NEW YORK • Eighteen-year-old Denis Shapovalov wants his ice hockey-loving country of Canada to embrace tennis and hopes that after his stunning run at the US Open, youngsters there will think twice before getting on the ice.
"My goal is to raise the level of Canadian tennis and have more kids picking up a racket instead of a hockey stick," he said after his fourth-round 7-6 (7-2), 7-6 (7-4), 7-6 (7-3) defeat by Pablo Carreno Busta on Sunday.
"I think I have definitely helped to do that, and hopefully, you know, I can keep doing it."
It has been a whirlwind last few weeks for Shapovalov, who electrified his home country when he made the semi-finals at the Rogers Cup in Montreal last month, defeating world No. 1 Rafael Nadal and former US Open champion Juan Martin del Potro along the way.
With a powerful left-handed forehand, a one-handed backhand and flowing blond locks, the fresh-faced Shapovalov is also dealing with fame for the first time.
"Just a couple of days ago in Central Park, I was just walking with my team and I ran into this kid who was shaking, you know, seeing me," he said with amazement. "I think I'm making an impact and hopefully I can continue to do so because for me, the best thing in life is to see kids like this looking up to you and just aspiring to be like you."
Shapovalov, who counts Canadian hockey legend Wayne Gretzky among his fans, is already exceeding the lofty expectations he set for himself on the court.
At the start of the year his goal was to be in the top 150 of the ATP rankings, he said. After his run at the US Open, he will likely find himself in the top 50 when the rankings are released next week.
In the meantime, he is trying to stay grounded even as his status grows.
"I think I really need to get back to work and my team is making sure that, first of all, I'm staying healthy, and second of all, I'm always trying to get better," he said. "Hopefully in the future I can make some more runs. Hopefully, eventually, in the long term, I'll be lifting a Cup."