Shapovalov Reveals How Heartbreak Turned To Laughter After 2018 US Open Felix Battle
After the US Open singles draw came out on Thursday afternoon, Denis Shapovalov texted fellow #NextGenATP Canadian Felix Auger-Aliassime to let his good friend know that for the second year in a row, they’d be facing one another in their Flushing Meadows opener.
“That’s how he found out, actually. I just made a joke. He was like, ‘Are you serious?’ I’m like, ‘Yeah, man!’” Shapovalov said. “I’m like, ‘Yeah, I think we’re going to be playing each other for the rest of our lives here.’ Regardless if we’re both seeded [in the future], it doesn’t matter. They’re going to put us first round.”
A year ago, Shapovalov was in the stronger position of the two, seeded 28th, whereas Felix was ranked outside of the world’s Top 100. The 2016 US Open boys’ singles champion, Auger-Aliassime was pursuing a breakthrough. And it appeared he might have gotten his shining moment under the lights in New York, where he took the second set from Shapovalov.
But instead of a tremendous victory, heartbreak followed. A reoccurring heart condition forced Auger-Aliassime to retire in the third set. And instead of both #NextGenATP stars walking off the court full of pride, they emotionally embraced on Shapovalov’s side of the court.
“It was a very difficult moment I think for both of us, obviously more for him. [It was his] first time qualifying for a Grand Slam, playing a fellow Canadian that he grew up against and going out like that, it was pretty tough. It was pretty emotional,” Shapovalov said. “Obviously right after the match I went to see how he was doing and I talked to the team and they said he’s a lot better, his heart is just going down, his heart rate.”
That wasn’t the last the friends — or for the day, opponents — would see of each other that day, though. It’s not often that opponents spend quality time with each other later in the day after they compete against one another, but that was the case last year.
“A couple hours later I was getting treatment at the hotel, we were staying at the same place, so I just said come on over and we just started laughing about it. [We were] just talking, the tennis part of it was gone and we were just able to be friends in that moment,” Shapovalov said. “I thought it was actually an amazing moment because you go from something so traumatic and so scary to a couple hours later we were joking about it like it’s nothing and we were back to being good buds.”
This time, they will hope to let their tennis define the moment. Auger-Aliassime has rapidly risen the ATP Rankings this year, earning the 18th seed here in New York, setting up for a tantalising first-round encounter, even if they’d prefer not to play one another immediately.
World No. 33 Shapovalov made sure to note that this is not a unique situation, though. Stan Wawrinka and Grigor Dimitrov have played in the first round of four tournaments since Wimbledon last year.
“Honestly it is what it is. It happens a lot,” Shapovalov said. “It’s unfortunate to play a guy from the same country so early in the tournament, but I honestly just treated it as any other match. I think I’m playing well and I’m really looking forward to it. I think I’m coming in here in good shape and regardless of who I play I knew it was going to be tough. Honestly the draw could be tougher. I could be playing Roger or Novak in the first round. So I’m looking at it in a positive way as well. It’s definitely going to be a tough one, but a really exciting match.”
One difference this year is that Shapovalov has a new voice on his side. The lefty began a trial at last week’s Winston-Salem Open with former World No. 8 Mikhail Youzhny.
“I think so far he’s helped me a lot,” Shapovalov said. “Tennis-wise, too, but I think mentally speaking, I’ve talked a lot with him and just having that player opinion. He’s gone through so much in his career, it’s perfect to have him alongside with me.”
Auger-Aliassime once showed Shapovalov a screenshot of when the latter won one of their junior matches 6-0, 6-0. But Tuesday’s popcorn match of the day figures to be a thrilling affair, between two friends and tough competitors.
“It’s definitely a tough matchup. In terms of tennis-wise, he’s been playing unbelievable all year, all season, so it’s definitely a tough one. But I managed to pick it up the past couple weeks, especially in Winston-Salem,” said Shapovalov, who made the semi-finals at that ATP 250 tournament. “I think it was the perfect call to go get a couple matches in. I feel pretty confident, pretty ready and it’s going to be a great match.”