This time last year, few outside tennis’ innermost circles knew much about Denis Shapovolov. Fast-forward to today and he has a super fan in Sloane Stephens and John McEnroe wants to coach him. He's building a brand thanks to his long-haired, backwards-cap style and electrifying shot-making. The teen has people comparing him to when Rafael Nadal burst onto the scene as a teenager.
Which is only fitting, as Shapovolov has just cracked the Top 50 at 18 years and six months. He's the youngest player to do so since—you guessed it—Nadal (in 2004).
How did the Canadian get here? Here’s a look back at the last 18 months of Shapovolov’s ascendant career:
Winning junior Wimbledon in 2016
While one Canadian (Milos Raonic) was in the midst of dropping the men’s final to Andy Murray, Shapovolov was turning heads as the boys champion. He beat Alex De Minaur, 4-6, 6-1, 6-3 with blistering serves and deft court movement. It was a preview of what would unfold soon.
Unbelievable finish today to my grass court season. I want to thank my parents for all of the sacrifices that they have made, and the love and support that they give me. Thank you to my coach @adrianofuorivia for constantly pushing me to be the best that I can be, and for spending countless hours on court with me to help me reach my goals. Thank you to Andrzej Kepinski and Mary Pat & Bob Armstrong for sponsoring me and making it possible for me to chase my dreams. Finally i want to thank everyone who supports me; i appreciate each and every one of you. Hopefully this Wimbledon title is only the first of many. #tessatennis #nikecourt #wilson #canadiantennis #wimbledon
The infamous Davis Cup default
It hasn’t all been pretty for Shapovolov. In February, he made headlines for all the wrong reasons. During a Davis Cup match against Great Britain’s Kyle Edmund, Shapovolov accidentally smashed a ball into the face of chair umpire Arnaud Gabas. The result was an immediate default for Team Canada and a broken bone in Gabas’ left eye socket. For his part, Shapovolov apologized and took full responsibility for his actions, learning a lesson in the toughest, most public, of ways.
He was part of the Canadian Davis Cup team in September, winning both singles matches in a win over India.
Rogers Cup 2017
After winning two ATP Challenger crowns, Shapovolov really put the tour on notice with his sensational play at the Rogers Cup in Montreal. Playing in front of a home crowd, the Canadian downed former US Open champ Juan Martin Del Potro in straight sets before taking out Nadal in three dramatic sets.
Turns out, it wasn’t their first meeting at Rogers Cup. Shapovolov had stood across the net from Rafa once before—as a nine-year-old in 2008. He entered the tournament ranked No. 143 and left a legitimate contender for a deep run at the US Open.
US Open 2017
Shapovolov’s magical summer season continued with inspired play at the US Open. As a qualifier, he beat Daniil Medvedev in his opening round match and stunned No. 8 Jo Wilfried Tsonga under the lights at Arthur Ashe Stadium.
His magical run ended with a fourth round loss to an unflappable Pablo Carreno-Busta, but not before receiving a standing ovation from the New York faithful and cementing his status as one of the game’s brightest stars.
Cracking the Top 50
It’s hard to overstate the significance of Shapovolov breaking into the game’s Top 50 at such a young age. The last player to hold the honor was Nadal, and everyone saw how well that turned out. He's currently fourth in the Race to Milan for the ATP Next Gen Finals in Milan.
The ATP has no shortage of young stars knocking on the door—players like Andrey Rublev, Alexander Zverev and Borna Coric to name a few—but Shapovolov’s powerful style and heart-on-his-sleeve demeanor gives him a shot at legitimate phenom status.