18-year-old Canadian lefty Denis Shapovalov has had one heck of a summer. In Montreal, he defeated Juan Martin del Potro and Rafael Nadal in back-to-back matches, and at the US Open, he qualified for the main draw, upset Jo Wilfried Tsonga, and reached the fourth round in only his second appearance at a major.
Thanks to those wins and the big stages on which he achieved them, he has cracked the ATP top 60, despite playing fewer than 20 tour-level matches. The Elo rating system, which awards points based on opponent quality, is even more optimistic. By that measure, with his win over Tsonga, Shapovalov improved to 1950–good for 34th on tour–before losing about 25 Elo points in his loss to Pablo Carreno Busta.
While an Elo score of 1950 is an arbitrary number–there’s nothing magical about any particular Elo threshold; it’s just a mechanism to compare players to each other–it gives us a way to compare Shapovalov’s hot start with other players who made quick impacts at tour level. Since the early 1980s, only 13 players have reached a 1950 Elo score in fewer matches than the Canadian needed. As usual with early-career accomplishments, there are a few unexpected names in the mix, but overall, it’s very promising company for an 18-year-old:
Player Matches Age Lleyton Hewitt 7 16.9 Jarkko Nieminen 7 20.2 Juan Carlos Ferrero 10 19.4 David Ferrer 12 20.4 Kenneth Carlsen 12 19.4 Tommy Haas 13 19.1 Peter Lundgren 13 20.7 John Van Lottum 14 21.8 Sergi Bruguera 14 18.4 Julian Alonso 15 20.0 Player Matches Age Xavier Malisse 16 18.6 Jan Siemerink 16 20.9 Ivo Minar 16 21.2 Florian Mayer 17 20.7 Cristiano Caratti 17 20.7 Nick Kyrgios 17 19.3 Denis Shapovalov 17 18.4 Martin Strelba 17 22.1 Jay Berger 17 20.2 Andy Roddick 18 18.6
I identified just over 350 players who, at some point in their careers, peaked with an Elo score of at least 1950. On average, these players needed 75 matches to reach that level (the median is 59), and two active tour-regulars, Gilles Muller and Albert Ramos, needed almost 300 matches to achieve the threshold.
Shapovalov’s record so far is equally impressive when we consider it in terms of age. Again, he’s among the top 20 players in modern tennis history: Only 11 players got to 1950 before their 18th birthday. The Canadian is only a few months beyond his. And many of the other ATPers who reached that score at an early age needed much more tour experience. I’ve included the top 30 on this list to show how Shapovalov compares to so many of the game’s greats:
Player Matches Age Aaron Krickstein 25 16.4 Michael Chang 32 16.5 Lleyton Hewitt 7 16.9 Boris Becker 27 17.5 Mats Wilander 27 17.5 Guillermo Perez Roldan 26 17.6 Andre Agassi 46 17.6 Pat Cash 66 17.6 Goran Ivanisevic 35 17.7 Andrei Medvedev 22 17.8 Player Matches Age Rafael Nadal 44 17.9 Sammy Giammalva 21 18.0 Horst Skoff 19 18.1 Jimmy Arias 61 18.2 Kent Carlsson 56 18.3 Sergi Bruguera 14 18.4 Denis Shapovalov 17 18.4 Andy Murray 22 18.4 Juan Martin del Potro 31 18.4 Fabrice Santoro 59 18.5 Player Matches Age John McEnroe 28 18.5 Roger Federer 40 18.5 Stefan Edberg 40 18.5 Andy Roddick 18 18.6 Pete Sampras 56 18.6 Thomas Enqvist 28 18.6 Xavier Malisse 16 18.6 Novak Djokovic 33 18.8 Jim Courier 51 18.8 Yannick Noah 41 18.8
There are no guarantees when it comes to tennis prospects, but this is very good company. On average, the 23 other players to reach the 1950 Elo threshold at age 18 improved their Elo ratings to 2100 before age 20, and rose to 2250 at some point in their careers. The first number would be good for 12th on today’s list, and the second would merit 5th place, just behind the Big Four. Nadal and del Potro were the first of Shapovalov’s high-profile victims, and judging from this sharp career trajectory, they won’t be the last.