Heirs to the throne, Part X : Denis Shapovalov

 - Alix Ramsay

They are the future of tennis whose stars shone brightly in 2018. Here's everything you wanted to know about them

Denis Shapovalov smiling at practice during Roland-Garros 2018©Cédric Lecocq/FFT

They are the future of tennis whose stars shone brightly in 2018. Here's everything you wanted to know about their tennis, hobbies and personalities.

Last part ouf our series : here are five things to know about Denis Shapovalov.

Record breaker

For the past 15 years, we have all become accustomed to records being shattered on a tennis court but usually it is Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal or Novak Djokovic doing the shattering. Then Denis Shapovalov appeared on the scene and all those “youngest man to…” records began to tumble.

In his first professional season last year, he became the youngest man to reach a Masters 1000 quarter-final (in Montreal) and then broke his own record by beating Adrian Mannarino and becoming the youngest man to reach a Masters 1000 semi-final (where he lost to Sascha Zverev).

He reached the fourth round of the US Open, the youngest man to do so since Michael Chang in 1989 and the youngest man to reach the fourth round of a Grand Slam since Marat Safin in 1998 at Roland Garros. And he was the youngest man to break into the top 50 since Nadal in 2004.

This year, he became the youngest quarter and then semi-finalist in the history of the Madrid Masters 1000 and the youngest man to crack the top 25 since Richard Gasquet in 2005.

Denis Shapovalov biting his racket during the 2018 Australian Open©Corinne Dubreuil/FFT
Baptism of fire

For many a young player, it could have stopped their progress in its tracks but not Shapovalov. There he was in 2017, playing the deciding rubber of a home Davis Cup tie and still only 17. Facing Kyle Edmund, he was already two sets down when, in frustration, he swatted the ball away with some force. The ball hit the umpire, Arnaud Gabas, in the eye. Shapovalov was disqualified, Edmund won the rubber and Great Britain won the tie. Suddenly Canada’s young star was in headlines around the world but for all the wrong reasons.

At that age, it would have been easy for him to hide in the locker room and let his captain go out to make any formal apologies. But Shapovalov faced the media, took full responsibility for his actions and made no complaints about his punishment (a fine from the ITF). For a very young man, he behaved like a seasoned old pro. This was impressive stuff.

"It was very tough at the time, it is still always in the back of my head in everyday life,” he said later. "I skipped the next tournament. I didn't want to get out of bed. The first steps were my mum making me walk the dogs - from there on, things started rolling.

"It has helped me mature as a person. It has helped my game on the court - I stay much more calm, just knowing what could happen if I lose my temper again.”

Denis Shapovalov and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga black and white at the Australian Open 2018©Corinne Dubreuil/FFT
A man who knows his own mind

The exuberance of youth has led many a young lad astray but Shapovalov has an old head on his young shoulders. The thought of big bucks and a week in the spotlight could have tempted a lesser man to push himself beyond his limits but although the Canadian had qualified for the Next Gen Finals, he opted not to play.

Getting to a year-end ranking of No.27 had exhausted him but he was already thinking ahead. It had been a good year, but now was time to get ready for an all-out assault on the rankings in 2019.

“I’m learning, just as much as my team is learning, everyone’s learning,” he told The Star in Canada. “I just ran out of fuel the last couple of weeks. I pushed through it, did everything I could, but it just wasn’t in me.

“I made the call. I said: Listen, right now I’d rather just go home. Just see my family, rest up for the off-season, come back in 2019 on fire and ready to go again.’’

The Samson effect?

Hopefully not. Known for his flowing, blond locks, (and his dynamic, aggressive tennis, of course) Shapovalov is presenting a new face to the world before the start of the new season: he has had a haircut.

Short, neat and tidy, the new ‘do’ reflects a mature, serious man on a mission to conquer the tennis world. 

Pausing for breath

So rapid has Shapovalov’s rise through the rankings been that not even he knows quite to make of it. All he does know is that if this is what success feels like, he wants more of it.

“I believe I’m capable of beating anyone out there,” he told The Star.

“But obviously I did not expect to be where I am at this moment. It’s been happening so quick. This year I just wanted to stay top 50, maintain that ranking. So I’m really happy to be where I am, 27 in the world. It’s a huge jump from last year. It’s been a really successful season for me. But I have so much room to improve and to grow, so I’m really excited to hit the off-season, hit the next year.”