Under a thick wave of blond hair and Nike snapback, Denis Shapovalov certainly looks the part. He is making serious gains having entered the quarter-finals of the US Open and another semi-final of a Masters 1000 in Rome. In doing so he is now a world top ten player. But enough numbers, I'm here to show you how Denis Shapovalov is pure tennis brilliance.
First, he has style. Sponsored by Nike he is one of the few players on tour who wears the Agassi-inspired cropped top with neo-denim shorts, splashed in an array of bright greens, yellows and turquoises as if a child had fanatically drawn on the material with a packet of Swan highlighters at the excitement of seeing his favourite player for the very first time. Shapovalov wears the more stylish Nike Vapor X Knit shoe, a variant of the original Nike Vapor X that was designed for Roger Federer by Tinker Hatfield, after wanting a more comfortable and instantly malleable fit. The Knit version is frankly more exciting with a sea of little protective triangles at the toe and sides offering some translucent colours that match the colour of the clothes. Wearing the cap back-to-front is perhaps the final declaration of a rebellious and unique approach to tennis fashion.
Shapovalov's technical game is also a crowd-pleaser. With long arms and a tall build, Shapovalov can extend his reach to create shots with such fluidity that even the most casual observer is drawn to how he did it rather than just what he has done with the ball. I recall watching a Miami Open match from 2019 where Federer had gained the upper hand in the rally and suddenly seeing his moment, had Shaopvalov running from corner to corner. Both reaches were great gets and, more impressively, Shapovalov slid neatly into the shot even on the Florida concrete, only to push off to meet the next one. What cannot be ignored is the "jump backhand". Oh my goodness. Most single-handed backhands are very nice to watch on their own. But when confronted by a slightly short ball, Shapovalov springs from the ground and, having loaded his racquet like some kind of soaring Canadian bird of prey, takes it in the air turning his torso slightly to where the ball was heading. The tennis nerds among you will no doubt be crying out. How can he hit a ball while being in mid-flight, surely it would be better to load his legs on the ground to get more power? You would of course be wrong, as it's always better to produce shots that look good than to produce something boring.
Tactically Shapovalov is mixing it up. Having spent many matches playing doubles alongside his singles endeavours, he is comfortable at net. Volleying was perhaps once a dying breed of tactical variation among the younger generation, not only at the professional level but even the amateur these days who was not born before 1995 seems generally happy to rally from the baseline for all eternity seeing the trip to the net as some kind of unexplored and dubious venture. Luckily net game is safe from extinction. Superb set-ups against Alexander Zverev in the 2019 Paris Masters meant that Shapovalov was able to pull off the most outstanding moves in the forecourt, playing tennis literally like a game of chess. Shapovalov goaded Zverev to hit one way, only to be in position a split-second later to volley the ball away. He was always one step ahead.
Playing against Shapovalov means that you are also playing against a rapper. It's not enough pressure to be competing with one of the best tennis players in the world who has flair. No, you also have to contend with the fact that Shapovalov is a recorded artist as well. "Shapo" has released two tracks so far, Night Train and Drip, the latter featuring Corentin Moutet the French professional player. Booming through the sparsely populated and echoey Arthur Ashe stadium into the New York night, the DJ after one Shapo US Open victory played Night Train, as if winning a grand slam match in one of the most famous stadiums in the world wasn't cool enough. How many other players can say that about their career?
So whether Shapovalov does exceedingly well in the future or not, we can say that whatever he does he's going to do it in style. At a time of minimal spectatorship and when tennis is often criticised for descending into the slugfest of baseline rallies, a healthy dose of Shapo is exactly what we need.