AO Spotlight: Denis Shapovalov

  • Matt Trollope

Whether he is a “marketer’s dream”, a “complete package”, the “next big thing” or another similar descriptor, it is clear why Denis Shapovalov has already amassed a big following and thrilled tennis fans.

From his junior days, to his breakout debut season on the ATP Tour, to his recent entry into the top 10, the Canadian has always commanded attention.

X-factor

A significant reason for this is the fact that the 21-year-old is an electrifying shot-maker and exuberant on-court presence.

The angles produced, shots conjured from unlikely positions, sudden injections of pace, energetic celebrations, that leaping one-handed backhand – all have proven irresistible for video producers.

One thing that separates Shapovalov from other gifted shot-makers like Roger Federer, Gael Monfils and Nick Kyrgios is the fact he is left-handed.

With flashiness can come inconsistency – he sprayed 106 unforced errors in a second-round loss to Roberto Carballes Baena at Roland Garros last year – and often accompanying that is a combustible temper.

Yet there is no denying how devastating his game can be when everything clicks.

On court

It has always been that way, even going back to when he was part of Canada’s winning Junior Davis Cup team in 2015 and a Wimbledon boys’ singles champion in 2016.

It did not take long for that talent to translate to professional success; just one year after his Wimbledon win, Shapovalov stunned Rafael Nadal en route to the Montreal Masters semifinals at age 18.

That result, among others, saw him named the ATP’s Newcomer of the Year as well as Most Improved Player in 2017.

Denis Shapovalov defeats Rafael Nadal at 2017 Montreal Masters
Denis Shapovalov laps up the crowd support after stunning world No.2 Rafael Nadal in the third round of the 2017 Montreal Masters. (Getty Images)

Despite his high-risk style, Shapovalov has been remarkably consistent in his progress, finishing 2017 at world No.51, cracking the top 30 by the end of 2018 and ending 2019 at 15th.

In late 2019 he won his first ATP title in Stockholm and reached his first Masters final in Paris, continuing that momentum into 2020 by notching his first major quarterfinal at the US Open.

Shapovalov prefers faster surfaces, especially grass, yet enjoyed a breakthrough on clay in 2020, advancing to the Rome Masters semifinal – a result that saw him crack the top 10.

Notable stat

In a seven-week span from July 2017 to Sept 2017, Shapovalov won 20 of his 23 matches – reaching the fourth round of US Open as a qualifier after his Montreal Masters semifinal – and slashed his ranking from No.161 to No.51.

Off court

Like so many young stars ascending the rankings, Shapovalov is a citizen of the world.

Born in Israel to Russian parents, he moved to Canada as a baby and now resides in the Bahamas.

Away from tennis he is carving out a niche in the music sphere, releasing two rap singles in 2020 (the second with fellow pro Corentin Moutet).

He is nicknamed “Shapo”, speaks fluent Russian, and has a cat named Zeus.

He said …

“I feel like my level is there with these (top) guys and I am able to compete with anyone.”
- Denis Shapovalov, November 2020

Experts are saying …

"I feel like he’s certainly going to reach the top if he continues with the attitude he’s got. He enjoys playing, he’s very keen and naturally talented. You need some major strokes, like a big serve and a big forehand and he’s got that, and a single-handed backhand as well."
– Rod Laver

“It’s like watching a combination of Nadal and Federer. He has the fire of Rafa and the grace of Roger.”
– Mats Wilander