10:24 PM GMT May 11, 2018
#NextGenATP Denis Shapovalov arrived at the Mutua Madrid Open without a clay-court match win on the ATP World Tour.
Yet, five days after taking the court at the Caja Mágica for the first time, the Canadian defeated British No. 1 Kyle Edmund 7-5, 6-7(6), 6-4 to advance to the semi-finals in Madrid, his second appearance in the final four of an ATP World Tour Masters 1000 event (also 2017 Montreal).
"I'm happy again to be in the semi-finals," Shapovalov said. "I never knew when my next time being in a semis would be. I'm more than thrilled to be there. Hopefully I can go even further."
One year ago this week, Shapovalov was the fifth-ranked Canadian, sitting at No. 186 in the ATP Rankings. But if he beats No. 2 seed Alexander Zverev in the semi-finals, he will become the Canadian No. 1 and soar to at least a career-high World No. 22, pending his result in the final. Zverev won their only previous FedEx ATP Head2Head meeting in last year's Montreal semi-finals.
Shapovalov, 19, was already the youngest quarter-finalist in the history of the event, breaking Rafael Nadal’s previous record. Now, he can become the youngest Masters 1000 finalist since 18-year-old Richard Gasquet finished runner-up in Hamburg 13 years ago. If the left-hander goes on to win Madrid, he will become the youngest champion at this level since 18-year-old Nadal won Rome in 2005.
But for a moment, it appeared his opportunity was gone. Shapovalov earned a match point on Edmund's serve at 6-5 Ad out in the second set. The World No. 43 went for glory, taking a big cut at a crosscourt forehand return, but it sailed wide. Then, he showed some nerves in the tie-break against Edmund, making a number of unforced errors to allow the Brit to force a decider.
"As soon as the second set was done, I just told myself that it's in the past, let's just focus on the third, let's focus on every point this set," Shapovalov said. "I'm really proud of myself, the way I handled myself mentally."
Shapovalov showed great maturity, digging in at the beginning of the third set. At 1-1, the Canadian neutralised a first serve and then Edmund eventually missed a backhand long to give up the break of serve. And while Edmund, the recent Marrakech finalist and 2018 Australian Open semi-finalist, showed top-tier shotmaking ability, he was unable to maintain enough consistency in the decider, missing too many balls in an attempt to keep Shapovalov from taking control of the point.
"We have a really, really similar gamestyle. We both go big on the serves. We both love to dictate with the forehands. It's tricky to play Kyle. When he's on, I'm not seeing the ball at all," Shapovalov said. "I feel like every time we play, we have a thriller match. It's fun to be on the court with him."
When the Canadian earned another chance to close out the biggest clay-court match of his career, he made no mistake, holding to love with four sliding serves, finishing it off with a clean ace out wide.
Did You Know?
This time last year, #NextGenATP Canadian Denis Shapovalov was in the midst of a six-match losing streak, with none of those matches coming at tour-level.