Denis Shapovalov shocked at becoming Canadian No. 1 after Rome opening win over Tomas Berdych

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Denis Shapovalov could not believe it when he was told he will officially become Canadian No. 1 when the new rankings are released next week.

The 19-year-old, who is making his top-30 debut this week in Rome, is enjoying an astonishing rise that began with a semi-final run at the Canada Masters last August, where he toppled Rafael Nadal and Juan Martin del Potro en route.

Shapovalov then made the fourth round at the US Open – his second-ever Grand Slam main draw – and has reached two semi-finals this season, in Delray Beach as well as last week in Madrid, where he became the youngest semi-finalist in the tournament’s history.

His battling 1-6, 6-3, 7-6 (5) victory over 15th-seeded Tomas Berdych on a rainy Tuesday on his Rome debut means Shapovalov will surpass Milos Raonic in the rankings to become the highest-ranked Canadian.

“Oh yeah? Wow. I had no idea. Well, that’s cool,” he said when told about the new milestone he just hit.

“That’s pretty crazy actually. It’s something I’ve wanted to work towards all my life. So to actually do it – I had no idea I was able to reach it. To be able to do that is pretty crazy. Hopefully I could lead the country to Davis Cup victory one day.”

This time last year, Shapovalov was ranked No. 188 in the world. Today he is at 29 and will rise to at least 26 next week.

“It’s definitely happening extremely quickly,” he said of his ascent to Canadian No. 1.

“I had no idea so I’m a little bit in shock. But I’ve worked hard to try to achieve this one time in my career. It’s crazy that it’s come so early but that’s exciting for me. It’s great news, it’s a reason to keep working, keep staying motivated and hopefully I can keep going this way.”

Shapovalov’s rapid progress hasn’t come without its challenges. This year is his first full season on the ATP tour and there are so many firsts he is experiencing.

“I’ve gained a lot of experience. It’s my first full year as a tour player so I’m going to all these new events. This is my first time in Rome. Every week it’s something new for me. It’s extremely fun,” he says.

“Last year at the end of the year when I started traveling to all these ATP events, I got a bit of homesick. First of all I felt like I didn’t belong with these guys. Felt like, yeah I had two good tournaments but I don’t know if my level is there yet.

“So I got homesick, it was a long trip, didn’t enjoy it at all. But after the offseason I sat down with my team and I kind of knew what to expect this season. And with that mindset, I started enjoying it, I started enjoying all the media, everything, going to different cities every week, and to be honest now I’m really enjoying the tour, I’m loving it, and hopefully I could do this for as long as possible.”

Shapovalov next takes on Dutchman Robin Haase in the Rome second round and even though he only ever had one clay-court tour-level match win, his run to the semis in Madrid last week and his success over Berdych on Tuesday is a good sign that he’s finding his footing on the red dirt.

The conditions are considerably different between Madrid and Rome, and the turnaround was quick for Shapovalov, who played the semis in Spain on Saturday and opened his campaign in Italy on Tuesday. He barely had time to practice and he had to share a court with Jelena Ostapenko on Monday.

“I wasn’t tired. I just couldn’t find my footing in the first set,” he explained. “The clay is so different here. I haven’t had really a chance to practice alone on a court so couldn’t really get my timing.

“I just kept fighting, kept competing and I’m really happy I got to turn the match around. I just told myself, ‘Look I had a great week last week, try to find that game that you played, that confidence you have in yourself. I did a good job at just staying positive and keep on fighting. I’m really happy I got the win.”

SHAPO’S RISE

March 2017 – Reaches first Challenger final and wins the title in Drummondville
July 2017 – Wins Gatineau Challenger
August 2017 – Defeats Nadal and Del Potro en route to becoming the youngest Masters 1000 semi-finalist in history in Montreal
September 2017 – Reaches US Open fourth round as a qualifier
October 2017 – Cracks top-50 for the first time
May 2018 – Reaches second Masters semi-final and becomes youngest semi-finalist in Madrid history
May 2018 – Cracks top-30 for the first time
May 2018 – Becomes Canadian No. 1

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