Israel-born tennis star shines at the US Open
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Israel-born tennis star shines at the US Open

Making his Grand Slam debut at 18, Denis Shapovalov is through to fourth round and garnering attention for his expressive playing style

Denis Shapovalov of Canada reacts after scoring a point against Adrian Mannarino of France in day eight of the Rogers Cup at Uniprix Stadium on August 11, 2017 in Montreal, Quebec, Canada. (Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images/AFP)
Denis Shapovalov of Canada reacts after scoring a point against Adrian Mannarino of France in day eight of the Rogers Cup at Uniprix Stadium on August 11, 2017 in Montreal, Quebec, Canada. (Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images/AFP)

So, Denis Shapovalov, do tell: It can’t really be the case that 18-year-olds like yourself never get tired, right?

“No, it’s true. We don’t,” the Tel Aviv-born Canadian joked Friday after becoming the youngest man to reach the US Open’s fourth round since Michael Chang in 1989.

Shapovalov needed to go through three qualifying matches just to get into the main draw at Flushing Meadows, so he has played a half-dozen times in an 11-day span.

“It’s been a long ride,” said Shapovalov, who was born in Israel to Russian parents and moved to Canada as a baby. “It feels like I have been here a month already.”

Denis Shapovalov, of Canada, returns a shot from Kyle Edmund, of Great Britain, during the third round of the U.S. Open tennis tournament, Friday, Sept. 1, 2017, in New York. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

There will be a first-time Grand Slam finalist at the US Open now that 2014 champion Marin Cilic exited in the third round — and the entertaining-on-court, engaging-off-it Shapovalov is one of those who still have a shot at getting that far.

Just 2 1/2 months after his runner-up finish at Wimbledon, the No. 5-seeded Cilic bowed out with 80 unforced errors in a 4-6, 7-5, 7-5, 6-4 loss to No. 29 Diego Schwartzman of Argentina.

Not much later, Shapovalov advanced when Kyle Edmund of Britain stopped playing in the fourth set because of an injured neck.

“It’s never great to win this way,” Shapovalov said. “Hopefully, it’s nothing too serious.”

Neither he nor Schwartzman had ever been to a major’s fourth round before, nor had another of the afternoon’s winners, 35-year-old Paolo Lorenzi of Italy, who actually began his Grand Slam career with an 0-13 record.

As it is, Cilic was the only owner of a major title on the entire bottom half of the draw when the tournament began.

“That’s right: A few surprises and lots of withdrawals,” Schwartzman noted. “This is the moment to take advantage.”

That part of the bracket originally included three-time Grand Slam champion Andy Murray, but he withdrew because of a hip injury, part of a depleted-at-the-outset field also missing Novak Djokovic, Stan Wawrinka, Kei Nishikori and Milos Raonic.

“It’s kind of a transition time for the ATP,” Shapovalov said, “but I think there is a lot of talent coming up.”

Rafael Nadal of Spain congratulates Denis Shapovalov of Canada for his victory during day seven of the Rogers Cup at Uniprix Stadium on August 10, 2017 in Montreal, Quebec, Canada. Denis Shapovalov of Canada defeated Rafael Nadal of Spain 6-3, 4-6, 6-7. (Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images/AFP)

His next opponent is No. 12 Pablo Carreno Busta, the highest-seeded man remaining in that half. The Spaniard earned a spot in the US Open’s fourth round for the first time by easily eliminating Nicolas Mahut 6-3, 6-4, 6-3. Carreno Busta will be the first man at any Grand Slam tournament in the Open era, which began in 1968, to face four qualifiers.

No. 17 seed Sam Querrey is the only American man left after beating Radu Albot of Moldova in four sets. He will face No. 23 Mischa Zverev, who eliminated 10th-seeded John Isner 6-4, 6-3, 7-6 (5) on Friday night.

Shapovalov is an up-and-coming player who won the Wimbledon junior title just last year. He made his Grand Slam main-draw debut there this July, losing in the first round, but has taken significant strides since.

At Montreal last month, he became the youngest man ever to reach the semifinals at a Masters event, and he grabbed attention this week by knocking off No. 8 seed Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, a finalist at the 2008 Australian Open.

He was born in Tel Aviv to parents who had immigrated from the former Soviet Union in the 1990s. Shapovalov’s mother Tessa, who has also been his coach for much of his budding career, is Jewish and his father is Greek Orthodox.

Tessa competed in tennis tournaments in Israel and coached Israeli youngsters while she was there. Denis’s older brother Evgeniy was born in Israel as well.

“The month of August,” Shapovalov said, “has been absolutely life-changing for me.”

He is a crowd-pleaser, someone who plays a fluid, aggressive game featuring a big lefty forehand and a one-handed backhand — and he shows plenty of emotion while he’s at it. He also plays wearing a baseball cap with its band tightened to an extreme degree, drawing plenty of attention on social media.

“I have a small head,” he said with a smile. “It’s just kind of become a little bit of my trademark.”

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