After an entertaining but also sedate first couple of days at the men’s ASB Classic, the tournament comes goes up a gear on Wednesday when the big guns are in action for the first time,
The top four seeds, Fabio Fognini, Denis Shapovalov, Karen Khachanov and John Isner were all given first round byes.
But the stars will come out to shine on Wednesday and perhaps the brightest of them all is Denis Shapovalov from Canada.
The 20-year-old is ranked 13 in the world and has continued his steady climb up the rankings since his shock win over Rafael Nadal in Montreal in 2017.
He’s shown that result wasn’t a flash in the pan and surely a move into the top 10 is on the cards for 2020.
“I’m playing at a great level and I’ve been putting in a lot of good work over the last couple of years,” Shapovalov said of his steady rise.
“Last season, even when the results weren’t coming, I kept working hard every day and eventually things started to click, I feel like my game is starting to come together, I’m feeling in great form and really excited for the start of the season.”
At last week’s ATP Cup Shapovalov defeated Stefanos Tsitsipas, Alexander Zverev, while Novak Djokovic only managed to beat him in the third set tiebreaker.
“I think my game is evolving and I’m becoming more of a complete player,” he said.
“Of course, back then I beat Rafa, but it takes time for everyone to grow as a player, as a person.
“I got older, gained experience and I feel like my game has improved a lot since that match.
“I think it’s important to keep working, keep at it. The results are coming now, but that doesn’t mean it’s going to be constantly like this, so I’ve got to keep putting the work in and fight for every match.”
Once he gets into the top 10, the next challenge for Shapovalov will be to take on the big three of Novak Djokovic, Roger Federer and Nadal and win a grand slam.
He believes doing this is something he’s now ready for.
“I definitely think so,” he said.
“With the way I’m playing I’ve been able to push any of the top guys right now and hopefully that continues.
Shapovalov has only won one match in his previous two visits to the Classic, but he has become a crowd favourite, because of the exciting tennis he plays, with his one-handed backhand delighting the purists.
Bu he has also become popular among all the volunteers as he makes a point of going around as many of them as possible and thanking them for their help once he’s been knocked out.
“I think it’s a really nice event before a slam,” Shapovalov said of the Classic.
“It’s really relaxed, really chilled and I love the fans here. I really feel like they love me back.
“It’s always a great vibe and atmosphere whenever I come here and I love the city. It’s a nice little city, but so nice.
“A lot of great coffee places, a lot of great stores around. So it’s a nice week to get away from the hectic nature of a major the week after.”
The words ‘next big thing’ is thrown around a lot in men’s tennis. There was Alejandro Davidovich Fokina, Jannik Sinner and Frances Tiafoe called that this week, while there is also the more established up and comers like Zverev, Daniil Medvedev, Tsitsipas and Matteo Berrettini.
Shapovalov sits in that latter group of players and he admits he does compare himself to how other young players are doing.
“In one way I always focus on myself or what I need to do,” he said.
“But I think it’s always healthy to try to compare and see what the other guys are doing really well, see what young guys are coming up and how they’re playing.
“Because these are the guys you’re going to be competing against over the next five to 10 years.
“So for sure, it’s nice to know what they like to do, how they’re playing and how they’re growing as well.
“I think it’s amazing to see how many great players are coming up and how much the tour is changing with all of this new talent.”