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Denis Shapovalov Image Credit: AFP

Dubai: Denis Shapovalov is filled with a sense of surrealism every time he looks back at his career as a tennis pro.

Engulfed in its bizarre grip, he sometimes wonders if it’s all true. A high-octane blast to the top can sometimes be disorienting and Shapovalov’s rise in world tennis has been so sharp since he turned pro in 2017, he sometimes finds it difficult to comprehend the scale of his achievement.

At 21, he is just outside the top 10 in the world rankings at No. 12, having once been part of that elite group when his rating had shot up to No. 10. That was in the September of COVID-stricken 2020, when he sensationally reached the quarter-finals of the US Open at Flushing Meadows, where he lost to Pablo Carreno Busta of Spain in a gruelling five-setter.

“When you’re growing up, you always imagine and wish to be as good as possible,” said Shapovalov, after cruising to a 6-4, 6-3 success over Hubert Hurkacz in the third round of the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships at the Aviation Club. “I never imagined to have the run I had so early in my career and I’ve been able to kind of just progress through the years and get better every year. So, of course, in one way, I cannot believe that this early in my career, I’m able to play so well, but on the other side, I’m here now, so I’m just like any other player. I’m trying to keep going forward and keep getting better and just always trying to improve myself and improve as a player.”

Shapovalov has just one title to show in his four-year professional career, when winning the Stockholm leg of the ATP 250 Series in 2019. A few weeks later, the Tel Aviv-born Canadian fell to Novak Djokovic in the finals of the Paris Masters, an ATP Masters 1000 event. The pieces started to fit together after former Russian ace Mikhail Youzhny was drafted in as his “shot selection” coach.

“I’ve put in a lot of good work with Mischa (Mikhail Youzhny) in a training block after the Australian Open, and I do feel confident in my game and how I feel physically,” Shapovalov added. “But it’s impossible to say when everything will click together. It’s never guaranteed, and I am fighting for every point.”

Shapovalov has a tricky quarter-final date with Jeremy Chardy, who bounced back from a set down to knock out Karen Khachanov 6-7, 6-4, 6-4. But Shapovalov is confident and said he had a lot of positives to take from his straight sets win over Hurkacz.

“I was definitely playing great tennis today. I struggled with Hubert in the past; he’s such a great player and he’s got a lot of weapons. He’s definitely not easy to play against, so I’m really happy to get my first win against him. I think I’ve been playing really well and taking my chances and I was serving really well today. I felt it during the important points.”