Israeli-Canadian teen's shock victory knocks Nadal out of Rogers Cup
Minas Panagiotakis (GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA/AFP)
Israeli-Canadian teenager Denis Shapovalov shocked top seeded Rafael Nadal to reach the quarter-finals of the ATP Montreal Masters tournament, temporarily spoiling the Spaniard's chances of returning to world number one.
Shapovalov was born in Tel Aviv after his parents emigrated to Israel from the former Soviet Union. He moved to Canada as a baby.
The 18-year-old continued his giant killing form at the hardcourt tournament by rallying to stun Nadal in three sets 3-6, 6-4, 7-6 (7/4) on Thursday.
"I was just swinging for the fences," said Shapovalov, who needed a wild card to get into the tournament.
The 31-year-old Nadal would have returned to No. 1 in the world if he had reached the semi-finals.
But Nadal struggled to get the ball to Shapovalov's backhand and didn't have an answer for the Canadian's blistering forehand winners.
Nadal described it as the worst loss of the season for him for a number of reasons.
"Worst loss of the year because I lost against a player with a lower ranking," Nadal said. "At the same time because of the opportunity I had to get back to Number One."
Shapovalov's biggest win of his young career against the 15-time Grand Slam winner came as a result of some inspired tennis in front of a boisterous home crowd who cheered his every shot.
"He won. It is an amazing for him. It is a great story. I am not happy to be part of this story," Nadal said.
Last year Shapovalov's mother, herself once a promising tennis star, relived the family's period of migration from the crumbling Soviet Union in an interview with the Globe and Mail newspaper.
“We liked Tel Aviv, but I felt it was dangerous there for the boys, so we left for Canada in 1999 right after Denis was born,” Tessa Shapovalova told the newspaper. “We came from Israel to Toronto with two little ones, and we didn’t know anyone. I barely spoke English; Viktor not at all. Two weeks after we arrived, I got a job teaching tennis.”
“As soon as Denis grabbed a racquet at age 5, I couldn’t move him off the court – he played with big kids, little kids, anyone,” said Shapovalova. “I used to say to my older son at the end of the day, ‘Want to hit with me?’ and often he was tired after a long day and didn’t want to. But Denis would say, “Me, I will Mom.”
Shapovalova was on the Soviet Union's national team in the years before they left, and said the Denis was fascinated by her collection of trophies.
Shapovalov, who is ranked 143rd in the world, quickly got on a roll in Montreal, beating Brazil's Rogerio Dutra Silva in the opening round 4-6, 7-6 (10/8), 6-4. He then defeated former US Open winner Juan Martin Del Potro in the second round in straight sets 6-3 7-6 (7/4) to set up the showdown with Nadal.
Shapovalov fell behind 3-0 before winning seven of the final eight points of the third set tiebreaker. He closed out the match with a forehand winner down the line and celebrated by falling onto his back then covering his face with his hands.
Nadal easily won the first set but couldn't put the free-swinging Canadian away with a second set victory.
The third game of the second set lasted 14 minutes with Shapovalov finally holding serve when Nadal's volley sailed into the net. Shapovalov managed to win the game despite double faulting three times.
"Was it only 14 minutes?," Shapovalov asked. "It felt like three hours.
"I just kept fighting. I knew it was going to be really tough. I went for my shots in the big moments and I caught a couple of lines got a little bit lucky."
Shapovalov said he didn't think he had a chance to win at all before the match. It wasn't until he levelled the sets at one each that he realized he could beat the 10-time French Open champion.
"The whole day I was like - there's no chance. I will go and have fun but there is no way I am beating this guy," Shapovalov said.
"I went up a break in the second set early and even though he broke me back I felt like - OK, I am capable of breaking him.
"So when I won that second set I thought let's go one more set and who knows, anything can happen."
Shapovalov blasted a total of nine aces. He also had seven double faults and won 67 percent of his first serve points.
"It is incredible. I can't even talk right now. I grew up watching Rafa so just to be able to compete with him is one thing but to come out winning is a dream come true for me."
Nadal won 77 percent of his first serve points, but had just two aces and six double faults in the two hour, 45 minute center court match.
This is a setback for Nadal in the buildup to the US Open starting August 28 but he still has a chance to regain No. 1.
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