Denis Shapovalov: From 'how do you pronounce that?' to household name
18-year-old Canadian blossoms into star right before our eyes at Rogers Cup
There is a new star in Canadian tennis and his name is Denis Shapovalov.
Now if we could only pronounce it properly.
Between the different broadcasters in a multitude of languages, to the fans, to the chair umpires, over the past week we've heard of the 18-year-old's last name said so many different ways it's been almost as head-spinning as his improbable performances on the court.
And his first name, is it Denis the French way? Or the English way?
Be it pronunciation or performance, from broadcasters, to fans, to Tennis Canada and even Denis Shapovalov himself, everyone seemed to be learning on the fly.
After all, nobody saw a run like this coming.
Shapovalov fended off four match points in a win over world number 64 Rogerio Dutra da Silva, he knocked off 2009 U.S. Open champions Juan Martin del Potro, stunned 10-time French Open champ Rafael Nadal, rallied to comeback and beat world No. 42 Adrian Mannarino and pushed one of the game's rising stars Alexander Zverev before bowing out in the semifinal.
Unreal for a kid ranked 143rd at the start of the week. But it happened and it was spectacular.
Rewriting the history books
What Shapovalov accomplished this week in Montreal cannot be overstated.
As an 18-year-old on wild-card entry to the tournament, this event was supposed to be an opportunity for him to earn experience, maybe win a match or two and perhaps get a few balls signed by one of his idols after losing to them.
Shapovalov not only beat a pair of his idols in Juan Martin del Potro and Rafael Nadal, he did it in style.
He never gave up on a point, a game or a set. He fearlessly went for and executed stunning shots at every opportunity.
He pumped his fist after big points and bathed in the roar from the crowd.
When the dust settled, he was the youngest player ever to make an ATP 1000 Masters semifinal and somehow, for a moment, turned hockey-crazed Montreal into a city talking tennis like it was the number one sport.
A victory for the ages
While all his wins were special in one way or another, his victory over Rafael Nadal was off the charts. It was a national sports moment for the ages and only becomes richer thanks to the story behind it.
Shapovalov is staying in the basement of his friend and fellow tennis prodigy Felix Auger-Aliassime's house during the tournament.
In the basement hung a poster of Rafael Nadal and that poster was one of the first things Shapovalov saw when he woke up the morning of his match against the legend.
Knowing he was about to battle him on the court, he told his friend to take the Nadal poster down.
Then later that night, under the bright lights of centre court Shapovalov took Nadal down in three sets.
"Honestly I think I might have blacked out," Shapovalov said about the moments after hitting the match-winning shot and collapsing on the court.
"It's tough to remember how I felt, how I got back up ... it was just pure happiness."
A bright future ahead
Having experienced his own meteoric rise to stardom, Nadal can relate to what Shapovalov is going through right now.
Nadal similarly broke records with his own wins as an 18-year-old back in 2004.
"When you're 18, you don't hold on to nerves," Nadal said after his loss Thursday to Shapovalov. "It's amazing for him. Just well done for him."
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For Roger Federer, who is playing in Sunday's final, he says young players like Shapovalov present a unique challenge as opponents.
"Those young players don't quite know what to expect, and [neither] do I, because nobody quite knows."
Federer added that for Shapovalov to be knocking on the door of a final at his age puts him in some elite company.
"A player at 18 of 20 years old in the finals of a Masters 1000 is not something we've seen very often, very rarely, except maybe when Andy [Murray], Novak [Djokovic] and Rafa [Nadal] were coming up. They were such great teenagers that we maybe saw it more often. Not even I probably achieved finals of Masters 1000 at that age."
'A Dream Week'
It's too early to say if the success Shapovalov's enjoyed this week can be sustained longterm, but in the short term a lot has changed for the young man.
When the new world rankings come out on Monday he will be 67th in the world and the youngest player in the top 100.
"I don't think I realize it yet. It's a huge jump from 144 to 67. My whole live has changed in the last five days," Shapovalov said following his loss in the semifinal Saturday night.
"It was a dream week for me. Obviously I didn't expect it. Saved four match points in the first round. Just played loose after that, just went with it. I mean, I beat one of my idols. So it's a dream come true for me this week."
While the dream ended before Sunday's final, it's impact on the tennis scene in Canada will be long-lasting.
And if his name doesn't roll off the tongue yet it soon will for everyone.
His first name is 'Denis' the English way, and to pronounce his last name think French for hat (chapeau) plus 'valov'.
Got it? No? Don't worry, based on what we saw this week there will be a next time.