Djokovic weathering all obstacles as his quest for history continues unabated
Top notch opponents keep stepping up but always Djokovic has the answers as he knocks them back down to earth and continues on his quest for glory at Wimbledon.
Novak Djokovic was forced to find solutions against a hyped-up, hard-hitting Denis Shapovalov in Friday’s second men’s semi-final at Wimbledon. As is typically the case, the World No1 had a proper response to every challenge he faced and came away with a resilient, never-in-doubt victory to send Shapovalov packing out of the Championships, 7-6(3), 7-5, 7-5.
After logging his 20th consecutive Grand Slam triumph of 2021 over the No.12-seeded Canadian, the world No 1 was asked what it would mean to him if he could win a sixth Wimbledon title on Sunday.
“It would mean everything. That’s why I’m here,” he said.
Matter of fact: Nothing seems to trouble Djokovic right now as he soaks up pressure and fatigue and continues on his Grand Slam quest, playing the game as clear-headed and determined as he ever has.
Djokovic, who will bid to tie Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal on the all-time Grand Slam men’s singles titles list on Sunday, seems to be operating on a higher plane, even when – at least for moments – he is getting outplayed.
Props to Shapovalov: “We are going to see a lot of him in the future”
Djokovic was quick to praise his opponent after he completed his 78th career Wimbledon victory, hinting that the Canadian played even better than the tight scoreline indicates.
“I don’t think that the scoreline says enough about Denis’ performance in the match,” Djokovic said on court after the match. “He was serving for the first set, he was probably the better player for most of the second set, he had many chances. I would like to give him a big round of applause for today and also these few weeks. This has been his first Grand Slam semi-final and you could see that he was emotional. We are going to see a lot of him in the future, definitely.”
Djokovic now owns a 7-0 record against Shapovalov, and has dropped just two sets against him, but he says he can feel the progress that he is making.
“I think he has matured as a player,” he said. “I feel like he’s probably taking down the number of the unforced errors comparing to maybe last year. I feel like he’s always been a very aggressive player, trying to make winners, come to the net, dictate the play from the back of the court.
“But I feel like now he’s probably a bit more patient in his game. He’s understanding how to construct the point. Unfortunately for him that was maybe lacking in important moments. I just managed to force him to do an error, just play the right shots at the right time.”
Djokovic Closing in on multiple milestones: “Quitting is never an option”
The world No.1 improved to 16-1 in his last 17 Grand Slam semi-finals with his victory, and in truth it’s hard to find a single statistic that does his remarkable 2021 season (or career, for that matter) any justice. It’s better to run off a longer list: The Serb is eight matches from becoming the first man to win the calendar-year Grand Slam since 1969 and he’s also bidding to become the fourth player in history to win three consecutive Wimbledon titles, which would put him next to Roger Federer, Bjorn Borg and Pete Sampras.
Perhaps most remarkable about Djokovic’s evolution as a player is how well he has taken to Wimbledon’s grass over the years. Closing in on a sixth Wimbledon title, it doesn’t seem all that outrageous that Djokovic could one day match Federer’s record of eight men’s singles titles at SW19. Like Rod Laver Arena at the Australian Open, where Djokovic has won nine titles, Wimbledon’s Centre Court is starting to look like “Novak’s house.”
“I’ve said this so many times but I’ll say it again, playing the most special tournament in the world for me, and this court, there’s no holding back – once you step on the court, particularly in the later stages of an event that I always dreamed of winning. The dream keeps going. I’m trying to take out the maximum of my own abilities every single match and see what happens – giving up is never an option.”
Shapovalov on why the loss hurt so much
After the match an emotional Shapovalov left the court with tears spilling down his face. The Canadian says he was struck by the feeling that he was standing toe-to-toe with Djokovic, with a Grand Slam final within reach.
“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,” he said. “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.”
Shapovalov says that in the end he’s happy to have his “taste” of big-time tennis at Wimbledon. He played on Centre Court twice and showed that he can be a threat to win this tournament many times in the future. But none of that helped him quell the feeling of loss after today’s semi-final.
“It just hurt a lot,” he said. “Yeah, it’s been a long month. It’s been a long two weeks. 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.”
Finally he told reporters that he leaves Wimbledon feeling excited about his game and his potential for a breakthrough on the big stage.
“For sure there’s a lot of things to be proud for myself,” he said. “For sure 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. 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. There’s a lot of positives. It’s a great two weeks.”