Canadian teenager Denis Shapovalov downed former U.S. Open champion Juan Martin del Potro on a gusty Wednesday at the men’s Rogers Cup.
The 18-year-old Shapovalov took the second-round match 6-3, 7-6 (4).
“He’s my idol,” said Shapovalov of the unseeded Del Potro, who has struggled with injuries since winning the 2009 U.S. Open. “Just to play against him is a huge honour for me.
“But to beat a player of this category, of this talent, is very inspiring for me, a huge confidence boost.”
He advanced to a third-round meeting with Rafael Nadal, the top seed and a three-time Rogers Cup winner. The Spaniard has battled injuries in recent years but is back in the hunt for the world No.1 ranking after winning his 10th French Open title this year.
“He’s another guy I grew up watching,” said Shapovalov of Thornhill, Ont. “I’ve seen him win so many slams.
“Every time I look at him, I think what a ridiculous athlete and what a ridiculous player he is. It’s going to be very interesting for me to go up against him, just to see how my game style matches him. I’m going to try to make the most of it.”
Nadal breezed past Borna Coric of Croatia 6-1, 6-2.
Shapovalov became the youngest player to reach the round of 16 of a Master Series tournament since Nadal in 2004 at Miami.
It likely had mostly to do with Roger Federer playing earlier in the day, but the centre court stands were packed, which is unusual for a weekday afternoon. They threw full support behind the left-handed Shapovalov, who caused a stir at last year’s Rogers Cup by ousting Aussie star Nick Kyrgios.
“I’ve never played in an atmosphere like this,” he said. “On match point, when I hit that double right before it, I mean, my ears almost popped. They were cheering so loud, it was insane. It’s just so much fun to be out there.”
Shapovalov forced an early service break en route to a quick first set, but the Argentine veteran battled back with a break early in the second. Shapovalov kept his cool and the crowd exploded in sound when he forced a tie breaker and finished it off in the second set.
Second-seeded Federer made short work of Toronto’s Peter Polansky, winning 6-2, 6-1 in 53 minutes.
Federer, a two-time Rogers Cup champion ranked third in the world by ATP, has had a surprise resurgence this season by posting his 18th and 19th career grand slam wins at the Australian Open and Wimbledon.
It was his first match of the hard court season that leads up to the U.S. Open.