'Crazy' 2017 Behind Him, Shapovalov Ready For First Full Year On Tour
The demands of a pro tennis player can be omnipresent. The autographs. The media interviews. The travel. And they can arise at any moment, such as when you're standing outside the Silverball Pinball Museum in Delray Beach after playing arcade games, including NBA Hangtime, with Hyeon Chung of South Korea, ahead of the Delray Beach Open.
“Denis Shapovalov,” a woman says, walking towards you, “can I get a picture of you with my husband?”
Shapovalov kindly obliges, smiling with the gentleman as the woman snaps the photo. The 18-year-old with wavy blonde hair looks as if nothing phases him.
But last year, the travel, the media, the autographs, it all was a little overwhelming for the teenager. During the Asian swing and the European indoor series, the home stretch of the ATP World Tour season in late September and October, Shapovalov became homesick and was physically ill with flu-like symptoms. He was thousands of miles away from home during one of the hardest parts of his first season on tour.
“It was my first really long swing, and it was so far from home,” Shapovalov told ATPWorldTour.com.
Shapovalov, however, said he's learned from the second half of last season. He feels more mature having spent three months on the ATP World Tour and an off-season preparing for his first full year among the best in the world. He's excited to handle the next 10 months.
“I just think I've matured from last season. I was a little bit overwhelmed with all the travel... It's a lot of press. It's a lot of switching hotels every week. Switching countries. You're going through different continents. It's absolutely crazy at times,” Shapovalov said.
“I had some time to sit down with the team and just discuss what I really want to do this year and I've pretty much learned from it. I've learned to deal with all the media stuff, with all the travel, I've learned to embrace it and to enjoy it and that's been the biggest change, I think, for me.”
It was hard to notice, judging by his on-court play, that Shapovalov had any struggles last season. The left-hander introduced himself to the sports world at the Coupe Rogers in Montreal, beating Juan Martin del Potro and then-World No. 2 Rafael Nadal to become the youngest Masters 1000 semi-finalist in the series' 28-year history.
He qualified and then won three consecutive matches at his first US Open, beating then-World No. 12 Jo-Wilfried Tsonga en route. Two months later, Shapovalov was a tie-break away from reaching the semi-finals at the inaugural Next Gen ATP Finals in Milan.
“Last year it was a little bit crazy, being the youngest. But I don't see myself as the youngest anymore. I just see myself as equal to any of these players. I think they see me the same way. I feel like everyone really respects me in the locker room. I feel pretty comfortable on tour. I feel like I can compete with any of the players,” Shapovalov said.
He's shown that confidence this season as well, pushing Tsonga again, this time to five sets before surrending a 5-2 lead in the fifth set of the second round at the Australian Open.
“I had one of my best matches ever against a top player like Jo. It was tremendous tennis from both of us, and I feel like I'm really able to play at the highest level with these guys,” Shapovalov said.
The self-belief also comes from an off-season well spent. The Canadian bulked up everything – his upper body, his core and his legs.
“We spent a lot of time in the gym, out in the field, just working on fitness for the first couple weeks. It was a big priority,” he said. “I feel like all that was improved significantly.”
Shapovalov will have plenty of support during his first full year on tour. He's in Delray Beach with his coach, Martin Laurendeau, his mother, Tessa Shapovalova, who still coaches him, and his physio, Stefano Depirro, who previously worked with Lucas Pouille and Dominic Thiem.
Shapovalov would love to again finish his season in Milan, making a return trip to the 21-and-under event.
“It's a really cool event hopefully I can play it for... however many years I can play it. Definitely looking forward to it,” Shapovalov said.
But, when it comes to his biggest goal for 2018, Shapovalov is concentrated on his maiden ATP World Tour trophy.
“Focusing on winning my first ATP title hopefully and breaking through the rankings even more,” he said, “and if I do have good results I am sure [Milan] will come.”
DID YOU KNOW?
Shapovalov is No. 46 in the ATP Rankings but he has the 16th best the Infosys Serve Rating, 279.2, according to the ATP Stats LEADERBOARDS, powered by Infosys NIA Data.