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Shapovalov hopes to give Canadian tennis a boost

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Eighteen-year-old Denis Shapovalov wants his hockey-loving country of Canada to embrace tennis and hopes that after his star-making run at the U.S. Open, youngsters there will think twice before getting on the ice.

Sept 3, 2017; New York, NY, USA; Denis Shapovalov of Canada waves goodbye to the fans after losing to Pablo Carreno Busta of Spain in Ashe Stadium at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center. Mandatory Credit: Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY Sports

“My goal is to raise the level of Canadian tennis and have more kids picking up a racquet instead of a hockey stick,” he told reporters after his fourth round loss to Pablo Carreno Busta on Sunday.

“I think I have definitely helped to do that, and hopefully, you know, I can keep doing it.”

It has been a whirlwind last few weeks for Shapovalov, who electrified his home country when he made the semi-final at the Rogers Cup in Montreal in August, defeating world number one Rafa Nadal and former U.S. Open champ Juan Martin del Potro along the way.

With a powerful left-handed forehand, a one-handed backhand, and flowing blonde locks, the fresh faced Shapovalov is also dealing with fame for the first time.

“Just a couple of days ago in Central Park, I was just walking with my team and I ran into this kid who was shaking, you know, seeing me,” he said with amazement.

“I think I’m making an impact and hopefully I can continue to do so because for me, the best thing in life is to see kids like this looking up to you and just aspiring to be like you.”

Shapovalov, who counts Canadian hockey legend Wayne Gretzky among his fans, is already exceeding the lofty expectations he set for himself on the court.

At the start of the year his goal was to be in the top 150 of the ATP rankings, he said.

After his run at the U.S. Open, he will likely find himself in the top 50 when the rankings are released next week.

In the meantime, he is trying to stay grounded even as his celebrity grows.

“I think I really need to get back to work and my team is making sure that, first of all, I’m staying healthy, and second of all, I’m always trying to get better,” he said.

“Hopefully in the future I can make some more runs. Hopefully, eventually, in the long term, I’ll be lifting up a cup.”

(This version of the story was refiled to add dropped letter in ‘country’ in lede paragraph)

Reporting by Rory Carroll, editing by Gene Cherry