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US Open – Denis Shapovalov becoming known for something other than hitting ump in face with ball

NEW YORK — It was a moment that might have scarred any young athlete — not to mention the umpire involved — but of all the impressive things about Denis Shapovalov, perhaps the most impressive of all is the way he has handled himself since.

The Canadian, then 17, secured his place in tennis infamy in February when he fired a ball in anger during a deciding Davis Cup rubber against Kyle Edmund of Great Britain, his irritation turning to horror and concern after the ball hit umpire Arnaud Gabas in the eye. Shapovalov was disqualified, Canada lost the match and the video of the incident has had more than 1.6 million views on YouTube.

Thankfully Gabas did not suffer any lasting damage, and it is a mark of the character of both the Frenchman and Shapovalov that they have struck up a friendship. Many feared that Shapovalov would never get over that moment, but the teenager has matured quickly, to the point where that moment could perhaps be considered the trigger for his stunning rise up the rankings, from outside the top 250 to No 69.

The 18-year-old’s performances at the US Open single him out as an exceptional talent, even more exceptional when you consider how tough it has been for young players to break through at the top level over the past decade. Together with Alexander Zverev, who already has broken into the top 10, former Wimbledon junior champion Shapovalov is a top rising star of men’s tennis, as he proved in an outstanding straight-sets win over No. 8 seed Jo-Wilfried Tsonga of France in Round 2 at Flushing Meadows.

It’s hard to ever fully escape your past, of course, and so the fact that he will play Edmund again in the third round here Friday will have plenty of people searching for the video of the Davis Cup incident again. However, Shapovalov and Edmund will have their eyes focused only on a place in the last 16. This will be their third meeting, Shapovalov having beaten Edmund at Queen’s Club in June. The Briton feels that Shapovalov has matured as a person and a player since they played Davis Cup.

“In a funny way, I think it’s actually helped him mature because since then he has done good,” Edmund told reporters at Flushing Meadows. “It hasn’t put him down. He has really learned from it and moved forward in a positive way and realized that that behavior is just something he has got to be better at. He has had a good year since then.”

That’s an understatement. Shapovalov won two events on the Challenger Tour, but it was in Montreal, where he was given a wild card into the Masters 1000 event, where he really stepped up a level. Beating Juan Martin Del Potro was impressive, but his victory over Rafael Nadal in the third round was a real statement. It took Zverev to stop him in the semifinals, when Shapovalov eventually ran out of steam.

Shapovalov has never gone five sets, so stamina might be a question should the match go that far. Edmund won his first two matches in straight sets, and having made the last 16 here last year, he clearly likes the surface and the surroundings.

It will be a contrast of personalities and of styles: the quiet, serious Edmund against the flashy, charismatic Shapovalov and the serve and forehand of the Briton against the left-handed Canadian’s all-court game.

“Shapovalov likes to be offensive, likes to move forward, take the ball on,” Edmund said. “He’s been playing well in terms of this run in Montreal and then qualifying, so he is feeling good. It’s going to be a tough match, but at the same time I’m playing well so definitely no reason why I shouldn’t go out there feeling confident.”

With five matches, including qualifying, under his belt here, Shapovalov will be confident, and though he may have to battle fatigue, he is focused on the ability of his next opponent. “He is so solid,” Shapovalov said of Edmund. “He’s an unbelievable player. He goes for his shots. He’s not afraid to take it to the guy. For a guy like me, every match is tough, and I’m going to have to battle it out.”

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