AO19 Ones to Watch: Denis Shapovalov
First round, Australian Open 2018, the future was playing out on Court Two.
Denis Shapovalov v Stefanos Tsitsipas, two teenage shot-makers going at it with laser-like single-handed backhands. Swashbuckling lefty versus soulful, slicing right-hander. Fans were pinching themselves. If this is the future of tennis, bring it on.
Shapovalov struck 33 flashy winners to prevail in straight sets over the older Tsitsipas for his maiden win at Melbourne Park. He exited next round to veteran Frenchman Jo-Wilfred Tsonga, but not before giving the AO2008 finalist an almighty battle, serving for the match at 5-2 in the fifth set.
If he ran out of legs at the end, Shapovalov as usual gave fans their money’s worth. There are no tennis-factory robotics in the free-swinging lefty’s game. You want to tell him to rein it in a bit, except he so often pulls off the outlandish. The young showman brings to mind the teenage Andre Agassi - a crowd-magnet who loves to involve the fans.
“We’re entertainers,” Shapovalov told GQ. “I grew up wanting to play on the big stages in front of all these fans. I feel like the point is to go out there and express your emotions and your feelings for the game.”