WIMBLEDON – A year ago at Wimbledon, 16-year-old Denis Shapovalov had to go through the qualifying to reach the boys' singles draw.
A year later, with a ton of match wins at both the junior and pro levels under his belt, the 17-year-old version went all the way.
Shapovalov defeated No. 7 seed Alex De Minaur of Australia 4-6, 6-1, 6-3 to take the boys' title. He came close to doing the double as well; later in the afternoon, Shapovalov and Félix Auger-Aliassime of Montreal, the No. 1 seeds, won the first set of the doubles final before falling to Stefanos Tsitsipas of Greece and Kenneth Raisma of Estonia 4-6, 6-4, 6-2.
Seeded No. 5 in the boys' draw because of his ATP Tour singles ranking, which stands at a career-high No. 374, Shapovalov played some precocious grass-court tennis throughout the week.
A year ago, he lost to American William Blumberg in straight sets in the third round. This year, he beat him routinely in the first round before going on to defeat Mate Valkusz of Hungary, against whom he had been 0-3, in the quarter-finals. He then upset the world No. 1 junior Tsitsipas in the semi-finals and in De Minaur, beat an Aussie with an impressive junior resumé who ousted Auger-Aliassime in the quarter-finals here.
By the time he came in for interviews, after the doubles was over, Shapovalov was already pretty chill.
"Yeah, I was very nervous, to be honest. Started off making a lot of errors in the first couple of games. I managed to break him back at the start, but I got broken once again," Shapovalov said. "Yeah, after I got broken the second time, just told myself, 'calm down a little bit'. Started making some longer rallies. By the end of the first set, I gained my confidence back. I was ready to go in the second."
The All-England Club gives the juniors a great experience in having them play their final on the legendary No. 1 Court – a big court with a lot of history, and a lot of running room. There is always a good crowd on hand, too. But they don't make it easy; the first time Shapovalov and De Minaur hit a ball on that court was in the warmup for their match.
"Before the match, I just went into the stands a little bit, sat there for a couple minutes. But I didn't get a chance to be on the actual court which is, yeah, one of the reasons I started off tight," Shapovalov said. "It's very, very difficult. It's completely different. The atmosphere, it's massive. It's a huge stadium, lots of people watching. Obviously it was very nerve‑wracking."
Both De Minaur and Shapovalov have strong legs, but the Aussie is much slighter through the upper body and Shapovalov, whose one-handed backhand is an unorthodox thing of beauty, looks like the stronger kid. And he's played against the adults a lot more. There's a presence about him that only a few of the top juniors have – a confidence that contains a little bit of cockiness, but an even larger dose of confidence.
"It was tough in the first set. I felt like I was late a lot, especially because the way he hits the ball, he hits it very flat. It's different from a lot of players I've been playing," Shapovalov said. "Then in the second, I kind of found that confidence again, started going for shots. When I broke him the first time, at deuce I think I had a backhand pass. I just ripped it as hard as I could hoping it went in, and it did.
"The next point I had an inside‑out forehand. I told myself, 'I'm going to go for it, I don't care if I miss, I'm going to go for my shots.' I went for it, made it, got the break."
By the time the doubles rolled around, Shapovalov was a little short on energy and by 4-2 in the third set, the attention span was going as well. Auger-Aliassime wasn't able to take over the court and make the difference against a very, very good pair. Both duos served and volleyed extensively in the match, which is no longer a given in junior doubles but is a heartwarming sight.
Perhaps he was already looking ahead to Sunday evening's Champions Ball, where the backwards baseball cap that has become his trademark wasn't going to be considered appropriate attire.
"It's funny. Actually Adil Shamasdin, when I went as a hitting partner for Davis Cup, I didn't have a suit. I didn't know what to do. He gave me one. He said, 'Hopefully you're not going to be asking me for a suit this time.' "
The All-England Club is really good at making sure the juniors are suited and booted for the ball. So the hard work for the day was done other than trying to be cool with William and Kate by his side during the presentation in the Royal Box later on.
Shapovalov won't rest long. He received a wild card for the Citi Open in Washington, D.C., which begins in a week, from the owners of the tournament, The Lagardère agency is just one of the many agency suitors who have been approaching Shapovalov and the people around him during the fortnight. He hasn't signed with an agency and gone pro – yet.
His stock and bargaining power just went up a few notches.