Young tennis star shines at Rogers Cup

Denis Shapovalov at the Rogers Cup. VIDAL KESLASSY PHOTO

Junior Wimbledon boys tennis champion Denis Shapovalov of Richmond Hill, Ont.proved that he is ready to compete with the top tennis players in the world.

Before a partisan crowd of 8,000 fans at the recent Rogers Cup tournament that took place at the Aviva Centre at York University, Shapovalov upset the 11th seeded Nick Kyrgios of Australia 7-6 (2), 3-6, 6-3 in only his second match on the ATP men’s pro tennis circuit.

“Nick is an incredible tennis player, top 20 in the world, maybe even future No.1 in the world, so, obviously, I did not expect to win. I just go in and fight for every point. That’s what I did. The outcome was very good,” said Shapovalov, 17, who played the best match of his young career..

Shapovalov serves left and beat Kyrgios with 12 aces, with a final ace to close out the memorable match.

“I loved playing on the big stage. The win was a lot of fun for me.”

His opponent praised Shapovalov. “He has a great future. I am looking forward to seeing how he is going to progress,” he said after the match.

Although Shapovalov went on to lose in his second round Rogers Cup march 6-4, 6-3 against Bulgarian Grigor Dimitrov, he left a strong impression on other tennis pros, including top Canadian Milos Raonic.

“I think Denis has a very bright future. He is much further on in his development than I was at his age,” said Raonic.

Shapovalov is the word’s No.2 ranked junior player and, with his win over Kyrgios, escalates his ATP pro ranking to No. 291, becoming the youngest pro tennis player to be ranked within the top 300.

He also is the first Jewish Canadian to have advanced to the second round of the Rogers Cup since Jesse Levine of Ottawa in 2013.

Along with winning the boys singles title at Wimbledon last month, Shapovalov also won the Rogers nationals junior championship at age 15 and was honoured by Tennis Canada as Junior Player Of The Year in 2014.

Shapovalov is both Canadian and Israeli, having been born in Tel Aviv to his Jewish mother, Tessa Shapovalova, a former top tennis player in the Soviet Union.

“I immigrated to Israel because I am Jewish,”she said. “Although my husband Viktor (Denis’s father) is Greek Orthodox, he was eager to go to Israel as well. I taught and played tennis while we were in Israel,” said Shapovalova.

“We liked Tel Aviv, but felt it was dangerous there for the boys, so we left for Toronto in 1999,” said Shapovalova.

Shapovalova taught tennis for 10 years at the Richmond Hill Tennis Club before opening her own tennis academy,called TessaTennis in Vaughan  She taught Denis the one-handed backhand shot that sets him apart from other young tennis players.

“He is very athletic and I encouraged him to play an aggressive game with the one-handed backhand. His skills have given him outstanding results.

“I have many Jewish children in my academy and have considered having Denis joining the Canadian team for the Maccabiah Games in Israel. Maccabi Canada officials wish to have Denis play for Canada,” said Shapovalova.

Shapovalov won the Junior Davis Cup last year and was coached by Oded Jacob, a former  Israeli now working with Tennis Canada. Jacob developed the careers of Israeli tennis pros Harel Levy, Dudi Sela and Shahar Peer.

Sela and fellow Israeli Amir Weintraub also competed at the Rogers Cup tournament. Sela lost his opening round match to American John Isner 4-6, 6-3, 6-2.

In qualifying, Weintraub defeated Vicent Millot of France 7-6(5), 6-2 before losing to American Jared Donaldson 6-4, 6-3.