A year ago, Stefanos Tsitsipas wasn't even at the Rogers Cup in Montreal. His ranking wasn't high enough to earn a spot in the main draw nor was he awarded a wild card.
Instead, he was halfway across the world in Slovenia grinding away on the ATP Challenger circuit — a tier below the main tour — trying to build his ranking and gain match play.
Meanwhile, another teen — Denis Shapovalov — was making a name for himself by knocking down Grand Slam champions Rafael Nadal and Juan Martin del Potro on his home soil.
Click on the video player below to learn more about Canada's Shapovalov:
After that stunning upset, Shapovalov won again to become the youngest semifinalist ever at an ATP Masters event. 2:47
All of that wasn't lost on Tsitsipas as he caught each of the Canadian's matches on television during his thrilling semifinal run.
"It inspired me so much. I was dreaming of being in his place," says Tsitsipas, who beat four players in the top 10 en route to the Rogers Cup final. "It was so inspirational to see him beat those guys. To me, it seemed completely out of any world what he was doing on the court and now I understand that it is more simple and less complicated than it looks. I just had to believe in myself and feel confident playing those guys."
Next generation creeping in
While the "Big Four" of Nadal, Roger Federer, Novak Djokovic, and Andy Murray have dominated the Grand Slams, the next generation is slowly creeping in.
Germany's Alexander Zverev, 21, already has three Masters 1000 titles to his name while Frances Tiafoe, 20, of the United States upset Milos Raonic in the second round of last week's Rogers Cup.
Last year, the ATP held the inaugural year end Next Gen ATP Finals tournament featuring the top male players aged 21 and under. This season, seven players from that group are ranked within the world's top 50.
In the same way that a fire was lit for Tsitsipas, perhaps Shapovalov and fellow rising Canadian star, Felix Auger-Aliassime, can use the Greek phenom's Rogers Cup final run as their own fuel.
"You have guys like Zverev, me, [Andrey] Rublev, and Frances [Tiafoe] — all these young guys coming up that are breaking into the top 30s and 50s. It's unbelievable where the tennis level is at now," Shapovalov says. "I feel like the young generation — we all kind of push each other because we're all so motivated. We want to play every week and do better than each other. So it's a really healthy rivalry, and I feel that's why we've all come so far in such a short period of time."
Tsitsipas fuelled by losses to Shapovalov, Auger-Aliassime
Tsitsipas' own rise was helped by using his previous losses to Shapovalov and Auger-Aliassime as motivation.
The trio are familiar with one another having risen through the junior ranks together. Shapovalov was 2-1 against Tsitsipas — both wins coming in 2016 at the quarters of the junior French Open and semis of the junior Wimbledon tournament, respectively.
Auger-Aliassime was 3-0 against Tsitsipas, including a 6-4, 7-5 victory also in 2016 in the junior boys U.S. Open semis during which Tsitsipas was the world's top-ranked junior.
"I remember we had really tough battles. We faced each other many times in juniors and it helped me become better by playing those guys," Tsitsipas recalls.
The 16-year-old from Montreal downed fifth-seeded Miomir Kecmanovic of Serbia 6-3, 6-0. The match took just 58 minutes to complete. 2:10
At the pro level, Tsitsipas has played only Shapovalov, with both meetings coming this season.
In January, a straight-sets loss to Shapovalov in the first round of the Australian Open served as an early wake up call for Tsitsipas.
Shapovalov beat Greece's Stefanos Tsitsipas 6-1, 6-3, 7-6 (5) to advance to the second round of the Australian Open 1:09
The 20-year-old realized that he needed to be physically stronger in order to withstand tough battles and hold his own against the game's best. When Tsitsipas and Shapovalov met again at the Monte Carlo Masters tournament last April, it was Tsitsipas who prevailed and he credits their previous showdown for his improved performance and confidence.
"To be honest with you, I was not prepared for that match at the Australian Open. When it came to technical issues that I had in that match, he was simply much better and deserved that win," Tsitsipas says.
Last month, Auger-Aliassime lost a tight three-set match to the 37th-ranked Rublev at the Croatia Open after being up an early break in the final set.
A little less than three weeks later, the Montreal native defeated world No.18 Lucas Pouille in his Rogers Cup main draw debut for his first career victory over a top-20 player.
The 18-year-old shined in crucial moments saving five of six break points, including a love-40 situation in just the third game of the match.
Felix Auger-Aliassime defeated Lucas Pouille in straight sets on Tuesday. 1:28
"I was close a few weeks ago against Rublev. It's kind of a statement for me to win these matches, to prove to myself and others that I can compete with these guys — that I have the level to be there, to compete in the top 100," Auger-Aliassime said.
Auger-Aliassime is currently ranked 120th and will need to earn his way into the U.S. Open main draw through qualifying.
It's certainly not out of the question and from there, who knows what happens? Just ask Shapovalov, who rode that momentum to the round of 16.
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