Teenager Shapovalov aiming to conquer Roland Garros, French language

Paris (AFP) –


Canadian teenager Denis Shapovalov, widely touted as the next big star of tennis, is already thinking about a future French Open crown after making his Roland Garros debut on Tuesday.

Shapovalov eased to a 7-5, 6-4, 6-2 victory over Australian John Millman in his first ever main-draw French Open match, after a rapid rise in recent months that has taken him to 25 in the world.

The 19-year-old, who lost in Roland Garros qualifying last year but is now the 24th seed, is in no rush to win Grand Slam titles, pointing to 36-year-old Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal, 31, as evidence that he has plenty of time to improve.

"At their age they are still improving, still getting better. So for me it's kind of calming, in a way," Shapovalov said.

"I feel even if I don't have the results right now, you know, this year, next year, I feel like I have such a long way, so much time to improve and to get to where they are right now.

"So for me, there is not much pressure. I'm 19. I'm playing freely every tournament. Everything is new for me."

The big-hitting left-hander is already being treated as a star attraction in Paris, giving his press conference in the main interview room after playing on the show-court Suzanne Lenglen.

Shapovalov struggled on clay last season, failing to win a match, but has been much-improved already this year and reached the Madrid Masters semi-finals.

"It's been a love and hate relationship with me on clay," he smiled.

"Obviously I didn't grow up on the surface. It's been a bit of a struggle for me, especially early on.

"But I told my team from the beginning of the season I want to play a lot of clay-court tournaments. It's not for this season, it's not for next season. It was really a goal just to get better, long term.

"Winning the Roland Garros, it's a dream of mine. It's something I have always wanted to do."

It is the first time Shapovalov has been seeded at a Grand Slam tournament, after his run in Madrid earlier this month saw him become the youngest player to break into the world's top 30 since 2005.

As well as winning the French Open title, Shapovalov hopes to further endear himself to the home fans by learning the local language.

"Yes, I can speak a bit. I studied French at school when I was really young. And I do practice French," he said in French.

"Off the menu, I try to practice with my team. It's definitely a goal for me to get fluent in French, but it's a process, you know. I'm learning a bit of Italian, bit of French, a bit of everything."

Shapovalov will next take on German world number 70 Maximilian Marterer for a place in the last 32.