© Challenger Banque Nationale de Drummondville

Denis Shapovalov's maiden Challenger title in Drummondville propelled him to the Top 200 of the Emirates ATP Rankings.

Challenger Chronicles: Denis Shapovalov

#NextGenATP Canadian writes about his journey rising the Emirates ATP Rankings on the ATP Challenger Tour

As I sat in my hotel room in Guadalajara after my final loss to Mirza Basic, I thought about the missed opportunity of winning my second straight Challenger title. I was exhausted by a long seven weeks of constant travel and tournament play. I missed my family and being home. The grind of the pro tour that I dreamed about all my life had led me to face the reality of what it takes to be here and succeed. 

I talked to my coach Martin Laurendeau, who is also Canada’s Davis Cup captain, and texted my mom Tessa, who has been my coach for all my life through my ups and downs. After a few short sentences of encouragement, they helped put things in perspective. They made me focus on the positives of what I’ve been able to accomplish on the tour in such a short period of time. 

I then texted my sponsor who is now my manager, Andrzej Kepinski, to talk about the match, and I will never forget his response: "Big congratulations, awesome tournament and awesome run leading up to this tournament. You competed and carried yourself like a seasoned pro and you should be proud of yourself”.  With all my supporters being excited for me and my success at reaching another final on the ATP Challenger Tour, I realized that as much as I'm driven to perfection when I play, with my desire to win every point and every match, sometimes I'm too hard on myself.

I started thinking how much I love what I'm doing and how lucky I am to have such great opportunities that tennis brings me. Suddenly, the loss in the final wasn't so upsetting. Mirza played great and deserved to win. I had a dream run of an ITF Futures title and semi-final in early March, which led me to my first Challenger title at home in Drummondville the following week, and then the final in Guadalajara. 

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I reminded myself of my unbelievable run last year, winning Junior Wimbledon, beating Nick Kyrgios at the Rogers Cup and cracking the Top 250 [of the Emirates ATP Rankings], and that the second half of the season was more difficult than I expected in trying to transition to being a full-time pro. The year culminated in an ankle injury that kept me from training and competing for two months. At the time of the injury, I put on a brave face for the world, but deep inside I felt anxious and I lost a lot of confidence. Added to that was the pressure of the new responsibility that came to me by being fortunate enough to sign endorsement contracts with incredible companies like Nike and BioSteel, who put their trust in me. 

Even though all my sponsors came on board telling me that they are supporting me long term and it will take some time to grow into a successful player on the ATP Challenger Tour and eventually the ATP World Tour, I felt the obligation to perform right away; to make them feel they made the right decision sponsoring me. 

Shapovalov

At the beginning of the year, I went to Australia to train for a few Challengers. In Adelaide, I defeated Pierre-Hugues Herbert, which was my second career win over a Top 100 player. This gave me back the confidence and helped me believe that I could compete with the top guys. 

With that win and countless hours of hard work during training, I earned a spot on the Davis Cup team, which is always a huge honour to me. Representing my country has always been a dream to me and being called to a starting team for the first time in my life was a dream come true. That magic moment of playing in front of the sold-out home crowd in Ottawa, against Great Britain, turned into the worst nightmare imaginable in a split second. As those who follow tennis know, in a moment of stress and anger, after being broken by Kyle Edmund in the third set, I tried to hit the ball out of the stadium and unintentionally hit chair umpire Arnaud Gabas in the face. 

The most immediate aftermath is still a blur to me. I was in shock and sick with worry that I injured Arnaud. In the following days, I needed to face up to my stupid action and realized how quickly life can change. I let a lot of people down, including my country, Davis Cup teammates, supporters, and fans. I knew I couldn't undo what happened, so the only thing left was to face my mistake and work on never letting this happen again. I stayed in touch with Arnaud to check on his recovery and he has been incredibly gracious and understanding. I think through this terrible incident we've become friends. I hope that in the future he will agree to umpire one of my matches. 

Shapovalov

As I stayed in my hotel room in Guadalajara, after speaking with my family, my coach, my manager and my friends, it occurred to me again that the Davis Cup incident was probably the most maturing experience for me since turning pro. It made me focus on my game and on the mental aspect of competing, which in turn brought me these latest results. Through it all, I found out who my true friends are and gained new friends as well. It motivated me to work even harder to succeed and just enjoy all these new experiences.

At the time, it was hard to imagine I would be standing with my first Challenger trophy just one month later in Drummondville. I have amazing memories from my time at that tournament. It all started there last year, when I won my first match on the Challenger Tour and reached the semis. To come full circle and win my first title there is very special. The crowd gave me so much energy all week and that experience is something I will never forget, no matter where this journey takes me. I love this game and can't wait to get on the court every waking day. I hope I can compete here for years to come.

Challenger Chronicles I: Amir Weintraub
Challenger Chronicles II: Skupski Brothers
Challenger Chronicles III: Jason Jung
Challenger Chronicles IV: James McGee