No athlete has attracted so much attention in Canada in the year of 2017 as Denis Shapovalov.
The incredible progression of the young ATP 18-year-old earned him the Lionel Conacher trophy awarded by Canadians to the male athlete of the year.
Shapovalov garnered 20 of 64 votes (31 percent) in the polls from commentators and media sports section leaders across the country.
He edged out captain Sidney Crosby, who guided the Pittsburgh Penguins to a second Stanley Cup in a row, with one vote. Cincinnati Reds power hitter Joey Votto finished third with 17 percent of the vote.
“Frankly, I’m a little overwhelmed with this huge honor,”Shapovalov said in a telephone interview from Florida where he trains. There are so many Canadian athletes deserving of it. Honestly, it motivates me to keep working hard. I am very happy.”
This is the third time in five years that honor has been awarded to a tennis player. Milos Raonic, still the top ranked Canadian in 24th place despite a season shortened by injuries, won in 2013 and 2014.
Shapovalov follows in Roanic’s footsteps. He started the year in the 250th position in the world, but climbed to 49th place after his formidable performances at the Rogers Cup in Montreal and at the US Open in New York. He concludes the year at the 51st step.
He is considered a rising star with the potential to break through the top-10 and even the top-5 world.
But what caught the attention of the participants in the ballot was as much his style and sense of timing as his talent. The blonde-haired left-handed and one-handed backhand captivated the country when he received an invitation to participate in the Rogers Cup in August when he had a spectacular run.
In the second round, he clinched a two-set victory over Juan Martin del Potro, the 2009 US Open champion, and he went on to win Rafael Nadal, the 15-time Grand Slam winner, after lost the first set. He overcame a one-set deficit in the quarterfinals against Adrian Mannarino to become the youngest player to advance to the semifinals of a Masters 1000 before losing to another next-generation prodigy, Alexander Zverev.
“It was crazy,” Shapovalov recalled. I was proud to play at home, to have the support of the whole country.”
“Honestly, it was a dream week. I dreamed about it all my life. Hopefully, in the years to come, I could win the Rogers Cup trophy. It’s something I’ve always wanted to do.”
“I went through the whole gamut of emotions that week. Everything came together at the right time. I had to be at my best, which I was able to do. It’s a week that has changed a lot of things in my life. A week that I will never forget and I want to build on it to continue to progress.”
Shapovalov continued his run at the US Open three weeks later as he successfully passed the qualifiers and continued his course until the fourth round, defeating Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, 12th overall, before to bow to Pablo Carreno Busta in his seventh match of the fortnight.
But the turning point of his season happened well before all that. Shapovalov showed up at the Queen’s Club grass tournament in London just before Wimbledon in June.
“It was one of my first tournaments on the ATP circuit and I saved a match point in qualifying, reached the main draw, defeated Kyle Edmund in the first round and pushed Tomas Berdych, who is an incredible player, to the limit of three sets, he recounted. It really gave me the confidence that I can compete with the best in the world.”
“After that, it was about having the opportunity to play on a big stage again. And indeed, on the next occasion at the Rogers Cup, I was able to offer great tennis.”
Shapovalov had earlier this year hit the headlines for the wrong reasons in the Davis Cup first-round tie against Britain in February. Dissatisfied with his play in the deciding game, he hit a ball that accidentally reached referee Arnaud Gabas directly in the eye, resulting in disqualification from Canada. He apologized, swearing that he had learned the lesson, and was fined.
He redeemed himself by winning both singles in the standings against India in September to help Canada retain its place in the world group.
Those who followed Shapovalov’s young career are not surprised at his success. He won the US Open doubles junior with Montreal’s Felix Auger-Alliassime in 2015 and the Wimbledon junior title in 2016. He won Challengers and Futures tournaments before joining the best players in his profession.
He is now in a position to enter directly into more ATP tournaments and hopes to continue his progression. His goal for 2018 is to climb to the top-25.
The winner of the Bobbie Rosenfeld Trophy awarded by Canadians to the Female Athlete of the Year will be announced Wednesday. The next day, it will be the turn of the year team.
The following is the voting distribution of the male athlete of the year:
- Denis Shapovalov, tennis: 20
- Sidney Crosby Hockey 19
- Joey Votto, baseball: 11
- Connor McDavid, Hockey: 4
- Mikael Kingsbury, freestyle skiing: 3
- Alex Harvey, cross-country skiing: 2
- Alphonso Davies, soccer: 1
- Andre De Grasse, athletics: 1
- Erik Guay, skiing: 1
- Mark McMorris, snowboarding: 1
- Georges St-Pierre, mixed martial arts: 1