Denis Shapovalov, the 18-year-old Canadian hereafter known as El Shapo, achieved something big today: He wore a normal hat without a busted-ass strap.
Also, he won his first match at a Grand Slam.
Shapovalov breezed through a match against 21-year-old Daniil Medvedev at the U.S. Open, 7-5, 6-1, 6-2. The pithiest way I’ve seen Medvedev described is as golden boy Alexander Zverev’s evil twin. The two share the same big frame, Russian origins, style of play, and approximate age, except Zverev is a nice lad who occasionally snaps at reporters, while Medvedev is a rude one who has been penalized for racist behavior and throwing literal money at umps.
Given that El Shapo is a likable shotmaker from a neighboring country who just beat Rafael Nadal in wildly dramatic fashion, the crowd’s loyalties were not too difficult to predict. It helps that his gameplay, full of one-handed backhands and thorny shot-making, is easy on the eyes.
I saw Shapovalov fill bleachers to full capacity at an early-round qualifying match Thursday, rare pull for someone who still has to fight his way into the main draw. I saw a tennis coach meticulously videotaping his forehand, convinced it was the stroke of the future. There’s buzz around him, and thus far it appears to be justified. He has a nickname; he has acknowledged its existence; he now has a clinical first-round win at major, the kind of thing you see from tested veterans who are ready for the main course. For Shapovalov, who next faces No. 8 seed Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, anything beyond this point is gravy. As the sport’s current giants age out and create openings for the youth, El Shapo looks like a sudden, but altogether welcome addition to the party.