Denis Shapovalov has an ominous warning for his rivals on the ATP circuit next year.

The Canadian whiz-kid, who will return to the ASB Classic in 2019 after making a big impression on his Auckland debut in January, is expecting to go to another level in just his third full season on tour.

Such optimism might be standard among tennis players at this time of year - when the sun is shining and the grind of weekly tournaments has yet to begin - but Shapovalov's is well-founded.

Still only 19, Shapovalov feels he has found his natural place on the circuit, and his game. After a meteoric rise in 2017, when he set all kinds of records as he went from No250 to No51, it was always going to be difficult to back up. His game was ruthlessly analysed by rivals; he was no longer the surprise packet, and avoiding second season syndrome was going to be a battle.


But he didn't just survive, he thrived. He become the youngest player to crack the top 30 since 2005 (he's ranked No27) and had memorable runs in Madrid (semifinal) and New York, where he lost in five sets to eventual finalist Kevin Anderson.

"It was definitely a great year," Shapovalov told the Herald on Sunday. "After a year like 2017, it's never easy to back it up. I did such a great job in terms of rankings, and improving my game. I really feel like I belong out there with the guys now, I feel like my ranking is where it should be and that is my level. I improved a lot."

And most importantly, Shapovalov attained a new level of calmness, on and off the court, that just wasn't there during a "crazy" 2017.

"Everything just happened so quick," said Shapovalov of his breakthrough in Montreal that year, when as a No143-ranked wildcard, he reached the semifinals, beating Juan Martin del Potro and Rafa Nadal en route.

"I was a kid with a lot of potential, a good junior player, grinding in the Challengers, making my way up into 150 [in the world], and then two or three weeks later, I am 60 in the world playing all these big tournaments.

"It was so overwhelming for me. It was not easy. All of a sudden, I'm thrown into all these tournaments with the guys I see on TV, and I feel like I am always forced to play my best to try and win."

That death-or-glory mentality, the constant peaking, can't be sustained over an extended period, especially in a sport with such fine margins. Instead, you have to learn how to play smart, and still win.

"That's where I feel like this season I have really made that jump, that improvement, where I don't feel like I have to play my best tennis to beat these guys," said Shapovalov.


"I honestly feel like physically, and in terms of my tennis game, my level is there to be able to compete with these guys day in and day out.

"Sure, against the top guys, I still have to improve certain things so I can compete with then, but I feel like I can still kind of push them. I'm able to hang in with them. [It's a] realisation that my level is there and it gave me that sense of calmness."