TORONTO — Canadians were captivated by the play of Denis Shapovalov at the Rogers Cup in Montreal. The rest of the world took notice at the U.S. Open in New York.
The 18-year-old went from playing low-level tennis tournaments earlier this summer to wowing crowds in the intense spotlight of a Grand Slam stadium court. Shapovalov has rocketed up the world rankings while taking out some of the sport’s biggest names along the way.
His days of relative anonymity are over. Shapovalov, who will walk the red carpet at the Toronto International Film Festival opener on Thursday, is a bona fide star in the making.
“My life has definitely changed in the past month,” he said.
Shapovalov delivered one of the Canadian sporting moments of the year at Uniprix Stadium last month by dispatching current No. 1 Rafael Nadal in the round of 16. He also surprised Juan Martin del Potro that week before eventually falling to Alexander Zverev in the semifinals.
At the U.S. Open, Shapovalov had to qualify just to enter the main draw of the final Slam of the season. He again came through with big wins — most notably an upset of eighth-seeded Jo-Wilfried Tsonga — before losing in the fourth round to 12th seed Pablo Carreno Busta.
Not a bad stretch for a player who was barely in the top 200 just three months ago.
“Beating Rafa is just the cherry on top,” Shapovalov said at a media availability at a downtown hotel. “Just being able to compete with Rafa, it’s a huge confidence boost. Just seeing that the match was tight, it really made me feel like I belonged on the court with these guys.
“To actually beat him and to have the nerve to hit those shots during the big points, it was really inspiring and motivating.”
Shapovalov currently holds the No. 69 position in the world rankings but is expected to approach the No. 50 mark when the new list comes out next week.
Since his breakout, Shapovalov said he gets recognized a lot more. He finds the increased attention inspiring, especially when he sees the impact he has left on younger fans.
“I see all these little kids getting excited when they see me,” he said. “So it’s cool to know that I’m motivating young kids to pick up rackets and to play tennis.”
Shapovalov — nicknamed “Shapo” — is a dynamo on the court, with his speed, power and passion providing a combination that is irresistible for tennis fans. ESPN broadcaster John McEnroe recently said the Canadian teen reminded him a lot of himself in his younger days, calling him “the proverbial breath of fresh air that this sport needs.”
“It’s awesome to hear that from Johnny Mac, I mean he’s such a legend,” Shapovalov said. “His game style is so unique with that sharp lefty serve and the aggressive style he had coming to the net a lot. It’s something I look up to a lot.”
Later Thursday, Shapovalov planned to take in the opening night film “Borg/McEnroe,” about tennis stars Bjorn Borg and McEnroe, who battled at Wimbledon in 1980.
“They had a crazy rivalry,” he said. “So it’s going to be cool to see that movie. I think it’s going to be pretty funny.”
Shapovalov, from Richmond Hill, Ont., said he has been able to catch his breath over the last few days and spend time with friends and family.
He’ll be back on court next week in Edmonton at the Davis Cup competition between Canada and India.