After a grass season to remember, Denis Shapovalov is relishing the return to hard courts on home soil in Toronto as he gears up for the first ATP Masters 1000 event of the North American swing at the National Bank Open Presented by Rogers.
Shapovalov turned heads in July as he reached his first Grand Slam semi-final at Wimbledon, defeating Andy Murray, Roberto Bautista Agut and Karen Khachanov along the way. He arrives in Toronto back in the Top 10 of FedEx ATP Rankings, equalling his career-high at World No. 10.
The 22-year-old enters his home event as the fifth seed, landing in the same half of the draw as World No. 2 Daniil Medvedev, and could face Olympic medalist Andrey Rublev in the quarter-finals. But after his Wimbledon run, Shapovalov told the media that he backs his chances against any player.
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“I’m super excited, the momentum is great from Wimbledon and I just feel like the past couple of months my game level has improved a couple more steps up,” Shapovalov said in a pre-tournament press conference. “I just feel like a confident player right now, I feel like I’m able to compete with anyone. I feel like I’m becoming a really big threat. Those are definitely super positive things for me.”
The Canadian has certainly proved that he is an all-surface threat in 2021. On clay, Shapovalov pushed eventual champion Rafael Nadal to the limit in Rome, holding two match points before the Spaniard fought his way back. Rather than dwell on the defeat, he bounced back by reaching his first clay-court final the next week in Geneva (l. to Ruud).
“I think it’s always important to back yourself in sports in general, but especially in tennis. If you’re going out in the match and you don’t fully believe you can win, then you obviously don’t have a chance. In this sport, anyone can beat anyone on any given day,” he reflected.
After missing Roland Garros due to a shoulder injury, Shapovalov hit the ground running on the lawns of London. He reached the semi-finals at cinch Championships, and backed it up at Wimbledon as he battled his way into the last four before falling to eventual champion Novak Djokovic.
Shapovalov was left in tears after pushing Djokovic across three very close sets, losing 7-6(3), 7-5, 7-5 to the eventual champion, but he looks back on the moment as a crucial learning experience: he measured his game against the best, and realised that he can go toe-to-toe with them.
“For me, I’ve always backed myself against any player, but especially in that Wimbledon I felt like my game was really at that level to go far and even lift that title,” Shapovalov said. “It was a good feeling. And coming off of that tournament, all the emotion from those two weeks kind of got to me – that’s why I had that reaction [crying] after the match. It was just a combination of everything.”
Into the second round in Toronto with a bye, fifth seed Shapovalov awaits the winner of Sebastian Korda and a qualifier. The Canadian has previously reached the semi-finals in 2017 with victories over Nadal and Juan Martin del Potro, and owns a 8-4 record at the event.