Is Shapo The New Baseline In Canadian Tennis? Easy Now, Milos Is Still Tops
We have seen the future, and his name is Denis Shapovalov. Okay, that might be an exaggeration, but the emergence of the 18-year-old tennis player on the national consciousness over a few steamy nights in August was enough to get the imaginations of Canadians racing.
To tennis people, Shapovalov is no mystery. He’s been on the radar for a few years now, winning the boys’ title at Wimbledon and notching important victories in other venues. He’d played well going into the Rogers Cup. His pedigree suggests that he should-- injuries withstanding— be a force to be reckoned with for some time.
He’s got game and athleticism. Plus charisma and more than a little fire in his belly— as the Israeli native displayed in dispatching world No. 2 Rafael Nadal plus Juan Martin del Potro in Montreal. He needs to get stronger, to be able to play without his A Game and to be hardened to the rigours of international travel that is competitive tennis.
It would also help if Roger Federer, Novak Djokovic, Andy Murray and Nadal would retire soon to clear the decks for him. But don’t hold your breath on that one.
Naturally the hyperbole machine went full throttle after the Nadal win. Excitable types called it the greatest win in Canadian tennis history, one of the greatest wins by an individual Canadian male athlete etc. Perspective please, ladies and gentlemen.
Milos Raonic’s semifinal victory at Wimbledon over Federer is the single greatest win ever by any Canadian tennis player— male or female. He probably has half a dozen wins in other Grand Slam events that rank higher as well— including wins over Nadal, Murray, Federer and a bunch of Top 10 players. Genie Bouchard’s unrepeated march to the Wimbledon final had several epic wins.
For now, Shapo’s win ranks with the exciting-but-unrepeated win by Daniel Nestor over world No 1 Stefan Edberg in the 1992 Davis Cup. Nestor has been one of the greatest doubles players ever in tennis history (he still plays), but he was never able to repeat that glorious tease as a singles star. Shapovalov must prove he’s not a one-hit wonder.
You had to feel sorry for Raonic as people dropped him like a hot potato to board the Shapo Train. The hard-serving Raonic is a fixture in the world’s Top 10, even if his form the past year has been hampered by injury and coaching changes. He has yet to add the final wrinkles to his booming serve game to propel him into the men who win Grand Slam titles.
Plus, where Shapo is all dynamism, Raonic is a steady, meticulous— some would say bloodless— performer. The tall right-hander is never going to be a magnetic player on the court. But that’s how he needs to go about his business. Perhaps the Shapo emergence will be good for Raonic, taking the hot spotlight off him in Canada. Perhaps he’ll function better with less attention in his native land.
For now, it will be fun to see how fast and how high Denis Shapovalov flies.
His dynamic performance was needed for Canadian fans who’d waited with anticipation the medal performances at the World Track and Field Championships in London. Instead, the team that performed so well in Rio was blanked for medals this year— a distinct letdown. This after Canada won 10 medals at the previous WC. Damian Warner’s fifth in the decathlon was about as good as it got.
The problems began when sprinter André DeGrasse— a candidate to win three medals— wrecked his hamstring before the event and had to withdraw. Then a stomach virus felled other performers who were thought to have a shot. Former world champion pole vaulter Barber fell to eighth and defending high jump gold medalist Derek Drouhin wasn’t able to compete at all because of an ankle injury. The list went on.
None of this is uncorrectable. There are still good stories to come; 12 new performers made the top eight. DeGrasse will be back. But London was a sobering reminder that, like Shapovalov, Canadians track athletes will have to learn to follow a big performance with another.
Bruce Dowbiggin @dowbboy.is the host of the podcast The Full Count with Bruce Dowbiggin on anticanetwork.com. He’s also a regular contributor three-times-a-week to Sirius XM Canada Talks Ch. 167. A two-time winner of the Gemini Award as Canada's top television sports broadcaster, he is also the best-selling author of seven books. His website is Not The Public Broadcaster (http://www.notthepublicbroadcaster.com)