Shapovalov puts on a show with first-round victory at Rogers Cup

Sportsnet's Arash Madani highlights the rise to fame of Canadian Tennis phenom Denis Shapovalov.

TORONTO — Denis Shapovalov threw his hands in the air, he patted his heart and he blew kisses at the nearly-full crowd at centre court, as they stood and cheered.

And then, three times after his decisive straight sets opening-round win at the Rogers Cup on Tuesday night, the 19-year-old explained his plan at his home tournament: “Try to put on a show.”

While it’s the early days at this Canadian ATP stop, with the final set for Sunday afternoon, the left-handed kid is off to quite the start, with a straight sets win. It might have something to do with the fact he’s playing just a 25-minute drive south of where he grew up, in Richmond Hill.

“For some reason, whenever I’m at home, I just seem to loosen up with the crowd,” Shapovalov said, his blonde hair looking neatly combed after a 6-1, 6-4 win over Frenchman, Jeremy Chardy. “I just enjoyed myself out there today. It was really fun to be on that centre court with so many people watching.”

Wearing his signature backwards hat, Shapovalov began his match against Chardy with a cross-court forehand winner and needed just north of an hour (three minutes more) to dispatch of the Frenchman. After he hammered an unreturned 201 km/h serve for the win, the crowd-which routinely yelled “Shapo!” and “C’mon Denis!”—was on its feet.

“It was one of those matches where everything was kind of feeling good for me,” Shapovalov said. “It’s a really good feeling and hopefully it continues.”

You can tell, just by watching Shapovalov, that it’s a really good feeling. The world No. 26 fist-pumps nearly every point he wins. He hits jumping mid-air winners and then cheers. After he won the first set, he looked over at his mother, Tessa, who’s also his coach, and he yelled: “Let’s go!”

Yes, if you can’t tell, he’s having fun out there.

“Rogers Cup, for me, it’s not another week on the tour—it’s a bonus week,” Shapovalov said. “I get to play at home.”

It was, too, as Shapovalov pointed out, “a really good day for Canadian tennis.” Earlier Tuesday, his good pal and fellow Canadian, Felix Auger-Aliassime, also took down a Frenchman, in Lucas Pouille. The 17-year-old Auger-Aliassime (who turns 18 on Wednesday) earned an opening round upset victory, his first-ever against a top-20 player.

Shapovalov watched the game in the dining area and cheered his buddy on.

“And you know, in a way, he kind of pumped me up with his win,” Shapovalov said. “I was like, okay, let’s make it back-to-back and have two young Canadians advance to the second round. So, yeah, I’m just really happy.”

Next up for Shapovalov, on Wednesday afternoon, is Italian Fabio Fognini, who is ranked 14th.

“Obviously, he’s been playing unbelievable tennis the past couple weeks and shown that he’s a good hard court player as well. So it’s going to be a tough match for me,” Shapovalov said. “It kind of goes the same for me. I feel like if I play my game and I’m playing good, I’ll be able to put up a fight and maybe even potentially win the match.

“It’s definitely a challenge going into it, but I feel fairly confident with the way I played today and the way I’ve been training and playing the whole week.”

He has to have gained some confidence with his play in tough situations on Tuesday. When Shapovalov was in trouble-Chardy had six break points-the Canadian got out of it with that massive lefty serve. Down 15-40 in the first set, he hammered four straight solid first serves to earn the win and take a 3-0 lead in the game.

“I was kind of feeling confident with everything, so maybe that’s one reason I was pretty loose on the serve. Especially in the big moments, I was able to really serve well,” he said. “I’ve been working a lot with my mom on my serve, so today it shows huge improvement on it.”

Shapovalov, though it may be hard to believe considering his Household Name Status, turned pro just last year, when he went on an incredible run at this tournament and took down Rafael Nadal and made it all the way to the semi-final.

He says this year-in which he’s made two semi-finals of 18 tournaments on the ATP Tour —he’s “way stronger,” “way more professional,” his returns are better, he’s more disciplined, and perhaps most importantly, “now I feel like I’m able to compete with any of the players on any day.”

But one thing hasn’t changed since last year: He’s here to entertain.

“Like I said, I’m going to try to put on a show and fight for every point,” Shapovalov said, “and see how far I can take it.”

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