MONTREAL — As teen tennis star Denis Shapovalov continues his improbable run into the fourth round of the U.S. Open, one of his early opponents says he’s not surprised by the Canadian’s ability to upset higher-ranked rivals.
In 2012, Nicholas Wilson was 17 and preparing to play college tennis for Virginia Tech when he faced off against a skinny, much-younger player he’d never heard of in a junior world ranking event in Burlington, Ont.
Wilson, who came in confident, was shocked when Shapovalov won the first set.
"I had just committed to this Division 1 school and I lost the first set to this kid who was, what, 13 years old at the time?" he said in a phone interview.
"After that, I was playing for my pride."
Wilson, a little shaken, went on to win the next two sets and hand the Canadian one of his early defeats, but says the memory has stuck with him.
He said Shapovalov’s determination and talent were clear even then.
"I remember the kid’s forehand was insane, so I tried to hit every single ball to the guy’s backhand," recalled Wilson, now 22.
Shapovalov, 18, became the youngest player since Michael Chang in 1989 to advance to the fourth round of the U.S. Open when British opponent Kyle Edmund retired from their third-round match on Friday.
On Sunday, he is set take on 12th seed Pablo Carreno Busta of Spain.
It’s been a dream summer for the Ontario teen, who gained entry into the main draw of the final Grand Slam tournament of the season with three victories in qualifying.
In August, he became the youngest man to reach a Masters semifinal at the Rogers Cup in Montreal. That tournament included an upset victory over world No. 1 Rafael Nadal.
Wilson, who is now working as a tennis coach in New York, managed to make it over to Flushing Meadows to watch his old opponent’s first round U.S. Open matchup.
He says that while he used to blame himself for that first-set loss, he’s now just happy to say he once beat one of the sport’s rising stars.
And if Shapovalov ever wants a rematch, Wilson says he’s more than willing.
"I’d love to see where we’d stand today," he said.