As Denis Shapovalov completed yet another U.S. Open victory against a higher-ranked opponent Friday, the TV cameras constantly kept a check on his private box. Seated there, front and centre, was Martin Laurendeau, his coach and Canada's Davis Cup captain. Further down, at the end of the row, was Vasek Pospisil, his Davis Cup teammate, who'd stayed on in New York to cheer on Shapovalov.
But where, ESPN broadcaster Brad Gilbert wanted to know, were Shapovalov's parents in all this giddy success that the young Canadian was suddenly enjoying? His mother, Tessa, had been a fixture beside Laurendeau when Shapovalov went on his stirring run to the semi-final of the Rogers Cup in Montreal last month.
According to Shapovalov, the answer was simple: His father was on vacation in Greece but expected back in North America in the next few days. His mother, meanwhile, was putting in long hours at the family tennis academy in Vaughan, Ont., and couldn't pull herself away – or at least not yet.
"My mom is very dedicated to her club," Shapovalov explained. "She's been there, working with the kids. It's a busy time of the year, transitioning from the summer to the fall program, so unfortunately, she hasn't been able to come out. Hopefully, I can force her to come to my fourth-round match."
That seems likely now, given how Shapovalov has moved into the fourth round of a Grand Slam tournament for the first time in his career, after defeating Kyle Edmund of Britain, who retired from the match early in the fourth set with a neck injury.
Officially, it went into the books as a 3-6, 6-3, 6-3, 1-0 (ret.) win for Shapovalov, who next faces the No. 12 seed, Spain's Pablo Carreno Busta, for a berth in the quarter-final.
The victory made Shapovalov the youngest men's player to reach the U.S. Open's round of 16 since Michael Chang in 1989 and the first qualifier to do so since Gilles Muller of Luxembourg in 2008.
And the best news of all is the bottom half of the draw is wide open. Opportunity beckons.
No. 5 Marin Cilic of Croatia was the highest-seeded player in the quarter, having replaced No. 2 Andy Murray of Britain, who withdrew from the tournament with a hip injury. Cilic, the 2014 U.S. Open champion, lost to 29th-ranked Diego Schwartzman on Friday.
If Shapovalov can get past Carreno Busta, his quarter-final opponent would be the winner of the Schwartzman-Lucas Pouille match. Both Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal are in the top half of the draw.
Alexander Zverev, the No. 4 seed, who ended Shapovalov's run in Montreal at the Rogers Cup and eventually won the tournament, has also been bounced from the tournament, leaving No. 10 John Isner as the highest-remaining seed in the bottom half. Isner was scheduled to play a late match on Friday night.
In a year in which Shapovalov's ranking started at 250, the win over Edmund will almost certainly leapfrog him into the top 50, a meteoric rise for the young Canadian who continues to make history as he cuts a swath through the men's tennis world.
John McEnroe, commenting on ESPN, called Shapovalov "the proverbial breath of fresh air that this sport needs, a young man that believes in himself and brings a lot of positive energy.
"This is a really nice boost for the lower part of the draw – to see Denis Shapovalov still involved and into the second week."
Gilbert, a former top-five player, likes to drop nicknames on players and he's taken to calling Shapovalov "Shapstick" – but Twitter seemed to favour "El Shapo" as the nickname of choice for the rising Canadian star, who wears his baseball cap – his chapeau – backward in night matches and forward in the daytime, where the early afternoon shadows create problems for both players.
Shapovalov had split his two previous career matches against Edmund, the first of which was one of the more discouraging moments of Shapovalov's young career. It came back in February at a Davis Cup match in Ottawa against Britain when Shapovalov, in frustration at falling far behind in the match, accidentally fired a ball that hit the chair umpire, Arnaud Gabas, in the eye. Shapovalov was immediately disqualified from the match.
When reminded about the incident before playing Edmund, Shapovalov repeated his apology, but stressed: "I've come a long way since the incident," and then added, "I don't think this match has anything to do with that one."
Shapovalov started slowly and dropped serve twice to lose the opening set. Edmund was the more consistent player, point-in and point-out.
But in the second set, Shapovalov – whose nerve never seems to fail him, whether he's making or missing shots – started to connect with more winners and eventually closed it out with a service winner on set point No. 5 to square the match at one each. Shapovalov won the third set and was up 1-0 in the fourth when Edmund retired from the match.
Shapovalov said he was immediately aware when Edmund's injury occurred.
"In one of the games, on the deuce point, he hit a second serve and I heard him grunt, as if he hurt something," Shapovalov said. "I missed that return, but I saw something was up. Then he called the trainer at that changeover.
"It's very unfortunate, but at the same time, I'm happy to be in the fourth round."
Thus far, Shapovalov has done a good job of keeping expectations manageable, noting that at this stage of his career, every match is a challenge, even the ones he won in the qualifying tournament. Still, in an era when men's tennis has been dominated by the same four players for an eternity, one of its rising stars now has a chance to go on a deep, unexpected run.
McEnroe, for one, saw no reason why that couldn't be Shapovalov, characterizing his coming match against Carreno Busta as "tough, but winnable.
"You get the feeling that there are lot of bigger and better things to come for Denis," ventured McEnroe, "perhaps as early as next week."