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The 18-year-old’s remarkable run up the ATP rankings, leaving behind upset wins over Grand Slam tournament champions, has earned the Richmond Hill, Ont., tennis player the Lionel Conacher Award as the Canadian Press male athlete of the year.
Shapovalov collected 20 of 64 votes (31 per cent) in a poll of broadcasters and sports editors from across the country. He edged Sidney Crosby, who led the Pittsburgh Penguins to a second straight Stanley Cup, by a single vote. Slugger Joey Votto of the Cincinnati Reds was third with 11 votes (17 per cent).
“To be honest, I’m a little overwhelmed to get this award, this huge honour,” Shapovalov said in a phone interview from his training base in Florida. “There are so many Canadian athletes that deserve it, so it’s honestly motivating me to keep going and work harder. I’m very happy.”
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In the second round, he posted a two-set victory over Juan Martin Del Potro, the 2009 U.S. Open champion, and followed that by coming from a set down to defeat 15-time Grand Slam winner Rafael Nadal. He had another comeback win in a quarter-final over Adrian Mannarino to become the youngest player to reach the semifinals of a Masters 1000 tournament before falling to another teenage prodigy, Alexander Zverev.
“It was honestly a dream week. It’s something I’ve dreamt of my whole life. Hopefully in the years to come I can actually lift the Rogers Cup trophy. It’s something I’ve always wanted to do. So many emotions that week. Everything kind of had to fall into place. I had to play big, which I was able to do, so it was definitely a life-changing week. A week I’m never going to forget and hopefully I can keep building off that feeling and just keep moving forward.”
“Shapovalov came out of absolute obscurity to rock the tennis world,” wrote David Hughes, executive producer of CTV National News in Toronto. “He also helped re-energize men’s tennis in Canada with his streak to stardom.”
Shapovalov stayed hot at the U.S. Open three weeks later as he got through the qualifying tournament and made it to the fourth round, beating 12th-ranked Jo-Wilfried Tsonga before losing his seventh match of the fortnight to Pablo Carreno Busta.
“It was one of my first ATP tournaments and I saved match points in the qualifying, got through qualifying, beat Kyle Edmund in the first round and pushed Tomas Berdych, who is an unbelievable player, to three sets, to the limit,” he said. “That really gave me the confidence that I can compete with the best in the world.
Shapovalov also made headlines for the wrong reasons in the decisive match of a Davis Cup tie against Britain in February when he was ejected after angrily smashing a ball away and inadvertently striking umpire Arnaud Gabas in an eye. Shapovalov apologized, called it a learning experience, and was fined.
Those who have tracked Shapovalov aren’t surprised to see his success. He took the U.S. Open doubles title with Felix Auger-Aliassime of Montreal in 2015 and won the junior singles at Wimbledon in 2016. He was winning Futures and Challenger-level tournaments before joining the big boys.
“It’s a very difficult goal,” he said. “You have to have an extremely good year to reach that number, but I think it’s possible if I can play well and if things fall into place like they did this year.”
Sprinter Andre De Grasse was last year’s winner of the Conacher Award, which has been handed out since 1932, and is named for the all-rounder voted Canada’s athlete of the half-century in 1950. The illustrious list of past winners also includes basketball star Steve Nash, who won it three times, Crosby (three), and hockey icon Wayne Gretzky (seven).
The Bobbie Rosenfeld Award for the Canadian Press female athlete of the year will be announced Wednesday, followed by the team of the year on Thursday.