Denis Shapovalov made a name for himself a year ago at Rogers Cup presented by National Bank, and in his return to the tournament where it all began, he rose to his first-round challenge like a man on a mission.
On an overcast evening in Toronto, the 19-year-old from just down the road in Richmond Hill walked onto a packed Centre Court to the thunderous applause of fans who had bought tickets with his face plastered all over them.
Following his miracle run to the semifinals at the event in Montreal last year, he became the promotional face of the tournament, whether he liked it or not. With compatriot Milos Raonic struggling with recurring injuries, and fellow-rising Canadian Felix Auger-Aliassime looking for his own tour-level breakthrough, Shapovalov was the home hope marketed to Canadian fans.
On Tuesday night, he delivered on all the hype.
The blond-haired shotmaker rocketed out of the gates, imposing his high-octane brand of all-court tennis with ease on opponent Jeremy Chardy of France, whose own heavy topsin game appeared to be ineffective against Shapovalov’s shots. Although Chardy was eventually able to get himself on the board, the Canadian closed out the set with ease.
In the second set, Shapovalov was met with firmer resistance from the Frenchman, against whom he had already notched a win this season in the first round of Wimbledon. The home hope was able to secure an early break and, despite needing to save multiple break points in a crucial eighth game of the match, eventually sealed the win in front of a thrilled Canadian crowd.
“Whenever I’m at home, I just seem to loosen up with the crowd,” said Shapovalov after the match. “And I just enjoyed myself out there today. It was really fun to be on that Centre Court with so many people watching.”
Among those in attendance on Centre Court were NHL stars and fellow Canadians Connor McDavid of the Edmonton Oilers and the Dallas Stars’ Jason Spezza. But the one present athlete who inspired him most was one who had played and won not hours earlier on that same court.
“[Félix Auger-Aliassime] kind of pumped me up with his win,” admitted Shapovalov. “I was like, ‘Okay, let’s make it back to back and have two young Canadians advance to the second round.’
I’m just really happy. It’s a really good day for Canadian tennis.”