciding rubber, sending Canada crashing out of the Cup. Certainly not a great way to make your debut on the world’s stage. But Shapovalov recovered, racking up a 17-match winning streak on the Future and Challenger Tours, before making his Grand Slam debut at the Championships, losing to Jerzy Janowicz.

His career breakthrough came at the Canadian Open, his home tournament, where he defeated Juan Martin del Potro and then-world #2 Rafael Nadal along the way, both career-best wins. Unfortunately, Shapovalov could not make it through fellow young gun Alexander Zverev in the semifinals falling in straight sets. But he still became the youngest-ever player to make it to the last four of a Masters tournament. It was not quite Martina Hingis in 1997, or Boris Becker in 1985, but Shapovalov put together one of the best teenage seasons in recent history. All eyes will be on how he manages his body next year. The Tour makes for both a physically and mentally taxing season, and at 6’0 and 167 pounds, Shapovalov will need to be in peak shape to follow up a good 2017.

Rivalries

While he is slightly too young to have developed any significant rivalries, we can already see one emerging with Zverev. The German is two years his senior and is already hitting the marks we might expect of Shapovalov in the next couple of years. Zverev qualified for the NextGen ATP Finals, but such is his ability, he also qualified for the Tour Finals and understandably chose to play in London rather than Milan. It is a shame the two won’t play again until at least next year, but they could well have some mighty battles in the future.

Playing style

Shapovalov’s game is characterised by a youthful intensity and fearlessness also seen in many of his contemporaries in recent years. His opponent, the score, the surface and the match don’t seem to matter – if it’s there to be hit, he’ll hit it, and it’ll stay hit. Akin to other players of his generation, he is an exceptional athlete who can generate plenty of natural power in his shots, but his ability at the net is also pleasing. In coming years, when he faces the best more consistently, he will have to avoid becoming predictable and easily neutralised by adding more finesse to his power. 

Shapovalov also possesses a fluid service motion, which will require little tinkering as he grows into his body and becomes more powerful. When that happens, he will start using his legs more compactly in his motion. With it already a major weapon at this early stage in his career, it could be the shot that fires him to even greater glory in the future.

Shapovalov’s career statistics

Australian Open: never entered

French Open: first round of qualifying 2017

Wimbledon: first round 2017 (lost to Janowicz)

US Open: fourth round 2017 (lost to Carreno Busta)

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