Denis Shapovalov has been in the discussion over the next great talent on the men’s tour for some time now. He became the youngest player ever to make a semifinal of an ATP Masters 1000 event in 2017. Since then he has been steadily climbing the ranks on the men’s tour. However, the rapid rise to the top of the men’s game many expected after that tournament never materialised. In 2020 the young Canadian finally found himself in the top ten and seems to have found the consistent tennis he was previously lacking. A strong end to 2020 means the future looks bright for the young star. But just how how much might he achieve in 2021?
Early success slowed by lack of consistency
Shapovalov first put his name on the map in some style at the Rogers Cup in August 2017. The 18 year-old beat Adrian Mannarino, Juan Martin Del Potro and Rafael Nadal on his way to the semifinal. He lost to eventual champion Alexander Zverev, but taking out world #2 Rafael Nadal in his first match against a top ten player meant the young Canadian was the talk of the tournament.
He followed up his first Masters semifinal with an appearance in the fourth round of the US Open. In doing so he became the youngest player to make the fourth round since Michael Chang in 1989. The result meant he climbed to 51 in the ATP rankings. It is perhaps a surprise then that it took Shapovalov nearly two more years to break into the top 20 on the men’s tour. Doing so is certainly no easy feat. However, many expected great things from Shapovalov after his lightning-fast start to life on the tour.
His mixed results in 2018 demonstrate perfectly his struggle for consistency in the months following his debut on the tour. In the first half of the year up to and including Roland Garros, Shapovalov played in 13 tournaments. He only made it past the second round in four of those tournaments. True to form, during that period he also became the youngest semifinalist in history at the Madrid Open Masters 1000 tournament.
That run again gave us a glimpse of just how good the he can be when he’s at his best. However, he again failed to capitalise on good form, losing in the third round or sooner in 16 of the 17 tournaments he played after the French Open. 2018 was a year in which Shapovalov teased with moments of brilliance but failed to deliver the finished product on a consistent basis. However, in 2019 he began to show some of the consistency his fans had been craving.
New coach brings cool head, first title
Shapovalov made three quarterfinals and a semifinal in the first half of 2019. His results were certainly better than in 2018, but shock first round exits and inconsistencies still plagued him. However, in August of 2019 Shapovalov team up with former world #8 turned coach Mikhail Youzhny. The pair joined forces before the Winston-Salem open in August of 2019. Over his next six tournaments he made two semifinals and in the seventh won his first ever tour level title. He also made the final of the ATP Masters 1000 tournament in Paris two tournaments later, but was well-beaten by Novak Djokovic.
The blonde powerhouse from Tel Aviv has always been able to hit players off the court with an outstanding combination of power and flair. However, he was guilty of going for too much too often in matches. Perhaps the most important thing Mikhail Youzhny did for Shapovalov was to teach him to build a point more effectively and wait for the right time to unleash one of his numerous weapons.
Block returns on serve, forays to the net and slice shots to get back into points starting creeping into Shapovalov’s game soon after the two started working together. Towards the end of 2019 it looked like Shapovalov was developing the consistency of play needed to excel on the tour. 2020 served as confirmation that he had and was ready to move in amongst the elite of the men’s game.
Debut in the top 10 and first Grand Slam quarterfinal
In a shortened and very different 2020 season, Shapovalov managed to break into the top ten in the world for the first time in his career. After a slow start to the year, Shapovalov returned to the tour in New York. He made his first ever Grand Slam quarterfinal at the US Open. He should probably have made the last four as well. Untimely errors costing him two tie breaks in the second and third sets against Pablo Carreno Busta. He followed up his strong performance at Flushing Meadows with a semifinal run at the Rome Masters.
Again he should have gone further after failing to serve out the third set and losing the ensuing tiebreak. Nevertheless, the result was enough to see him break into the world’s top 10, albeit only for one week. The solid results put forward by the young Canadian in 2020 suggest that he is ready to make waves on the men’s tour in 2021. They certainly make him a 2021 ATP Tour players to watch candidate, but just how far do we think he can go?
Shapovalov a Grand Slam dark horse?
It seems certain that Shapovalov will add to his trophy collection in 2020. In fact, it is almost a foregone conclusion that he will. The question is how big the trophies will be? Shapovalov has already made four Masters 1000 semifinals and one final. Surely it’s only a matter of time before he goes the distance. As for Grand Slams, we think his showing at the US Open is only the beginning. Currently ranked 12th in the world, the rising star is certainly a dark horse in any Grand Slam he enters.
With the right draw and good form, Shapovalov could find himself in the Grand Slam winners circle sooner rather than later. Could it be this year? Quite possibly. How far he can go is certainly one of the more intriguing stories to follow on the tour this year. As a result, The Canadian powerhouse is certainly worthy of a spot in our 2021 ATP Tour players to watch series.
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