NEW YORK – It was going to end, eventually.
For 18-year-old Canadian Denis Shapovalov, the end of the dream run came Sunday, in the round of 16 at the US Open.
The teenager lacked some of his previous spark in a 7-6 (2), 7-6 (4), 7-6 (3) loss to No. 12 seed Pablo Carreño Busta.
As it happens, the Spaniard was – and is – the highest-ranked player remaining in the bottom half of the draw. And so, on paper, he’s the favorite to make the final.
On Sunday, he played a quality, consistent match even while he showed plenty of emotion and bellowed plenty of “Vamos!” along the way.
Shapovalov an Ashe veteran
It’s emblematic of the US Open Shapovalov has had that this was his third consecutive appearance on Arthur Ashe Stadium. For Carreño Busta, 26, a top-20 player and a quarter-finalist at Wimbledon this year, it was the first time in his singles career he’d ever had a rendez-vous on the biggest stage in tennis.
On the other side, the Canadian appeared to finally show the effects of the three extra matches he had to play in the qualifying just to get to the main draw.
“I think I had a lot of chances. I don’t think I played as well today as I have been these past two weeks, but, I mean, that’s tennis. It’s going to happen. I think Pablo played a very great match. He stayed very tough mentally in the big points. Yeah, he just played three tiebreaks that were better than mine. I was up in the first, up in the third. I definitely had my chances. Very disappointed that I wasn’t able to keep my leads,” Shapovalov said.
“But, you know, at the end of the day, it’s tennis. I still have a lot of things to learn. Yeah, so hopefully I can come back and, you know, hopefully one day I can make it further here.”
First set crucial for the kid
Shapovalov was up 5-2 in the first set, and served for it at 5-3. He also had set points at 5-6 on Carreño-Busta’s serve. But he couldn’t put that first one on the board.
And on this day, given how high the odometer had run on his legs and heart, it was crucial.
“At the beginning I was a little bit scared, maybe a little bit nervous. But after, when he broke me, I talk to my coach. I don’t know if he heard me, because there was a lot of noise. But I told to him that I can win the match, but I need to be very aggressive because he plays really good,” Carreño-Busta said. “And I just try to do it. I continue fighting all the times with 5-2 in the first set, with 6-5, 15-40 in the first set.
“And then in the tiebreaks, I just play perfect. I played very aggressive. I served really good. It was very tough, because three hours, three sets, three tiebreaks, but of course it was an amazing victory for me,” he added.
Shapovalov never stopped fighting, or running, or trying. But it was clear that he had none of the same zip that brought him to the middle Sunday.
Energizer bunny runs out of gas
It was in the eyes. All week Shapovalov’s baby blues had been wide open and eager. On Sunday, that spark was gone. He’s a player who expends a whole lot of energy – both physical, and emotional – in every match. That’s something he will learn to manage better with time.
But the fact that he had clearly hit the wall and still took the No. 12 seed to three tiebreaks and nearly three hours speaks well for him.
On his way out, Shapovalov stopped, dropped his bags, and walked to the center of the court to acknowledge the Arthur Ashe Stadium crowd – in much the same way after coming out on the winning end.
“Favorite memory in the past ten days? Honestly, I think it was the sound, the roar of the crowd when I put my bags down and I went to applaud them. Yeah, they were all screaming. It was so loud, and it was a great moment for me,” he said. “It really has a special place in my heart, and, you know, now New York for sure, it will always have a special place for me. Hopefully I can come back here for many more years, and just try to do some damage.”
Unknown a month ago
Carreño-Busta said he hadn’t even heard of Shapovalov until the Rogers Cup in Montreal. There, the Canadian upset Carreño-Busta’s countryman, frequent practice partner and great friend Rafael Nadal.
“I watch him playing against Rafa, and he made unbelievable match. He won really good matches too, not just against Rafa. And in this tournament, he beat Tsonga and other good players. So he maybe is on fire, no? He’s playing with a lot of confidence and he’s very young, so in the future, he will be one of the best,” he said.
Shapovalov leaves New York with another $235,000 in prize money to add to the $220,760 he won in reaching the semifinals of the Rogers Cup.
He’ll be just outside the top 50 when the new rankings come out a week from Monday. And in terms of the rest of the season and the fall Asian swing, that’s a game-changer.
He also leaves having added a whole legion of fans. At some point, that hanging chad on the front of his backwards ballcap is going to become the “Shapo chapeau“.