Canada's Denis Shapovalov listening, learning in strong rookie season
Richmond Hill teenager youngest in ATP’s top 200 rankings
After a successful junior tennis career — highlighted by a pair of Grand Slam trophies — it was obvious Denis Shapovalov had a future on the ATP Tour.
But it's unlikely many anticipated his rise up the rankings to come this quickly.
The 18-year-old from Richmond Hill, Ont., is ranked 130th, the youngest player in the Tour's top 200.
After winning the junior U.S. Open in 2015 and junior Wimbledon in 2016, Shapovalov showed he was ready for the main tour with an upset win over world No.19 Nick Kyrgios at last year's Rogers Cup in Toronto.
Now in his first full season as a pro, Shapovalov is making the transition look easy.
He recently captured his second ATP challenger title in Gatineau to go along with an ITF singles Futures title and another Challenger title won this past March, the latter setting a mark at the time for being the youngest Canadian to accomplish the feat.
Life on the Tour has been a learning process for Shapovalov — helped by Canadian Davis Cup captain and his coach, Martin Laurendeau.
"My game has improved because of Marty [Laurendeau]," Shapovalov said. "Every match that I'm playing, I'm adding new things. Marty really helped my game and my results this season are credited to him."
The duo worked on implementing the slice shot into his game and being more aggressive at the net, especially during this past grass-court season.
The strategy paid immediate dividends in a Wimbledon tune-up in June as Shapovalov qualified for the main draw and defeated world No.47 Kyle Edmund in his first-round match before losing a tight three-setter to world No.14 Tomas Berdych in the second round.
Bond beyond the court
Shapovalov and Laurendeau share a close bond that extends beyond the court. They often eat meals together and talk about everyday stuff — all of which has been important to the young Canadian.
"He [Laurendeau] gives me my space, I give him his space," Shapovalov said. "He's got a family and he lets me be a teenager as well. We have a very good dynamic on the court, but I also like that we're not just [a] coach and athlete.
"I feel like I can trust him with everything. It's my first year on the Tour so I'm experiencing a lot of new things. He likes when I share things with him because it helps him understand how I'm feeling, but also he's helping me learn about how my career is going to be, how to deal with travelling and the change of [court] surfaces."
Getting to know veterans
During this past off-season, Shapovalov went to Austria to work alongside Gunter Bresnik, coach of top-10 player Dominic Thiem and former coach of six-time singles Grand Slam champion Boris Becker.
It not only gave Shapovalov the opportunity to hit alongside established pros like Thiem and witness the work they put in to reach their level, but establish personal relationships with them.
Those connections make it less of a burden on the Canadian when looking for hitting partners, especially at bigger tournaments.
"Guys talk to other players in the locker room — so other players know that I'm a pretty decent player. In that case, it makes it easier to find [practice] hits [with other players]," Shapovalov said.
Shapovalov clearly made an impression. Thiem included the teenager when dining with other pros, and this past Canada Day the Austrian posted a photo of himself in a red Roots t-shirt wishing the country a 150th birthday.
"He's a great guy. We get along very well and spend quite a bit of time [together]. It's pretty cool seeing how he trains, how he plays, and trying to apply that to the way I train," Shapovalov said.
"I look up to him and hope to achieve the results he achieved. He's definitely one of my role models and a good friend of mine."
While his rookie season has gone well, it hasn't come without its hard knocks.
At the Davis Cup in February, Shapovalov smashed a ball in anger, striking chair umpire Arnuad Gabas in the eye and earning a disqualification which cost Canada the final match of the tie.
Shapovalov quickly showed his remorse, taking to Twitter to apologize.
Next up for Shapovalov is the Rogers Cup in Montreal Aug. 5-13, the hometown of another good friend and rising star, Felix Auger-Aliassime.
The soon to be 17-year-old won the 2015 U.S. Open junior doubles title alongside Shapovalov and broke his record —becoming the youngest Canadian and seventh youngest in history — when he picked up his first ATP Challenger title last month.
The prospect of leading the next wave of Canadian tennis with Auger-Aliassime excites Shapovalov.
"He's [Auger-Aliassime] like a brother to me. I always stay at his house when I come to train in Montreal and he's always welcome to stay with me," Shapovalov said.
"Felix is going to be an incredible player. He's dedicated to the sport, trains hard — if he can keep that up, I have no doubts in him and it would be amazing to have two top Canadians coming up with Milos [Raonic] and Vasek [Pospisil]."