Kelly: Shapovalov’s sudden stardom has expectations soaring

After he had lost his fourth-round match in the U.S. Open on Sunday afternoon, the crowd at Arthur Ashe Stadium gave Denis Shapovalov a lengthy standing ovation.

Shapovalov isn’t American. He’s got no pedigree. It’s quite probable that until five days before, none of those people knew his name.

Sunday’s encounter was not a wildly entertaining match or a significant one. There was no great reason for the viewer to salute him in such a manner.

But somehow, Shapovalov transferred the world’s toughest tennis audience in some indefinable way. He has been in New York for less than two weeks, and he owns the town.

That is a new one for us.

In the past several decades, Canadian tennis has been consistently great. Directed by Milos Raonic, the bar was set only short of a significant title. It’s been a terrific run, but it’s generated very few real highlights. It has an extremely workaday feel.

In the period of a week, Shapovalov upended that order. What he was able in New York — which makes the Round of 16 in a Grand Slam — Raonic has done 14 times. Shapovalov made it look as though it had been the first time it had occurred to us.

He is giving Canadian tennis (and possibly tennis, full stop) what it lacked — fashion. Shapovalov is the kind of player everyone wants to see.

“He went to the summer as Denis,” analyst Chris Evert said afterward. “He is coming out of it as a celebrity. A rock star, out there.”

It’s tough to encapsulate how impressive and unexpected that this is. This is a child who hasn’t won nothing, but also done almost nothing.

Spanish journeyman Pablo Carreno Busta, the No. 12 seed, beat the Canadian 7-6 (2), 7-6 (4), 7-6 (3) on Sunday. The three-hour game was the longest of Shapovalov’s pro career.

Shapovalov’s prize cheque — $253,000 (U.S.) — represents over half of his lifetime earnings. Just about everything that happens to him is a private first.

Yet, by Sunday, Shapovalov was the bookies’ fourth favorite to win the championship — 13 to 1 — before more established players, like the world’s eighth-ranked participant, Dominic Thiem and Wimbledon semi-finalist Sam Querrey.

Even when you’re enjoying the hell out of it, you are going to admit it is all a bit silly.

It is happening so fast, it is already becoming (somewhat) creepy. Nobody cared at all about Sunday’s winner — a genial, plodding participant in the ‘Generic Euro’ mode. Every iota of postmatch attention went into the defeated Canadian.

He had been asked if Canada would consider sharing him with the United States — “We are desperately looking for a young, charismatic, long-haired man with a excellent flowing backhand.”

(I have a terrible feeling that is how we used to seem to the rest of the world. Here’s another reason it’s great to finally be great.)

Can you imagine someone saying something like that to Raonic? You can’t. He is too concentrated, too stiff, too severe — off the court in addition to on it. But Shapovalov did not blink.

The 18-year-old isn’t yet a gifted raconteur, but he is guileless.

Many pro-athletes have a brain-mouth filter — which half-second of blank stare during which their replies are being conducted through internal applications designed to make everything that comes out dull.

Shapovalov does not have that. You just know he’s telling you the first thing that pops into his mind. He did not deflect when asked if he had time for 2 federal girlfriends. He grabbed hold of the query with alarming earnestness.

He told a story about being approached by a hyperventilating enthusiast in Central Park a few days ago. He mimed the child’s surprise and dread, hands waving around, said he could not speak “because he was shaking so much{}”

“Moments like this are why I grew up wanting to play tennis,” Shapovalov said. “I wish to attempt and change the sport.”

Folks connect to that type of aspiration. The majority of the best-loved male tennis stars — from John McEnroe and Jimmy Connors to Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer — have been pretty ordinary people living inside extraordinary bodies. They have never lost their ability to project how lucky they believe. Their characters are an extension of the matches.

Shapovalov is in that tradition — his on-court strategy is one of untamed, continuous max-effort ambition, while his off-court demonstration is one of wide-eyed, “Can you think this is really happening to me?!” zeal. The 2 things complement each other well.

However, he’s still remarkably callow.

He could have — probably should have — won Sunday’s match. However, where Busta was methodical and unflappable, Shapovalov was flighty and erratic. After breaking his opponent in the first set, the teenager took a game off. The momentum slipped from his hands. He never completely got hold of it {}.

He was the better player, which, in tennis, frequently does not matter. If the abilities are equally matched, the smarter player wins every time. Busta did not conquer Shapovalov with his shots. He did it with his expertise.

There is no shame in it. In actuality, it might have been the best thing for Shapovalov. There is only so much you are able to deal with the first time out without producing an unrealistic expectation. This conduct was already stretching the limits of the idea.

Shapovalov has been blessed in several things, but most importantly in his time. The U.S. Open marks the successful end of the tennis season. The spotlight won’t completely return on him until five months from today in Melbourne, Australia.

Within a couple of days, Shapovalov will jump up the rankings. He will land in the area of 50th in the world.

Next year, he will not have to be eligible for Grand Slams. But they will continue to be new. He has never played in the Australian or the French Open. He has never been a someone at Wimbledon. He’ll be now. He is in the long moment where a torrid introduction can be transformed into international fame.

You could mount a credible argument that the past month has turned into Shapovalov into one of the most popular players in all of tennis.

Now, all he has to do is prove to all the people standing and cheering they’re right.

Courtesy: The Globe And Mail