When their first tour-level matchup ended abruptly at the U.S. Open on Monday, Denis Shapovalov and Felix Auger-Aliassime — a pair of Canadian teens and longtime pals — met at the net for a hug and sweet exchange.
The 28th-seeded Shapovalov rubbed the 117th-ranked Auger-Aliassime’s head as tears began to fall. He consoled his buddy. He told him not to worry about having to stop while trailing in the third set because of heat exhaustion. This was, after all, merely a first-round meeting. One day, Shapovalov assured Auger-Aliassime, they’ll square off again at Flushing Meadows — for the championship.
Shapovalov of Richmond Hill, Ont., was leading 7-5, 5-7, 4-1 when Montreal’s Auger-Aliassime retired. Auger-Aliassime already had been visited by a doctor during a changeover in the third set and said his heart was racing on a muggy day when the temperature reached 33 C.
“It’s tough to see a friend go down like that. It was tough. When I saw that he was struggling, I still had to keep trying to win, keep kind of pounding it on him. It wasn’t easy for me,” Shapovalov said.
“This match — it’s great for Canadian tennis. Two young guys that are coming up, that have grown up together, playing against each other. It’s really good. I feel that’s the reason why so many Canadians are picking up tennis rackets. Honestly, it’s great when these matches happen.”
Shapovalov is 19, making him the youngest player in the ATP top 100. Auger-Aliassime just turned 18 on Aug. 8, making him youngest player in the ATP top 200.
And their combined age made this youngest U.S. Open men’s match since 2006, when Novak Djokovic, 19, beat Donald Young, 17.
What made this one all the more compelling was the history shared by the two Canadians. They go back to when they were 7 or 8, Shapovalov said.
“Our whole lives, we’ve known each other,” Shapovalov said.
In the scheme of things, that’s really not all that long, of course. Still, the friendship and bond they have is considerable.
“It’s been a pretty crazy ride with him. I remember playing him at Nationals, under 10s, under 18s, junior tournaments,” Shapovalov said. “Now we are here, playing at a Grand Slam.”
They won the 2015 U.S. Open boys’ doubles title together. In a recent interview, Shapovalov spoke fondly of that triumph and the memory of the two going to watch Roger Federer face Novak Djokovic in the men’s final in Arthur Ashe Stadium.
A year later, Auger-Aliassime won the U.S. Open boys’ singles title.
This was the Grand Slam debut for Auger-Aliassime, and only the 12th match on tour anywhere for him. He went through qualifying rounds to earn a spot in the main draw in New York.
In 2017, it was Shapovalov who qualified at Flushing Meadows and then made a stirring run to the fourth round, making him the youngest man into the round of 16 since Michael Chang in 1989. That helped him crack the top 50 soon after, the youngest player to get that high in the men’s rankings since Rafael Nadal did it in 2004.
Pretty heady company for the kid. Auger-Aliassime, meanwhile, joined Djokovic, Juan Martin del Potro and Richard Gasquet as the only players to win three or more Challenger events before turning 18.
“I told him at the net, ‘Hopefully, one day we’ll be playing in the finals of this tournament.’ I told him to keep his head up,” Shapovalov said. “We’re going to have so many matches together.”
Shapovalov will face Andreas Seppi of Italy in the second round.
In other men’s first-round action, Vancouver’s Vasek Pospisil downed Lukas Lacko of Slovakia in straight sets 7-5, 6-3, 6-2.
He is slated to take on No. 1 seed Nadal.
Earlier Monday, Milos Raonic advanced to the second round with a 7-6 (4), 6-4, 1-6, 6-3 victory over Argentine qualifier Carlos Berlocq.
The hard-serving star from Thornhill, Ont., fired 26 aces past Berlocq and won 91 per cent of his first service points.
It wasn’t a clean win for Raonic, who committed 45 unforced errors compared to Berlocq’s 11.
Raonic, the 25th seed in New York, will next face France’s Gilles Simon. Raonic owns a 4-1 advantage in the head-to-head series with Simon, including both meetings on hardcourts.
Raonic was originally scheduled to face Jared Donaldson in the first round before the American withdrew due to a knee injury.
With files from The Canadian Press
Howard Fendrich, The Associated Press