MELBOURNE (Reuters) - With his long blond hair and flamboyant game, Canadian teenager Denis Shapovalov has enjoyed two successful seasons to find his natural place on the circuit.
Shapovalov cemented himself as one of the top young prospects on the Tour after breaking into the top-30 last year.
Two straight-sets wins at the Australian Open this week have earned Shapovalov a first career meeting with world number one Novak Djokovic - and the 19-year-old believes he is ready to take his game to the next level.
“I think probably two years ago I was just happy to be on the court with them (top players), get a couple games,” said Shapovalov after beating Taro Daniel 6-3 7-6(2) 6-3 in the second round on Thursday.
“Now I feel like I’m actually there and able to compete with these guys.
“Novak is definitely one of the big guys I really admired and looked up to growing up. It’s definitely going to be awesome, just awesome to play against him, see how my game matches up against his.”
Shapovalov said he has enjoyed the spotlight during his meteoric rise over the last two seasons but admitted the criticism was getting to him in 2018.
When he sat down to reflect on what exactly he wants from the sport, the answer he said was simple - to be a global role model like Roger Federer and Rafa Nadal.
“Honestly, I felt like I’ve been doing a lot of soul searching and talking with my team,” Shapovalov added.
“I came to the realization - I want to be one of the Rogers or Rafas so that young kids and players, they look up to me, hopefully pick up rackets.
“Especially in Canada. It’s just starting to break out that you can become a tennis player from the nation.”
Top seed Djokovic, chasing a record seventh Australian Open title, secured a convincing win over Jo-Wilfried Tsonga to book his place in the third round.
Reporting by Hardik Vyas in Bengaluru, editing by Ed Osmond