TORONTO — Denis Shapovalov and Felix Auger-Aliassime walked out to a loud applause from a jam-packed grand stand at the Rogers Cup on Monday night.
They took a few warm-up shots, smiled at each other, then calmly faced off against two of the top players in the game.
While the Canadian teenagers came up short, falling 6-3, 6-2 in the first-round doubles match against 2018 Wimbledon champ Novak Djokovic and runner-up Kevin Anderson, they weren’t jostled by the pedigree of their opponents.
"Our game was there, we didn’t feel intimidated at all," said the 19-year-old Shapovalov of Richmond Hill, Ont.
"Just to have a chance to play with these guys is already good," added Auger-Aliassime, a Montreal native who won’t turn 18 until later this week.
Djokovic and Anderson defeated the teens handedly in a match that was delayed when rain interrupted the afternoon schedule for nearly three hours. Minutes after the teenagers’ loss, Canada’s Milos Raonic topped David Goffin of Belgium 6-3, 6-4 on centre court to advance to the second round of the singles draw.
Rainfall moved into the area of the York University campus just before 3 p.m. ET, interrupting three matches and causing a location change from centre court to the grand stand for Shapovalov and Auger-Aliassime.
Doubles partners on the junior circuit years ago and wild-card entries for this week’s tournament, the two started the match strong before Djokovic and Anderson took control.
They broke Anderson’s serve for a 2-0 lead, but the Wimbledon finalists team — nicknamed "Djokerson" thanks to a Twitter poll conducted by Djokovic earlier in the day — broke back to tie the match 2-2, and again to go up 5-3. Both breaks were on Auger-Aliassime serves.
Anderson and Djokovic won five straight games, going up two breaks, to win the second set.
"Yeah, I struggled a little bit with my percentage at the start of the first set," Auger-Aliassime said. "And I’m playing against the greatest returner in the game so obviously he’s going to put some returns in.
"I think maybe we weren’t as efficient at the net to close out the points but that’s it."
Raonic, ranked No. 30, also got off to a hot start in his match, breaking Goffin for a 4-1 lead in the first set.
The former World No. 3, who’s battled numerous injuries over the past two seasons — including a quad tear at Wimbledon last month — used his powerful serve to his advantage. He fired 13 aces to Goffin’s two and won 100 per cent of his first-service points.
"I think I can still serve much better, I don’t think I served particularly well," Raonic said. "So I’ll take the time to work on some things tomorrow but overall it was a good performance. Mentally I was in the right state of mind the whole way through and I was very disciplined with myself."
Raonic, of Thornhill, Ont., will play the winner of a match between American Frances Tiafoe and Italy’s Marco Cecchinato in the second round.
Wild card Peter Polansky, also of Thornhill, defeated Matthew Ebden of Australia 7-6 (3), 6-4 in the morning and Vancouver’s Vasek Pospisil and Borna Coric of Croatia played the late match on centre court.
Shapovalov and Auger-Aliassime appeared to be having fun throughout their doubles match and with both more focused on the singles draw, Shapovalov said that was the plan.
"I said to (Auger-Aliassime) before the match: ‘Let’s just have fun out there, enjoy ourselves, and we’ll see how the match goes,"’ Shapovalov said.
At No. 26, Shapovalov is the top Canadian on the men’s singles draw. He was No. 143 before last year’s Rogers Cup, where he burst onto the scene in Montreal with a semifinal appearance at age 18. He went on to reach the Round of 16 at the U.S. Open a month later, further skyrocketing up the ATP rankings.
Shapovalov stayed with Auger-Aliassime in Montreal during last year’s tournament and offered his friend his family home for the Toronto event this year, but Auger-Aliassime opted for a hotel closer to the stadium instead.
"I didn’t invite him," Shapovalov said, prompting laughter from reporters before quickly adding: "No I’m kidding."
"He’s always welcome but my parents live pretty far north so it would have been quite a hike for Felix."
Both players will open their singles tournament Tuesday with Shapovalov playing Jeremy Chardy of France and Auger-Aliassime, No. 134 in the world, making his Rogers Cup main draw debut against Frenchman Lucas Pouille.
"Outside of the doubles today I’ve been playing good tennis the last couple of months," Auger-Aliassime said. "I’ve been getting some wins under my belt so I’m feeling confident coming into singles tomorrow."
Also Monday, Russian qualifier Daniil Medvedev upset 13th-seeded Jack Sock 6-3, 3-6, 6-3 in one of the three rain-interrupted afternoon matches. American Bradley Klahn topped Spain’s David Ferrer 7-6, 6-4 and Pierre-Hughes Herbert of France beat Spaniard Albert Ramos-Vinolas 4-6, 6-3, 6-4 in the others.
Earlier Monday, Thornhill, Ont., native Peter Polansky, a wild-card entry playing in the morning draw, defeated Matthew Ebden of Australia 7-6 (3), 6-4. He will play the winner of a match between Djokovic and Hyeon Chung of South Korea in the second round.
The 30-year-old Polansky, who is ranked No. 121 in the world, has never advanced past the second round of the Rogers Cup.
He squeaked out a victory against his 52nd-ranked opponent in the first set by winning the tiebreak 7-3.
"It was actually really big," Polansky said of the tiebreak win. "He was serving great and I wasn’t expecting to go up by so much early on."
Polansky also took a close second set, which included a seventh game with seven deuces before Polansky held serve.
"I think if I got broken there, the momentum would have turned in his favour quite," Polansky said.
Polansky finished the match with six aces Ebden’s 12. But Polansky won 83 per cent of his first-serve points and 62 per cent off his second serve.
In other men’s first-round action, Benoit Paire of France downed Jared Donaldson 6-3, 6-4 and Ilya Ivashka of Belarus defeated Yuichi Sugita of Japan 6-2, 6-3.