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Rap game puts spin on rise of Israel-born Wimbledon semifinalist Shapovalov

Canadian star, who faces a tough challenge against defending champion Djokovich, is all about the beat, both on and off the court

Denis Shapovalov celebrates after defeating Spain's Roberto Bautista Agut during the men's singles fourth round match on day seven of the Wimbledon Tennis Championships in London, on July 5, 2021. (AP Photo/Alberto Pezzali)
Denis Shapovalov celebrates after defeating Spain's Roberto Bautista Agut during the men's singles fourth round match on day seven of the Wimbledon Tennis Championships in London, on July 5, 2021. (AP Photo/Alberto Pezzali)

LONDON (AFP) — Denis Shapovalov once said tennis is a “show,” but he has taken it to another level in also developing a side career in rap music.

The 22-year-old Israel-born star has endeared himself to Wimbledon spectators this year, even if he did beat home star Andy Murray.

“At the end of the day, it’s a show,” he told The Guardian in 2018. “We make money because they come to watch us. So I try to get them [the fans] into the matches and get them going sometimes.”

He has been known to perform rap music after victories — he goes under the name “Shapo” — as he did at Indian Wells in 2019.

He wrote down his lyrics before he beat Marin Cilic, but it is debatable he has done the same ahead of his first Grand Slam semifinal against defending champion Novak Djokovic on Friday.

Shapovalov cites Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal as his two role models, rather than Djokovic.

“Roger’s always given me time,” he told the Guardian. “He’s always stopped and said hello, spent time talking to me. For a guy like him maybe it’s nothing, but for a player like me it’s huge.”

This profound respect has influenced how he has approached playing the game.

“I’ve always tried to model my game on Roger’s, trying to be aggressive, trying to be coming in, playing quick, and I’ve always tried to copy Rafa with my fighting spirit,” he said.

Whether Federer and Nadal have taken to his rap music is another matter, but his song “Night Train” was based around his life as a professional tennis player.

“I’m traveling across the world, seeing new cities every week,” he told the Complex.com website last year. “It’s always on the move. When people are standing still, I’m on that train that nobody is on, or very few people at least.”

Shapovalov — who regards American rapper Eminem as the “GOAT” (Greatest Of All Time) — has also used rap to hit back at critics.

“I say something like, ‘I’m in the ring fighting, while you guys are just chit-chatting outside,'” he said. “Get in the ring and see what it’s like in here before you guys start talking.”

‘Corniest line ever’

Shapovalov has moved on from one of the low points in his career — accidentally hitting umpire Arnaud Gabas in the eye with a ball in a Davis Cup match in 2017.

He admitted he was “ashamed” for his “unacceptable behavior,” which fractured Gudas’s eye socket.

It certainly would have been frowned upon by his Ukrainian mother Tessa and Russian father Viktor. Tessa has been a huge influence on his tennis career and is part of his coaching team.

Having originally moved to Israel from the Soviet Union in the 1990s, Shapovalov’s parents decided to emigrate again in 1999 for Denis and his brother Evgeniy’s safety, this time to Canada.

“We decided to move to Toronto before Denis was one because it was too dangerous to continue living in Israel,” Tessa told The Times of Israel in 2017.

“My parents had a hard life and I respect what they had to do,” Shapovalov himself told TOI at the time.

Canada’s Denis Shapovalov reacts during the men’s singles quarterfinals match against Russia’s Karen Khachanov on day nine of the Wimbledon Tennis Championships in London, on July 7, 2021. (AP Photo/Alastair Grant)

Tessa opened a tennis academy which allowed her to focus on her son and taught him his one-handed backhand.

His parents were not at Wimbledon when he won the boys’ title in 2016, but Tessa has arrived this time, although she gets so nervous during his matches she cannot sit courtside.

“She’s been chilling in the lounge, she’s had enough of tennis,” joked Shapovalov on Wednesday. “She’s watching the matches, but through the livestream.”

However Wimbledon plays out for him, the Bahamas resident will resist ever penning the rhyming lines ‘Denis’ and ‘tennis’ in a rap song, even if he wins.

“I think that would’ve been the corniest line ever,” Shapovalov said.

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