It was back in the summer of 2017 when Denis Shapovalov made his big breakthrough on the ATP Tour with a surprising run to the semifinals of the Rogers Cup, which he then followed up with a run to the fourth round of the US Open.
Fast forward three years to 2020, and the now 21-year-old is enjoying another stellar run that has him breaking into the ATP’s top 10 for the first time in his career.
The talented young Canadian credits the work he’s put in both on and off the court during the COVID-19 pandemic for his impressive results and his rise up the rankings.
Back in 2017, after losing to Shapovalov in the third round of the Rogers cup in Montreal, Rafael Nadal had nothing but praise for the former junior Wimbledon champion.
“He has a great potential. I wish him the best. He has everything to become a great player. He played with the right determination in the important moments,” said Nadal in 2017 after being upset by Shapovalov in three sets.
Of course, Shapovalov would continue his strong play into the US Open, making all the way to the fourth round.
“The biggest lesson is that I’m able to compete with these guys. I still think I have a lot of work to do,” said Shapovalov after losing in straight sets to Pablo Carreño Busta of Spain at the 2017 US Open.
Since that breakthrough run in 2017, the talented young Canadian has been determined to realize the potential that Nadal spoke about after their match in Montreal.
Shapovalov recently spoke about the work he put in while the ATP Tour was suspended due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Initially, after the suspension of Indian Wells in March, the young Canadian stayed in California to practice with his coach Mikhail Youzhny – who is also known by the nicknames Misha and Colonel.
“I stayed at Indian Wells and just practiced with Misha there for as long as I could and then we decided to go to Florida, because we still weren’t sure if Miami Open was going to happen, so we were going to go to IMG Academy and train,” recalled Shapovalov.
“As soon as we landed there, IMG Academy closed down and seemed like Florida was going to shut down. But it never did. We were very lucky, actually. There was a private club that opened up for us to practice and certain hours of the day where nobody else was allowed to practice.”
The young Canadian from Richmond Hill, Ontario made the most of the time in Florida.
“For months we were just practicing there, and I feel like me and Misha just put some great work in together and really worked on my game,” said the 6’1″ lefty.
“Also, that was the period where I started working with Vadim, with my psychologist, and I feel like that together with the work on the court just really elevated my game. That’s why I feel like I have been able to play so well.”
The results on the tennis courts speak volumes as Shapovalov recently enjoyed his best showing at a Grand Slam by making it to the quarter-finals of the US Open – ultimately being defeated again by Carreño Busta in a grueling five setter.
— US Open Tennis (@usopen) September 9, 2020
Unlike his 2017 season, where Shapovalov made it past the second round only once after his run ended at Flushing Meadows, the talented young Canadian has continued that same high level of tennis immediately following the US Open.
Shapovalov would make it to the semis of the Internazionali BNL d’Italia where he would face Argentina’s Diego Schwartzman. In the third set of their match, Shapovalov was up 5-4 and serving for the match but the Argentine tennis star broke his serve and would go on to win the set and the match in a tie breaker.
“I had a chance to win it and (was) up a break in the third set,” noted Shapovalov in his post match presser.
“I feel like we both deserved to win today, so I don’t think there was any keys or anything. It was just a couple of points that made the difference.”
Given the fact that Novak Djokovic defeated Schwartzman in the championship match, Shapovalov was able to leap frog pass the 28-year-old from Argentina in the ATP rankings and reach the top 10 for the first time in his career.
By doing so, the 21-year-old joins Milos Raonic as the only Canadian male singles tennis player to reach the top 10 on the ATP Tour.
Needless to say Shapovalov was pumped about having his name associated with such elite company – and he proceeded to send out a tweet to let the world know of his excitement.
Top 10 feels 🐺💪🏼 pic.twitter.com/4jKosICqoo
— Denis Shapovalov (@denis_shapo) September 21, 2020
While reaching the top 10 is definitely an impressive accomplishment, many keen tennis observers believe Shapovalov’s ceiling is much higher.
Fresh off two stellar tournament results, Shapovalov is eager to carry his momentum into the French Open and continue his climb up the ATP rankings. As the 21-year-old Canadian heads into Roland Garros, it’s safe to say that Shapovalov will be considered one of the dark horses this year.
Main Photo from Getty.