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Denis Shapovalov shoots up the rankings with win over Tomas Berdych

UPDATED: Tue., May 15, 2018

Denis Shapovalov, of Canada, returns a ball to Tomas Berdych, of Czech Republic, during the Italian Open tennis tournament, in Rome, Tuesday, May 15, 2018. (Ettore Ferrari / ANSA via AP)
Denis Shapovalov, of Canada, returns a ball to Tomas Berdych, of Czech Republic, during the Italian Open tennis tournament, in Rome, Tuesday, May 15, 2018. (Ettore Ferrari / ANSA via AP)
Associated Press

ROME – Canadian teenager Denis Shapovalov pulled off another big win, overcoming a slow start to beat 15th-seeded Tomas Berdych 1-6, 6-3, 7-6 (5) in the first round of the Italian Open on Tuesday.

Also on the red clay of the Foro Italico, three-time Rome champion Maria Sharapova defeated 16th-seeded Ashleigh Barty 7-5, 3-6, 6-2, defending champion Elina Svitolina routed Petra Martic 6-1, 6-2, and defending French Open winner Jelena Ostapenko eliminated Zhang Shuai 6-2, 7-5.

The 19-year-old Shapovalov is coming off a semifinal appearance in last week’s Madrid Open, where he beat fellow Canadian Milos Raonic in the Round of 16.

Already up to a career-high ranking of 29th this week, the victory over Berdych will move Shapovalov ahead of No. 22 Raonic when next week’s rankings come out – making him the top Canadian.

“It’s something I’ve wanted to work towards for all my life,” Shapovalov said. “So, to be able to do that, it’s pretty crazy. Hopefully I could lead the country to a Davis Cup victory one day.”

Shapovalov is already the youngest player in the top 30 since Richard Gasquest reached No. 17 in 2005 at the age of 19.

Showing off his crafty game, Shapovalov made an audacious foray to the net to conclude one point with an overhead smash as he ran out to a 4-0 lead in the decisive tiebreaker.

Berdych came back to make it 5-5 but the left-handed Shapovalov then drew his opponent into the net and unleashed a wicked one-handed backhand passing shot down the line.

On his first match point, Shapovalov wrong-footed Berdych with another shot down the line that his opponent couldn’t get back.

The risk-taking Shapovalov committed twice as many unforced errors as Berdych but also hit more than three times as many winners.

“I just couldn’t find my footing the first set. The clay is so different here,” said Shapovalov, who is making his Rome debut. “But I just kept fighting, kept competing. And I’m really happy I got to turn the match around.”

On a day in which the start of play was delayed and then interrupted by rain, ninth-seeded David Goffin struggled to beat Italian wild card Marco Cecchinato 5-7, 6-2, 6-2 before a partisan crowd; 14th-seeded Diego Schwartzman eliminated Chilean qualifier Nicolas Jarry 6-4, 6-1; and 16th-seeded Lucas Pouille held off Italian wild card Andreas Seppi, 6-2, 3-6, 7-6 (3)

Greek qualifier Stefanos Tsitsipas, who reached the final of the Barcelona Open last month, advanced when Borna Coric retired while trailing 4-1.

In the women’s tournament, 11th-seeded Angelique Kerber defeated Kazakh qualifier Zarina Diyas 6-2, 7-6 (6), and 14th-seeded Daria Kasatkina beat Australian qualifier Ajla Tomljanovic 6-0, 6-4.

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