02:13 PM GMT October 03, 2018
When #NextGenATP Canadian Denis Shapovalov walked on Arena 1 at the Rakuten Japan Open Tennis Championships 2018 to play former World No. 3 Stan Wawrinka, it was more than a tennis match; it was a dream come true.
With his best friend, Shapovalov watched Wawrinka win his three Grand Slam titles. The Swiss was the type of player Shapovalov wanted to be one day. And on Wednesday, the 19-year-old beat Wawrinka 4-6, 6-1, 6-3 to reach the quarter-finals in Tokyo.
“It didn’t even hit me until I walked on the court with him and he was on the other side and I couldn’t help but almost smile in a way. It kind of got to me, I got a little bit tight but I refocused and I thought to myself, ‘Okay it’s not Stan’,” Shapovalov said. “ It was great to be on the court with him. It’s a dream come true. But it’s one of those memories I’m never going to forget. It’s one of those 'what you live for' moments. It’s a great day today.”
But for a moment, it seemed that dream wouldn't have a fairytale ending. Shapovalov held three match points on Wawrinka’s serve as he led 5-3 in the third set. But those soon disappeared, including one match point on which the left-hander missed a swinging volley with nearly the entire court open.
“I went for a little bit too much, but that’s something I’ve been working on especially the past couple of weeks, just regrouping, refocusing myself and not letting it bother me,” Shapovalov said. “I had my service game and he played a really good first point. But again I didn’t let that affect me. I refocused, went back to the towel and managed to serve some big serves, so I’m really proud with that aspect today.”
Shapovalov missed out on a fourth match point on his own serve, but he closed out the thrilling victory after one hour and 50 minutes. Instead of crumbling, the 2017 Next Gen ATP Finals qualifier rose to the occasion to earn his 33rd tour-level match win of 2018.
“It’s a sport, it’s a game of tennis, people get tight. It’s normal. We’re all human,” Shapovalov said. “I’m sure even the best in the game get tight so it’s just about managing your emotions and regrouping, which I did really well today.”
He wasn’t the only Canadian to advance in Tokyo on Wednesday, as No. 6 seed Milos Raonic beat home favourite Yosuke Watanuki 6-3, 7-6(2) in one hour and 24 minutes.
The home favourite Watanuki, a qualifier, claimed his first ATP World Tour win against Robin Haase in the first round. But Raonic was too strong on serve, losing just eight service points in the match. The three-time finalist will continue pursuing his maiden title here when he plays in-form Daniil Medvedev.
The Russian ousted fellow qualifier Martin Klizan 6-4, 6-3 in one hour and 23 minutes. Medvedev won his first two tour-level titles this season, triumphing in Sydney and Winston-Salem.