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Denis Shapovalov is making history at Rogers Cup

Tennis

Denis Shapovalov is making history at the Rogers Cup

Denis Shapovalov of Canada reacts after defeating Rafael Nadal of Spain (not pictured) during the Rogers Cup tennis tournament at Uniprix Stadium.

After knocking off world No. 2 Rafael Nadal at the Rogers Cup on Thursday night, all eyes are on the teenage tennis phenom from Richmond Hill

The "burden of Canada" that Eugenie Bouchard spoke of earlier in the week at the Rogers Cup has been placed squarely on the shoulders of Denis Shapovalov. The teenage tennis phenom seems to be handling the load just fine.

While Bouchard was speaking of up-and-comers on the women's side of the draw, there is no question Shapovalov is this week carrying the torch for all Canadian tennis players – male and female – after his upset of world No. 2 Rafael Nadal in Thursday's round of 16 in Montreal. With Bouchard and leading Canadian men's player, Milos Raonic, both eliminated, it is safe to say all eyes are on Shapovalov.

The win Thursday makes the teenager from Richmond Hill, Ont., the youngest Masters series quarter-finalist of all time, and the youngest Rogers Cup quarter-finalist since Bjorn Borg in 1974.

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After dropping the opening set to Nadal, who, with Andy Murray's withdrawal from the W&S Open next week could soon become world. No. 1, Shapovalov stormed back to win the second and third sets 6-4, 7-6 (4).

It was his second upset in as many days. On Wednesday, the 18-year-old knocked off former top-5 and 2009 U.S. Open champion Juan Martin del Potro. He'll face the Frenchman Adrian Mannarino, world No. 42, in Friday evening's contest. Mannarino defeated Raonic earlier in the tournament.

Among Shapovalov's supporters this week has been hockey great Wayne Gretzky and Canadian Olympic swimmer Penny Oleksiak. Gretzky has been courtside for all of Shapovalov's matches, and said he believes the Canadian left-hander has what it takes to be a superstar athlete.

"The great athletes want to be at centre stage. They want to play out here and be under that microscope," Gretzky said during a television broadcast. "I think he has ice in his veins and I think he's one of those guys who's going to love the pressure and take on that responsibility."

Rafael Nadal of Spain congratulates Denis Shapovalov of Canada for his victory during day seven of the Rogers Cup presented by National Bank at Uniprix Stadium on August 10, 2017 in Montreal, Quebec, Canada.

Who is Denis Shapovalov?

For a thorough explanation, read Rachel Brady's profile from last summer. In a nutshell, he could be Canada's next big thing. Last year he won the junior Wimbledon title before making a name for himself by offing the 11th-ranked, Australian Nick Kyrgios, in the round of 64 at the Rogers Cup.

He is the son of Tessa and Viktor Shapovalov, who moved to Canada from Tel Aviv the same year Denis was born.

Tessa runs an academy in Richmond Hill, which opened in 2012. It's where Shapovalov refined his skills after making his way onto the Tennis Canada radar at age 9. By 13, it was clear he'd need a team around him to make it to the next level.

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In 2015, he was Canada's U18 national outdoor champion, and by this time last year, he'd won three Futures titles.

He popped up on the radar again in for less desirable reasons in February, when he was fined $7, 000 for smashing a ball into the eye of umpire Arnaud Gabas during a decisive Davis Cup match, ultimately costing Canada a shot at victory over Great Britain.

What are his chances?

Considering the kind of season Nadal is having (which, going by total points, is better than anyone's, even Roger Federer), anything is possible.

In Mannarino, Shapovalov is facing a 29-year-old left-hander whose 2017 record is 17-18. Mannarino plays his best tennis on a grass surface, where he boasts a .567 win percentage. On hard courts, he's 7-9 on the season and 75-99 for his career.

Shapolvalov's ATP sample size is too small to be a barometer, he has posted a 27-5 record on hard surfaces between his appearances on the Futures and Challenge tours.

Prior to Nadal, he had never faced another lefty at the ATP level. Mannarino's career record against southpaws, meanwhile, is 17-17.

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