Canadian tennis phenom Shapovalov looks to take next step with new coach

Denis Shapovalov of Canada (Nathan Denette/CP)

While most 17-year-olds eagerly watch the clock tick down to Christmas vacation, Denis Shapovalov has no time to spare.

“Oh no, sorry, they just called my name at the gate,” Shapovalov empathetically tells me over the phone from Chicago O’Hare International Airport. “Is it okay if I call you back?”

He’s always got somewhere to go; thus is the life of a professional tennis player. He’s come from Oregon, where he toured the Nike Village and shared a memorable lunch with Nike co-founder and chairman Phil Knight. In a couple hours, he’s off to Spain where he’ll begin his offseason training.

“Sorry about that,” Shapovalov repeats moments later when he calls me back. For a teenager dealing with so many professional demands, he’s never lacking manners. “So where was I? Oh yes, I was telling you about Vienna.”

Back in the fall, Shapovalov flew to Austria to train with veteran coach Günter Bresnik, who is currently coaching World No. 8, Dominic Thiem.

“I went to kind of test out Günter to see how training with him would be,” Shapovalov explains. “I’m at a stage where I need a transition coach to get me from 250 to top 50 in the world. I think Günter is a guy that can do that. I’m doing a trial period with him.”

Adriano Fuorivia, Shapovalov’s longtime coach, will continue to work with him as a consultant.

“Adriano and I are still close friends and on good terms. He still advises me. He kind of pushed for the transition. He’s always wanted me to try with Günter. Günter is experienced taking Dominic from 130 [in the world] all the way to top 10. He knows what it takes to get there. I liked the way that he worked.”

Shapovalov will spend the next two weeks training with Bresnik in Tenerife, Spain, alongside Thiem, world No. 11 David Goffin as well as tour journeyman Philipp Kohlschreiber. The opportunity to train with such experienced players is not lost on the 17-year-old from Richmond Hill, Ont.

“I get to hang out with Dominic Theim and all these guys who are still stars for me. It’s a little bit overwhelming. I’m excited for it. They’re great. Dominic is a hard worker. It’s going to be tough training, which is good. They’re going to be good hits. It’ll be a good experience to see how they work.”

This caps an exciting year for Shapovalov. He made the semifinals in the boys singles at Roland Garros before stringing together twelve straight wins on grass and taking home the junior Wimbledon title.

“Winning Wimbledon was the biggest tournament for me,” Shapovalov reflects. “To be able to lift up that trophy meant a lot to me.”

After that, he moved on from the junior circuit and turned pro, notching his first top-20 win over Nick Kyrigos at home in the first round of the Rogers Cup. Then, in September, he made his Davis Cup debut for Canada in Halifax, winning a dead rubber on the final Sunday against Chile.

“There was a lot of highlights in 2016, but playing on the Davis Cup team, playing for my country was very big. I was very proud.”

Just months into his pro career, Shapovalov hopes his latest experience and off-season training will prepare him for a full season on the ATP Tour.

“It’s just a different level. I feel like it’s so much closer from 400 [in the world] to top 100; the level isn’t that much different. In juniors there’s a couple good players but there’s a huge gap. At the pro level, every match you don’t know who’s going to win. I did so well this year so it’s hard to have the same expectations next year. It’s my first full pro season. I’ll take some time to mature into it and get used to it.”

He sounds well on his way.

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