Shapovalov headlines field of 5 Canadians in main draw at Wimbledon

Canada's Denis Shapovalov celebrates his win over John Millman, of Australia, during their first round match at the French Open. (Alessandra Tarantino/CP/AP)

Doubles great Daniel Nestor has had a first-hand look at the star power of fellow Canadian Denis Shapovalov.

They have been Davis Cup teammates, occasional practice partners and they’ve even teamed up on the doubles court. Nestor, who’s well into his third decade on the ATP World Tour, has been wowed by the teenager from Richmond Hill, Ont.

"He has so much firepower and athleticism," Nestor said. "I’m in awe just from hitting with him. This guy is going only in one direction.’

Shapovalov, from Richmond Hill, Ont., broke out last season and has been on a steady rise up the world rankings. The 19-year-old currently sits at No. 26 and will lead Canadian hopes in singles play with 32nd-ranked Milos Raonic of Thornhill, Ont., starting Monday at Wimbledon.

Raonic is the 13th seed at the All-England Club while Shapovalov is 26th. Grand Slam events are given leeway to stray from the world rankings if desired.

Shapovalov will face the 46th-ranked Jeremy Chardy of France in the first round and could face Scotsman and former world No. 1 Andy Murray — who is coming off an 11-month injury absence — in the second round. Raonic opens against Liam Broady of Great Britain and unseeded Vasek Pospisil of Vancouver takes on Mikhail Kukushkin of Kazakhstan.

A fourth Canadian man — Peter Polansky of Thornhill — got into the main draw on Friday as a lucky loser for the third consecutive Grand Slam. Lucky losers are players who lose in the final round of qualifying, but are eligible to take a place in the main field (based on world ranking) when another player drops out or is injured.

Polansky will battle Dennis Novak of Austria in the first round.

Eugenie Bouchard of Westmount, Que., advanced through the women’s singles qualifying draw and will face British wild card Gabriella Taylor in her main-draw opener at the July 2-15 tournament.

Nestor, who received a wild-card doubles entry with Austria’s Jurgen Melzer, said Shapovalov will be helped by gaining experience in big situations — when a key point or two can swing a match — as he continues his progression on tour.

"He has the best possible problems with his game," Nestor said from London in a recent interview. "He has so much ability that he has to almost hold back and try to control his abilities because he has so much power and explosiveness. I think it’s almost sometimes a detriment to him because he’s overdoing it.

"He doesn’t have to do so much to win matches. That’s not a bad problem to have."

It can be easy to forget that Shapovalov is still adjusting to life on the ATP World Tour. He was primarily playing lower-level ITF and Challenger tour events leading up to Wimbledon last season.

He was ranked 164th when he made his Wimbledon main-draw debut last year, falling to Jerzy Janowicz in four sets. Shapovalov’s star rose when he returned to North America later that summer.

He reached the semifinals at the Rogers Cup in Montreal and made it to the round of 16 at the U.S. Open. Shapovalov had arrived and the tennis world took notice.

He was voted the ATP most improved player of the year by his fellow players and an ATP Star of Tomorrow for being the youngest player to finish in the top 100.

Shapovalov enters the third Grand Slam of the year with an 18-15 record this season, highlighted by his run to the semifinals in Madrid in May.

While still somewhat lacking in grass-court experience, Shapovalov’s speed, power and finesse can handcuff many an opponent. He also has the ability to dictate the play.

"I feel like that’s the case with a lot of the people he’s playing," Nestor said. "I think that’s a very good position to be in."

It’s difficult to predict what Raonic might be capable of at the grass-court tournament. He reached the Stuttgart Open final this month but had to pull out of the Queen’s Club tournament due to a right pectoral strain.

Ottawa’s Gabriela Dabrowski, meanwhile, has emerged as a force on the women’s and mixed doubles scene over the last year.

She is seeded sixth in women’s doubles with China’s Yifan Xu. They face American Alison Riske and Olga Savchuk of Ukraine in the first round.

The mixed doubles draw will be released Wednesday. Dabrowski and Mate Pavic of Croatia won the mixed title at the Australian Open earlier this year and reached the mixed final at the French Open.

Nestor and Melzer face sixth seeds Alexander Peya of Austria and Nikola Mektic of Croatia in the opening round of men’s doubles. Pospisil and American partner Ryan Harrison square off with Germans Philipp Petzschner and Tim Puetz.

When submitting content, please abide by our submission guidelines, and avoid posting profanity, personal attacks or harassment. Should you violate our submissions guidelines, we reserve the right to remove your comments and block your account. Sportsnet reserves the right to close a story’s comment section at any time.