A year after he made a debut at the ASB Classic in Auckland, the 19-year-old Denis Shapovalov returns to New Zealand to kick off the new season with big goals in his mind. Following his breakthrough run in 2017 when he became the youngest Masters 1000 semi-finalist, the Canadian had another great run in 2018 despite a poor finish of the year, winning 35 matches and reaching the semi-final in Madrid, Delray Beach and Tokyo, settling inside the top-30 and targeting more success in 2019.
That Madrid run (he became one of the youngest players in the semi-final of the Masters 1000 event on clay) gave the youngster the necessary confidence and convinced him he belongs to the elite group of players despite his young age.
For the second year in a row, Shapovalov is the youngest player in the top-100 and he has a nice chance to make more damage in the ranking, having just above 300 points to defend in the first four months of 2019. The Canadian is the youngest player in the top-30 since Rafael Nadal and Richard Gasquet in July 2005 and he has a nice chance of reaching the top-20 soon if he brings his 'A game' in the opening tournaments of the year.
Denis chose Auckland as his first stop in the calendar after having a great time there 12 months ago, praising the organizers and the event itself, saying he can't wait to start his second campaign at the ASB Classic, facing Joao Sousa in the first round.
"I had such a great experience and great time playing here last year," Shapovalov said. "The fans were unbelievable, I had so much support and the organization was just unbelievable.
I was really excited when we decided to come back here this year and I think it's a great place to start the season. It's definitely unbelievable. Last year I felt a lot of support from the organization, especially from Karl and in general with accommodation and as soon as I got here he made me feel welcome and showed me around.
I really enjoyed my time last year and when we talked about coming this year, I was excited, because of the experience last year, as well as the fans. When I played Juan Martin del Potro last year it was so much fun and the fans were electric.
Madrid showed that it wasn't a fluke in Montreal and that my level is there. I had my doubts at the end of 2017 and at the beginning of last year, if Montreal was just a one-time thing, or if I could ever get my game back there.
After that result, it gave me that sense of calmness and security that I'm able to play at this top level, I'm able to beat these guys. Ever since then, I've felt much more comfortable on the tour, I've really started to enjoy it and work my game to get it solid at that level and keep improving.
I'm in an unbelievable spot. I'm at 27 in the world at the age of 19. Last year was extremely difficult, two years ago I had a breakthrough, hit top 50 in the world. Last year was about defending that. I feel that not only did I defend it, but I also raised my ranking and almost cut it by half.
On top of that, I had that sense of calmness and feel that my game belongs with these guys and I feel that my game is what my ranking is. So I feel really motivated this year to keep going forward and keep getting better."