The signing of 18-year-old Canadian Denis Shapovalov for this summer's ASB Classic men's tennis tournament is the most exciting since a 16-year-old named Rafael Nadal first played in Auckland in 2003.

For years the men's tournament has had to play second fiddle to the women's in Auckland where the likes of Serena Williams, Venus Williams, Maria Sharapova and Caroline Wozniacki have appeared.

The men's tournament attracts a quality field but coming a week before the Australian Open means the sport's superstars usually skip it, with most opting for practice in Melbourne and a few matches at the Kooyong Exhibition.

Tournament director Karl Budge has tried everything to lure the likes of a Roger Federer or Nadal here, but it's just not going to happen. So Budge has turned his attention to the young stars and few, if any, are more talented than the young Canadian.


Shapovalov who will line up in next week's inaugural Next Gen ATP Finals in Milan, boasts a powerful serve, an aggressive forehand and great court awareness.

Like Nadal, he's a lefty and although not as physically imposing as the Spaniard, has all the ingredients to suggest he can get to the top of the sport. Shapovalov's epic third round win over Nadal at the Montreal Masters in August was a compelling performance with Shapovalov prevailing 3-6, 6-4, 7-6 to announce himself to the world.

He out-fought arguably the greatest fighter of them all. He had knocked out former US Open champion Juan Martin Del Potro in the previous round and was able to follow up those incredible wins by outlasting Frenchman Adrian Mannarinio to become the youngest Masters 1000 semifinalist. While the success occurred in his native Canada, you don't beat players of the calibre of Del Potro and Nadal back-to-back unless you are special.

Last year, Shapovalov won Junior Wimbledon and while junior success doesn't always translate into the senior ranks, he has shown he's got what it takes. He backed up his Montreal success by beating Jo-Wilfried Tsonga on his way to the fourth round at the US Open.

Six months ago, aged 17, he was in the news for the wrong reasons; defaulted from a Davis Cup tie against Britain after he slammed a ball in frustration and hit the chair umpire in the eye, and incident that forced him to grow up quickly.

His presence in Auckland over the New Year is a coup for the tournament as Shapovalov will have had offers to go elsewhere.