By Bill Beacon
MONTREAL — Canadian teenager Denis Shapovalov downed former U.S. Open champion Juan Martin del Potro on a gusty Wednesday at the men’s Rogers Cup.
The 18-year-old Shapovalov took the second-round match 6-3, 7-6 (4).
“He’s my idol,” Shapovalov said of the unseeded del Potro, who has struggled with injuries since winning the 2009 U.S. Open. “Just to play against him is a huge honour for me.
“But to beat a player of this category, of this talent, is very inspiring for me, a huge confidence boost.”
It set up a possible third-round meeting with top-seeded Rafael Nadal, who played Borna Coric later Wednesday.
Shapovalov became the youngest player to reach the round of 16 of a Master Series tournament since Nadal in 2004 at Miami.
It likely had mostly to do with Roger Federer playing earlier in the day, but the centre court stands were packed, which is unusual for a weekday afternoon. They threw full support behind the left-handed Shapovalov, who caused a stir at last year’s Rogers Cup by ousting Aussie star Nick Kyrgios.
“I’ve never played in an atmosphere like this,” he said. “On match point, when I hit that double right before it, I mean, my ears almost popped. They were cheering so loud, it was insane. It’s just so much fun to be out there.”
Shapovalov forced an early service break en route to a quick first set, but the Argentine veteran battled back with a break early in the second. Shapovalov’s ability to kept a cool head when there are setbacks, such as when he fell behind early in the tiebreaker, made the difference. The crowd exploded in sound when he finished it off.
Second-seeded Federer made short work of Toronto’s Peter Polansky, winning 6-2, 6-1 in 53 minutes.
Federer, a two-time Rogers Cup champion ranked third in the world by ATP, has had a surprise resurgence this season by posting his 18th and 19th career grand slam wins at the Australian Open and Wimbledon.
It was his first match of the hard court season that leads up to the U.S. Open.
“I think this tournament I’m trying to play with confidence that I gained through the grass court season,” said Federer. “I have to adjust my game a little bit just because the bounce of the ball is so much higher here than at Wimbledon, and there’s wind, which in Wimbledon we didn’t have much of.
“It’s just really to see how it goes this week, and then learn from this week, how I need to then play in Cincinnati (next week) and the U.S. Open.”
The Swiss ace turned 36 on Tuesday and celebrated by taking in a Coldplay concert at the Bell Centre.
Then he got a warm welcome from the Uniprix Stadium crowd in his first Canadian Open match since losing to Jo-Wilfried Tsonga at the 2014 final in Toronto.
“The crowd support was great,” said Federer. “It wasn’t the closest match today, but they were there for Peter when he needed the crowd and he hit good shots.
“I thought that was really nice. And for me, they were there every step of the way. At the Coldplay concert, just to see how is the Montreal crowd again, they were unbelievably loud. That’s also something I took away from the concert — besides how good Chris Martin and the band was — is how unreal the stadium is, the Bell Centre.”
Federer will next face the winner of a match between American Jack Sock and Spain’s David Ferrer.
Polansky, ranked No. 116 in the world after some strong results in Challenger events, upset No. 75 Vasek Pospisil of Vancouver in the first round on Monday.
It was his second meeting with Federer. At the 2014 Rogers Cup, he lost 6-2, 6-0.
“Even though I lost, this is one of the most memorable experiences of my life along with the match I played against him in Toronto,” said Polansky. “His transition from the baseline to the net, it’s a joke.
“You blink and he’s at the net. You hit balls pretty hard at him and he’s handling them like it’s no problem. Guys I’m used to playing, if I hit really hard, they’ll kind of block it but he’s constantly moving forward like a freight train.”
Sixth-seed Milos Raonic of Thornhill, Ont., faced France’s Adrian Mannarino later Wednesday.
In other results, third-seed Dominic Thiem of Austria was upset 6-4, 6-7 (7), 7-5 by Argentina’s Diego Schwartzman and Fifth-seeded Kei Nishikori of Japan, a finalist last year, was ousted 6-7 (4), 7-6 (7), 7-5 by Gael Monfils. It was the Frenchman’s first win in four meetings with Nishikori.
American Jared Donaldson beat France’s Benoit Paire 6-2, 7-5, No.12 Roberto Agut of Spain downed American Ryan Harrison 7-5, 6-2 and Robin Hasse of The Netherlands defeated lucky loser Ernesto Escobedo 6-4, 6-1.