Denis Shapovalov’s first ATP win puts him in ‘really good position’

Denis Shapovalov of Canada, holds the trophy after winning the Stockholm Open tennis tournament men's single final at the Royal Tennis Hall in Stockholm, Sweden, Sunday Oct. 20, 2019. (Henrik Montgomery/TT via AP)

Denis Shapovalov exploded onto the Canadian tennis scene in 2017 with an unforgettable run at the Rogers Cup in Montreal, upsetting Rafael Nadal en route to the semifinals. He followed that up with a fourth-round appearance at the U.S. Open later that summer.

Not bad for an 18-year-old.

But Shapovalov, who hails from Richmond Hill, Ont., has been surpassed in the hierarchy of Canadian tennis phenoms, as Bianca Andreescu and Felix Auger-Aliassime both had breakout years in 2019. World No. 4 Andreescu captured titles at Indian Wells and the Rogers Cup, and won her first Grand Slam at the U.S. Open. Auger-Aliassime made three ATP finals and soared to No. 17.

However, it could be Shapovalov’s time to shine again. On Sunday, he won his first ATP Tour title at the Stockholm Open, downing Serbian Filip Krajinovic 6-4, 6-4.

Frank Dancevic, captain of Canada’s Davis Cup team and former World No. 65, says the victory could give the now-20-year-old, who will crack the Top 30 after the result, some momentum.

“He’s maturing. He had a strong start there coming on tour, had some really big wins, really high expectations, but to be quite honest, he’s been able to back it up with some great tennis, good wins and he’s been able to keep his ranking up in the Top 40 in the world, which is not easy, right?” he said. “So, I think he’s done really well to defend that, and put himself in a really good position to have a run like he’s having now. This might give him some confidence to go deep in a few more tournaments later this year.”

Dancevic — who coaches compatriot Vasek Pospisil full-time, but helped Shapovalov with some tournaments last year — added that Ws are hard to come by in tennis, so just going through a week without losing can provide a huge boost.

Even in his short and promising career, Shapovalov has seen the peaks and valleys of professional tennis. He surged to a career-best No. 20 after reaching the semifinals of the Miami Open in April. But just a few months later he needed to skip the Citi Open to clear his head after being mired in a losing streak.

“Victories are an amazing thing for a tennis player, because you leave with so much confidence going through the week. As tennis players, unless you win the tournament, you’re used to losing every single week of the year,” said Dancevic. “And it’s tough to win titles, right? You’re not going to go through the year of winning so many titles unless you’re Novak (Djokovic), or Roger (Federer), or Rafa (Nadal) — those three guys. So most of the year … you’re losing at events.”

While the Stockholm Open is an ATP 250 — meaning the winner gets 250 points toward their rankings, the lowest worth on the tour’s four-tier scale — and featured a diluted field where Shapovalov was the fourth seed, Dancevic emphasized that doesn’t devalue the victory.

“A title’s a title on the tour, and it’s always great to get a title. It doesn’t matter if it’s a 250. And I know it’s a 250, but it’s still a big accomplishment, right? And I’m sure he’s going to remember this for the rest of his career that this was his first title,” he said.

It may be his first, Dancevic doesn’t expect it’ll be his last and said Shapovalov has the talent to win Masters and Grand Slams.

“It’s definitely a possibility. He has the game to do it,” he said.

He added that Shapovalov has “great potential” and is very talented, but he needs to clean up some kinks on the court.

“He’s a very explosive player, a very exciting player to watch. There’s definitely some inconsistency in his game … in that sometimes he plays a little bit too aggressive,” said Dancevic. “A little bit more consistency in his game and you’ll make the opponents play a little bit more. But that has to do with just maturing as a player and he’s starting to come along with that, and he seems to have found his game this week.”

With Canada playing in the Davis Cup Finals in Madrid next month and the end of the 2019 season quickly approaching, Dancevic believes the country is witnessing the greatest generation of players in history — and they could get even better.

“It’s amazing. Canadian tennis, we’re saying right now it’s an all-time high, but we don’t know that yet because these guys are so young, and there’s so much future ahead of them,” he said.

“So we don’t know what these guys are capable of. In a few years, we could have some really top, top players in the world, dominating tennis.”

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