PARIS (AP) Denis Shapovalov plopped himself down for his news conference Tuesday after winning his French Open debut, leaned into the microphone and said, ”`Sup?”’
Then he smiled broadly as can be. This was a milestone day in the nascent career of the rapidly rising Canadian teen, who seems as carefree on the court as he is off it, compiling significant victories and praise from opponents in equal doses.
Shapovalov’s first Grand Slam match as a seeded player – he is No. 24 at Roland Garros – became a 7-5, 6-4, 6-2 victory over 59th-ranked John Millman of Australia, thanks in large part to a 32-9 edge in total winners.
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A year ago, not only wasn’t Shapovalov seeded, he didn’t even make the main draw, losing in the opening round of qualifying.
”It’s tough to climb the way I did. It’s been pretty crazy. Even I didn’t expect it,” Shapovalov said. ”I mean, I’m just trying to stay focused. Like I always say, doesn’t matter the week, doesn’t matter the result, I’m always trying to get back on the court and get better. I’m only 19. I have a lot to improve, a lot to learn.”
Asked how he thinks he can get better, Shapovalov began by saying there are so many areas he wants to work on that it could take hours to list them all.
Still, he gave it a try, rattling off various categories: returns, net play, first-serve percentage, using shifts in momentum to his advantage, being mentally stronger.
”To me, it’s kind of positive that today I am where I am, (ranked No. 25), and I feel like I have so much room to improve. For me, it’s motivating,” he said. ”I keep wanting to go forward, keep getting better.”
He began to show signs of what was to come by winning the Wimbledon junior title in 2016. Then, as a qualifier at last year’s U.S. Open, Shapovalov became the youngest man to reach the round of 16 there since Michael Chang in 1989. By October, he had moved into the top 50 in the ATP rankings, the youngest player to do that since Rafael Nadal in 2004.
Against Millman, Shapovalov got off to a slow start in heavy, humid conditions.
Millman led 5-2, then served for the first set at 5-3. He held a set point at 40-30 but missed a backhand. Moments later, another unforced error on that side gave Shapovalov a break, part of a five-game run.
Then, in the second set, Millman went up a break at 2-1 and held for 3-1, before Shapovalov erased that lead, too.
”When he’s confident playing the ball, it’s impressive stuff,” Millman said. ”Denis actually really lifted the level and made me play some really good stuff. At the end of the day, he produced the better tennis when it counted. That’s what the good players do. He keeps doing that, the sky’s the limit.”
Afterward, Shapovalov said he wasn’t worried a bit while trailing.
”I knew, even if I lose the first set, it’s going to be a long match. I’m going to stay there until the last point is played,” he said. ”I stayed pretty calm.”
Shapovalov, who faces 70th-ranked Maximilian Marterer of Germany next, rarely seems rattled during matches.
Seems pretty at ease away from competition, too.
Until, that is, a reporter asked Tuesday how Shapovalov’s French is.
”I can speak a little,” came his reply – in French.
Then, switching back to English, he joked: ”But I’m not really comfortable, especially in a pressroom full of journalists, where they are going to judge me.”
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