May 23, 2024

Open Court


Canadian teenager Denis Shapovalov is causing quite a stir at the Rogers Cup in Montreal this week.

And Roger Federer, who often makes it his business to know exactly who’s up-and coming, remembers the 15-year-old kid he first met in Toronto in 2014 very well.

Federer practices with a ton of people. He’s taken so many of these post-practice pics with other players over the years, he probably has forgotten the majority of them even if they meant the world to his practice partners.

But he remembers the practice with Shapovalov distinctly. He told Sportsnet about it in an on-court interview, after his victory over Roberto Bautista-Agut Friday.

“I was there with Edberg. We looked for a hitting partner and this really young kid came out, And when a 15-year-old kid comes out it’s usually, ‘Ohh. It might work out. But let’s hope he’s not too nervous. Let’s hope he serves a big-enough ball.’ He did all these things great already and we were actually quite impressed.

“I watched him last year win junior Wimbledon a little bit on the TV. He’s just fearless. Keeps going for it, and that’s exactly what he did (Thursday) against Nadal. He was mighty impressive. I was really happy for him. It was a tough loss for Rafa, but what an atmosphere – and what a day for Canadian tennis. I thought it was great. He’s got an amazing future ahead of himself.”

(For a ton of archival photos and video of Shapovalov, click here)

That practice in Toronto came ahead of Federer’s final against Jo-Wilfried Tsonga. Which he lost, in straight sets. Unrelated. 🙂

In his press conference later Friday, Federer had more praise for Shapovalov.

“I thought it was a fantastic match (against Nadal). It was exhilarating for the crowd, for the fans watching on TV, for Canadian tennis. That was cool, I’m sure, to watch for a lot of kids – to see you can go beat your hero once if you train hard in your life, stay the course. I thought it was great start to finish.

“I didn’t expect it to be this way. I thought that Rafa was going to win in straights. Denis did a great, great job. Really happy for him. Rafa was all class, he was great. It’s a good night for tennis in some ways.”

Watching at Wimbledon

And, in addition to watching the junior Wimbledon final, Federer also saw some of Shapovalov’s singles semi-final against another up-and-coming kid, Stefanos Tsitsipas of Greece.

(That match sticks out here at Tennis.Life, as well. It was inarguably the finest junior match we’ve ever watched. Truly pro level on the all-court side. Both kids were serving and volleying. Both were chipping and charging. Both have stylish one-handed backhands. Tsitsipas’s rise has been more gradual than some of his more celebrated junior contemporaries. But he’ll get there).

“(Denis) was in all sorts of trouble. Kept going for the biggest shots, forehands, backhands and serves. I couldn’t believe what he was doing. I guess for him it’s somewhat normal for him to do that. Obviously it’s risky. Doesn’t always play off. Playing forward, doing that on Court 4 against a journeyman is a different story than doing it on center court. We all know that,” Federer said. “But not everybody can go up to that level. It seems that Denis has an extra gear. I said this before this win (against Nadal). I like his game. I think he’s going to be a wonderful player. Seems to have a good attitude, too. It was a joy to watch.”

Shapovalov practices with Richard Gasquet of France before Wimbledon last year.

Canadian curse

We sometimes joke about the Canadian practice partner curse. But there might be something to it.

All the way back in 2008, a young junior named Vasek Pospisil was still on site at the Australian Open, because he was in the junior doubles final. Another kid named … Ryan Harrison was supposed to warm up Federer before his semi-final against Novak Djokovic. But he had a scheduling conflict; he was playing in the junior singles semifinal.

So on comes this Canadian guy to fill in during the warmup.

Djokovic beat Federer in straight sets. 🙂

17-year-old Vasek Pospisil (right) and father Milos pose with Roger Federer after the Canadian junior warmed him up for his 2008 Australian Open semi-final against Novak Djokovic. (Courtesy Milos Pospisil)

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