Denis Shapovalov is a Canadian teen who could probably use a new hat, because the portion of the strap that dangles off the hat is at least twice as long as the portion of the strap that is cinched to the hat. He was ranked No. 205 at the start of this year and entered the Rogers Cup last week with little fanfare. Last Thursday morning, he woke up in his friend’s basement, and stared at his friend’s poster of Rafael Nadal. Later that day he would beat him:
Every second of that is worth watching, not just for the shots, but also for the sound of thousands of Canucks losing their shit simultaneously as their boy does the impossible. For reference, this was the last career meeting between Shapovalov and Nadal:
The upset—a galactic, strange, and entertaining one—was not a one-off. Shapovolov had taken down Juan Martin del Potro before that Nadal upset, and then went on to beat Adrian Mannarino after Nadal, and then put up a respectable fight against eventual champion Alexander Zverev too. His game is still raw but he gave us a lot to admire: the one-handed backhand (it’s not dead yet!), the brazen shotmaking from bad positions, the composure but also hot-headed showmanship, and this spinning passing shot that I can’t watch any fewer than a dozen times:
Today he woke up ranked No. 67 in the world. The tour makes no secret of its worry that all household names are closer to 40 than they are to 20; they’re trying their hardest to drum up interest in the younger set so viewer interest doesn’t fall off a cliff. Last week this dang El Shapo fell right into their lap, and right into the conversation about the next generation of top players. He became the youngest man to make the semifinals of a Masters 1000 event since 1990. In all likelihood we will see more of him in the future, and maybe by then his sponsor will have replaced the headwear—although if he’s at all superstitious, he should never take that dumb thing off his head.