On Thursday, budding Canadian teen tennis player Denis Shapovalov pulled the upset of the Rogers Cup season, stunning all-time great (and current No. 2-ranked) Rafael Nadal, 3-6, 6-4, 7-6. The upset was singular in more than just how surprising it was. It was also unique in that both Nadal and Shapovalov claimed the younger man held an advantage.
Per the post match interview transcripts, as made available by ASAP Sports, both Shapovalov and Nadal cited the 18-year-old’s lack of nerves as the match grew tight in the third set, made possible by his youthful inexperience and the knowledge he had nothing to lose.
Here is Nadal’s take on his setback:
Q. Are you a little bit surprised at 18 years old he didn’t crack? His nerves were good the whole time.
RAFAEL NADAL: Oh, no. That’s normal, no? I have been in that situation. If I don’t remember back with 18 years old, I win Roland Garros. Is something that I don’t know why should happen, when you have 18, to don’t hold the nerves.
In my opinion, is much more easy when you have 18 than when you have 30.
Q. Were you surprised he was able to fight back against all those breakpoints you had on him?
RAFAEL NADAL: No. He has nothing to lose. Is win-to-win for him. If he lose playing a good match, was good for him. If he lose in straight sets, already he played a good tournament. If he win, he’s amazing. He won. Is amazing for him. Just well done for him. Is a great story. And I am not happy to be part of this story. That’s it, no?
That’s a striking comment from a legendary player, but a sensical one as well.
It was true to comments from Shapovalov, who weighed in on his own mental state during the match:
Q. Earlier we asked Rafa if he was surprised your nerves didn’t break during the game. How were your nerves during the game?
DENIS SHAPOVALOV: Yeah, I think I stayed pretty calm. I played really well in the big moments. I didn’t get as tight as yesterday. I’m not sure why. I just played really free in the tiebreaker.
But yeah, I mean, it’s difficult to say how I was feeling during the match. It was extremely hard physically and mentally. Rafa is such a warrior. Such a tough match.
I’m just so happy to come out with the win.
Youthful inexperience as an edge? Perhaps for a player who has yet to experience a major collapse, but nearly all great athletes suffer that result at some point.
For Nadal to feel so strongly that his opponent had an edge speaks to his own mental strength at such a young age, and perhaps the fortitude of all the best athletes as they come into their own.
Put it this way: It would be foolish to assume Marvin Bagley III could show up and beat LeBron James one-on-one right now, but given the way he performed in the Drew League this summer you can never be quite sure. And Bagley himself almost certainly thinks he’d have a chance.
After all, he wouldn’t be a great teen athlete if he didn’t feel that way.