You got served: meet the GTA’s new ten­nis phe­nom

Ju­nior Wimbledon champ De­nis Shapo­valov re­lies on his mom who has been his coach since the age of five

The Kids Post - - Kids -

It’s been a wild year so far for De­nis Shapo­valov. The 17-year-old Rich­mond Hill na­tive has burst onto the ten­nis stage in 2016, sur­pass­ing even his own ex­pec­ta­tions.

Shapo­valov is part of a grow­ing con­tin­gent of Cana­dian ten­nis stars, which in­cludes Mi­los Raonic, Eu­ge­nie Bouchard, Vasek Pospisil and Peter Polan­sky. Shapo­valov, Raonic and Polan­sky all grew up and trained in the north part of the GTA and are con­tribut­ing to a surge in pop­u­lar­ity for ten­nis in the re­gion.

Born in Tel Aviv, Is­rael, to Rus­sian par­ents, Shapo­valov moved to Canada with his fam­ily be­fore he was a year old. He be­gan play­ing ten­nis at age five and was coached by his mother, Tessa, who was a na­tional team player in the for­mer Soviet Union.

In 2012, Tessa opened a ten­nis acad­emy in Vaughan, where De­nis Shapo­valov still trains. Tessa re­mains part of his coach­ing team.

Shapo­valov quickly found suc­cess on the court. After win­ning sev­eral ju­nior ITF ti­tles in 2013 and 2014, he teamed with fel­low Cana­di­ans Félix Auger-Alias­sime and Ben­jamin Sigouin to win Canada’s first ever Ju­nior Davis Cup in 2015. He also de­feated Auger-Alias­sime to claim the un­der-18 Cana­dian na­tional ti­tle. Shapo­valov also won three ITF Fu­tures tour­na­ments in the early part of 2016.

Shapo­valov then had his com­ing out party at Ju­nior Wimbledon. By cap­tur­ing the boys’ sin­gles ti­tle and reach­ing the dou­bles fi­nal, he gave ar­guably the most suc­cess­ful Cana­dian per­for­mance ever at the grand slam event. He be­came just the third Cana­dian to win a ju­nior grand slam sin­gles ti­tle, earn­ing a wild card spot at the Rogers Cup in Toronto for his ef­forts.

De­spite be­ing the youngest player in the tour­na­ment, Shapo­valov stunned his first-round op­po­nent — Aus­tralian Nick Kyr­gios, ranked No. 19 in the world at the time — with a three-set vic­tory in front of a home­town crowd. Sup­port­ers waved a gi­ant cut-out of his head as he hit win­ner after win­ner.

“It’s very hard to ask for some­thing like this,” Shapo­valov says of his suc­cesses in 2016. “It’s ex­cit­ing for me. I haven’t had a chance to re­ally en­joy it yet.”

Shapo­valov couldn’t keep the mo­men­tum go­ing in the sec­ond round of the Rogers Cup, los­ing to Bul­gar­ian Grigor Dim­itrov. Nev­er­the­less, the im­pres­sive run of play has put him on the ten­nis map in Canada, along­side the likes of Raonic, Bouchard, Pospisil and Polan­sky.

“I’ve been look­ing up to them for so many years, so to be spo­ken of with them is very ex­cit­ing for me,” Shapo­valov says.

He plays left-handed with a one­handed back­hand, some­thing that’s rare in young ten­nis play­ers. He con­sid­ers him­self an ag­gres­sive player over­all, es­pe­cially off the serve, but is seek­ing more con­sis­tency in his game.

“I can’t al­ways go for the craziest shots,” Shapo­valov says. “Some­times you have to work the point un­til you get the right shot.”

When he’s not play­ing ten­nis, train­ing or study­ing — Shapo­valov at­tended Stephen Lewis Sec­ondary School in Thorn­hill and now takes classes on­line — he’s a typ­i­cal teenager. He en­joys play­ing video games (NHL, Call of Duty and Bat­tle­field are his favourites) and so­cial­iz­ing with friends.

He en­joys the peace and quiet of his Rich­mond Hill neigh­bour­hood and is quickly be­com­ing a lo­cal celebrity at home.

“Walk­ing around the street, ev­ery­body’s been con­grat­u­lat­ing me.”

Re­cently he had his own starstruck mo­ment, tak­ing part in the Sport­snet Bios­teel Chal­lenge with su­per­star ath­letes Con­nor McDavid, Tyler Seguin, An­drew Wig­gins and Marcus Stro­man. That’s pretty good com­pany.

Ca­reer-wise, the next step for Shapo­valov is mak­ing the qual­i­fiers of the pro­fes­sional grand slam tour­na­ments. His world rank­ing now sits at 291, fol­low­ing the win over Kyr­gios, and Shapo­valov hopes to soon crack the top 200.

“Once ev­ery­thing clicks to­gether, it’s go­ing to be good. With ten­nis, you never know,” he says. “A year ago there was no chance I was ex­pect­ing to be play­ing in a Rogers Cup or win­ning Wimbledon.”

At this rate, it won’t be long be­fore Shapo­valov is a house­hold name in ten­nis. Speak­ing of names, it’s pro­nounced sha-POE-vah-lov; the first two syl­la­bles sound the same as “cha­peau,” the French word for hat. And there’s just one N in De­nis.

Shapo­valov isn’t both­ered much by peo­ple strug­gling with his name.

“Even­tu­ally, they’ll get it right.”

De­nis Shapo­valov’s fu­ture in ten­nis is look­ing bright

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