LAS VEGAS — (AP) — Denis Shapovalov had that look of someone who was pleased to be playing Wednesday night.
While playing against 16-year-old American phenom Frances Tiafoe in the third round of the Family Circle Cup, the 17-year-old Shapovalov defeated his opponent 7-6 (3), 7-6 (7). And while Tiafoe spent the next few hours sitting in the stands, wondering what might have been in another day, Shapovalov was able to enjoy the moment.
It took 17 days to see the 6-foot-5 Shapovalov in action. That could soon change with Shapovalov’s big-name opponents on the way. This win against Tiafoe was an important stepping stone, but the next seven days will likely feature higher stakes for the British-born Canada native.
He will next play either Kei Nishikori of Japan or 12th-seeded Sam Querrey of the United States.
“The next step is now, I hope, playing a great match against Kei and being able to keep my confidence high,” Shapovalov said. “A loss right now would be a setback.”
Shapovalov qualified for the U.S. Open for the first time last year, but wasn’t invited to the main draw. He spent time working on his game and other aspects of his game at home in Vancouver.
He won the junior French Open title in 2014, but hasn’t had the opportunity to hold the U.S. Open trophy because of the scheduling requirement.
Though the USTA won’t release the men’s main draw, Shapovalov said he expects to play in the tournament.
“I think last year was a good learning experience,” Shapovalov said. “And then (with) this year, I think this is better, just to go in and compete against the guys.”
Tiafoe’s day was cut short after he dropped the first set and had the opportunity to serve for the second.
Tiafoe said he wasn’t too disappointed with the loss, and that the experience of facing Shapovalov was a good one.
“I thought it was good,” Tiafoe said. “I think it’s important to come up against (these) guys. … Obviously, I’m at a younger age than him. He’s more mature than me right now. But I think it’s going to be good for me. … I like seeing what I can do, what I need to work on. It’s nice to see a little less hype, little less expectation. It’s kind of good to see I can just go out there and play my game and compete against him.”
Tiafoe’s time on the ATP Tour was cut short last year when a shoulder injury required surgery. Though Tiafoe saw another opportunity slip away, he said playing early in the year was a big step toward learning what he needs to do moving forward.
“I’m feeling better than last year,” Tiafoe said. “I’m definitely progressing a lot faster. That’s obviously the goal.”
Tiafoe and his coach admitted that Shapovalov’s size is a bit intimidating, but they said that the Dominican player is good at understanding just how different games can be. Shapovalov prefers to play the longer rallies, Tiafoe prefers to play the shorter ones, and both can play power tennis.
“I think in the next tournaments that I play, obviously a lot of tennis to play, so I definitely need to adapt my game to match up and just play every point, play my opponent and understand their game plan,” Tiafoe said. “That’s going to be the key.”