Denis Shapovalov went toe-to-toe with the best player in the world for nearly three hours on Friday at Wimbledon, but he walked off Centre Court with tears in his eyes after Novak Djokovic edged through their semi-final battle in straight sets.
The Canadian had been growing in confidence throughout the fortnight, and he battled past two-time champion Andy Murray as well as eighth seed Roberto Bautista Agut and 25th seed Karen Khachanov to clinch his best Grand Slam result to date.
But up against World No. 1 Djokovic, who is going for his third consecutive Wimbledon crown, he came up just short in the decisive moments. He let 10 of his 11 break opportunities slip by, and although he served well, he was broken once toward the tail end of each set as Djokovic powered to a 7-6(3), 7-5, 7-5 victory.
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“I think what hurt so much this time was just that I felt like the game is there and it’s possible to go and play for the trophy,” Shapovalov said afterwards. “It’s a feeling I’ve never had before, so that’s why it just hurt so much. I felt like I was outplaying Novak in parts of the match. If you’re outplaying Novak, you can beat anyone.
“It just hurt a lot… It’s been a lot of pressure, a lot of mental fatigue. Like, it all kind of spilled out on the court before I could control myself.”
For Shapovalov, the sting of victory was still tempered by the many positives – after all, the 10th seed was contesting his first Grand Slam semi-final at 22 years old. He backed up a career-best grass-court swing that saw him reach his first tour-level semi-final on his favourite surface at The Queen’s Club in the build up to Wimbledon. And he will return to his career-high ranking of World No. 10 as a result when the new FedEx ATP Rankings are published on Monday.
A sterling effort in just his 10th singles match at #Wimbledon
– Wimbledon (@Wimbledon) July 9, 2021
But most importantly, the lefty shotmaker has proven – to the world, and to himself – that he has what it takes to challenge the players at the top of the FedEx ATP Rankings.
“It’s almost good to have a little bit of a taste, because it just makes me want it that much more going into the next Slams and into the future,” he said. “Now I know exactly what I’m capable of and where my game can be at. Also the things that I can improve, too, to beat Novak next time or go one step further.”
Proving it on the court is one thing. But it also helps to hear it from the World No. 1 himself. Shapovalov revealed that after seeing his emotions after the match, Djokovic came up to him in the locker room and offered him words of encouragement.
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“He just told me he knows how difficult it is for me right now,” Shapovalov said. “He told me that everything will come. For me, it’s big coming from someone like him. He doesn’t have to do this. It just shows the type of person he is. It’s just really nice for someone like me to hear from him.
“I have tremendous respect for him. He’s definitely for sure one of the greatest players of all time. It’s awesome to hear those words from him.”