Denis Shapovalov kissed a ball — and he liked it.
A honking huge silver tennis ball, the Stockholm Open championship trophy he raised and smooched Sunday. In which was reflected the 20-year-old’s ear-to-ear grin after claiming his maiden ATP Tour title.
He became the first Canadian to win a men’s singles title since Milos Raonic did it at Brisbane in January, 2016. In fact, it was Shapovalov’s first tour final appearance after going 0-for-7 in semifinals until this weekend.
The young man from Richmond Hill didn’t drop a set throughout the tournament, completing his domination with a 6-4, 6-4 win over Serbia’s Filip Krajinovic that included 16 aces.
“I’m definitely super happy and just really proud,” Shapovalov said afterward. “Me and my team have worked really hard to get into this position of lifting a title, so I am really proud of myself and proud of my team right now.”
Though Shapovalov has only been on the big-boy pro circuit for three years, it felt like this title was a long time coming. Since his hello-world moment at the Rogers Cup in 2017, when he stunned Rafael Nadal in three sets to announce himself on the global tennis stage, much had been expected of the lanky blond with the devastating open backhand leap. As a teenager, he hurtled up the rankings, yet tournament hardware eluded him.
BFF Felix Auger-Aliassime, from Montreal, seized the spotlight with his tour debut. Then along came Bianca Andreescu, knocking everybody for a loop with two top-tier titles and the U.S. Open championship belt over Serena Williams last month. (The Mississauga-born teenager got a standing ovation when she stepped to centre ice at Scotiabank Arena on Saturday night to drop the ceremonial faceoff puck ahead of the Boston-Toronto game.)
Shapovalov, despite acquitting himself decently — he has two victories over top-10 opponents on his resumé — has often appeared in danger of being eclipsed in the Canadian tennis firmament, so 15 minutes ago. He’s had his struggles. His career-high ranking of world No. 20, reached this past April, dipped to No. 34 by the time he arrived in Stockholm. He’ll crack the top 30 again in the next rankings.
This, as Shapovalov had declared back in February, was his goal for 2019 — breaking his tour maiden. “Definitely winning an ATP final is my first priority, my biggest priority.”
Done. In the same week he formally booked his place for the Next Gen ATP finals, which get underway Nov. 5 in Milan featuring the best 21-and-under studs this season plus one wild card. They’re part of a growing group that has been knocking on the majors door for what seems like ages, ears pinned back by the ageless Big Three of Nadal, Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic.
Shapovalov, in a recent interview, was rather sassy about that, predicting the holy tennis trio predominance is on its last legs. “I’m sure that next season there are going to be a lot of upsets. Obviously the Big Three, they’re still playing well. But I think sooner or later, we’re going to dethrone them.”
The still thriving legends of tennis must have loved that. Yet there is considerable validity to Shapovalov’s brash forecast. Stockholm marked the 15th first-time tour level champion of the year, the most since 1999. Yes, the landscape is shifting, at least in tour topography if not the majors.
The Stockholm Open is one of the lower tier tournaments on the ATP tour, a 250 (points amassed) compared to the 500 and 1000s. But still. A title is a title. There’s a huge phew attached to it for Shapovalov, who for the first time had to deliver a post-match victor’s spiel. “Uh, I’ll try my best on this stage,’’ he laughed. “I’m not used to giving them.”
He’s a natural ham, though, with loads of personality off the court and tons of athletic style on it. Shapovalov definitely struck a chord with the Swedish crowd, finding just the right words when paying homage to his mom and lifelong coach Tessa.
“This tournament started the year my mom was born, so it has got a great history and it is amazing to be the first Canadian to win it. I have seen all the amazing names up on the board so it will be nice to see my name up there as well.”
He prevailed mostly with ease against the world No. 60 Krajinovic on Sunday, dropping only two points on his first serve while saving the only break point he faced in the 84-minute affair.
Shapovalov’s signature driving backhand was a lethal weapon against Krajinovic, who remains a tour virgin at age 27. That backhand had carried the Canadian through his semi 24 hours earlier against Japan’s Yuichi Sugita, which snapped Shapovalov’s seven-match losing streak against that opponent.
Versus Krajinovic, Shapovalov wasted no time imposing his game in the first set, grabbing it by the scruff of the neck, striking with power off both wings and charging to the net. The pace and variety of Shapovalov’s attacking thrust clearly unsettled the Serb when he was broken in the third game, double-faulting to drop serve.
For his part, Shapovalov served with power and precision in that frame, firing nine aces. The second frame was a bit less tilted as both players had to grind through a series of marathon games early. Shapovalov faced his only break point threat in the fourth game, which went to deuce twice, though the Canadian calmly countered with an unreturnable serve wide.
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“I told myself, as long as I keep taking care of my serve, I will be OK,” Shapovalov told reporters. “In the second set, it was a little bit tough. I had a lot of deuce games on his serves and I wasn’t able to convert. I just kept fighting and stayed patient. Sooner or later, I was able to get the break.”
Shapovalov controlled the points thereafter, deploying a wicked forehand to break Krajinovic for a second time at 4-4, then closed out the match to love on his first championship point opportunity.
And no more zeroes across the tour title board for the Canadian.