MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. -- Early in the second set of his quarterfinal win at the Miami Open on Thursday, Denis Shapovalov served and rumbled toward the net. Frances Tiafoe returned and immediately sprinted forward as well. Shapovalov brushed his strings across the bottom of the ball, feathering a perfect drop volley over the net tape, and slammed on the brakes lest he touch the net.
Tiafoe lunged but didn't arrive in time to make a play. His momentum carried him right up to the net, where he and Shapovalov almost bumped heads and exchanged a low five, each acknowledging the other's effort.
Welcome to the world of bro tennis. There's a lot of it going around these days, as the group of young men laboring under the Next Gen flag continue threatening to overturn status quo. This development has been predicted for some time, but it has never seemed more inevitable than here at the Miami Open these past 10 days.
What was less clear is what kind of tour these young hellions would shape. It seems that some of them, at least, are intent on turning the ATP's House of Pain (thanks, Big Four) into something more like a frat house.
"I really love everything he's done," Tiafoe said of his bro Shapovalov, after the 19-year-old Canadian prodigy improved his record against Tiafoe to 2-1 with a 6-7 (5), 6-4, 6-2 win. "He came up in the ranks pretty quickly. I love watching him play, he's a great shot-maker. And I always thought he was one of the more easygoing guys on the tour."
Like most elite junior players, these two were aware of each other from an early age. But they didn't really bond until the fall of 2017, when they were both on the first Laver Cup World Team in Prague, Czech Republic. Their friendship grew from there. It's so solid that they were moved to give each other two bro hugs at the conclusion of Thursday's match -- a long one at the net and another impromptu one as Tiafoe left the court, passing close to Shapovalov, who was waiting to be interviewed for the Grandstand crowd. That they can be close yet compete so hard is a rebuke to those who preach the dog-eat-dog gospel.
"I think it's tough [to play Frances] in the sense that I wish the best for him, and I love seeing him go deep in tournaments and doing as good as possible," Shapovalov said later. "When you win, obviously you feel great. But part of me does also feel kind of bad, just in the sense that he couldn't go on in the tournament. I know he deserves it as much as I do. He works so hard. He's such a great person."
Shapovalov said he and Tiafoe sat around chatting in the locker room during their post-match cool-down period. The dialogue would have to have been fascinating to top the one their rackets had just completed on the court.
They may be friendly, but the contrast between them is striking and the competition was undeniably fierce -- a clash of whizzing, sizzling groundstrokes, superb touch volleys and passing shots that all but left scorch marks on the court.
Shapovalov will make his debut in the world top 20 after this tournament. He's a lefty who wears a baseball cap backward and hits a ferocious, topspin one-handed backhand. Tiafoe, who is 21 and currently ranked No. 34, is right-handed, favors a plain white headband, and has a two-handed backhand that he can employ like the flipper in a pinball machine or a hockey stick.
Apart from the signature traits of a southpaw -- like that penchant for extreme spins and heavily cut serves -- Shapovalov has potent but conventional strokes. Tiafoe was heterodox from the start, and those elements have only gotten more pronounced as he has matured.
Compared to the elaborate rituals some of his rivals go through as they prepare and execute a serve, Tiafoe seems to serve with no preparation at all. He just tosses the ball and goes after it with nothing even worthy of the word "backswing." Thanks to the terrific racket-head speed he generates, the serve is explosive and near impossible to read.
Tiafoe drops the racket head on the takeback when he hits his forehand, snapping his wrist violently, so it seems the ball leaps from his strings with whiplash. The various flat and even slice shots Tiafoe has increasingly been hitting are equally effective. He's the tennis equivalent of baseball's junkballer.
As compelling and different as each of these players is, they're still young and playing bro tennis. So a few boneheaded plays or out-to-lunch interludes are nothing to get all bent out of shape about, right?
They gifted each other critical first-set break points by trying high-risk drop shots. Neither was able to capitalize and the set went to a tiebreaker. Tiafoe smacked more double faults than aces (6-5) and won just 62 percent of his first-serve points while managing to win 61 percent of his second-serve points. Shapovalov allowed a 5-1 second-set lead to get away from him before winning 6-4. Both guys tried a lot of drop shots, not always at the best of times.
These two are good examples of the stylistic variety the younger generation is bringing to the game. It's as if Roger Federer's all-around brilliance has spawned an entire generation dedicated to exploring the outer reaches of skill and style. Some, like Tiafoe, are unconventional. Others, like Miami Open semifinalist Felix Auger-Aliassime (another Canadian teen), work the classic side of the street. All of them are abundantly capable.
"None of these [Next Gen] guys really have weaknesses," Tiafoe said. "All the guys can hit all the shots, so it's tough. Everyone's physicality is also pretty high, so it's really down to whoever is playing better that day."
Shapovalov will be hoping his bro's analysis is equally true when it comes to the young players meeting their elders because Shapovalov's reward for advancing past Tiafoe is a semifinal date with his idol, Federer.
What does he have in mind in the way of strategy?
"I'll try to put on, like, some tennis sunglasses," Shapovalov said. "So I don't see him, so I see blurry or something, or I see someone else on the other side."