Wimbledon, 2021: Denis Shapovalov has officially come of age on the Grand Slam stage
Denis Shapovalov’s Wimbledon may have ended with a difficult defeat to World No 1 Novak Djokovic, but his performance gives clear proof that he’s headed for better things on the Grand Slam stage.
He left the court in tears, heartbroken that his first magical Wimbledon run had come to a close, but Denis Shapovalov surely is smiling on the inside, because the Canadian now knows that he can be a force to be reckoned with on Wimbledon’s grand stage.
Shapovalov, who fell to Novak Djokovic, 7-6(3), 7-5, 7-5, in Friday’s Wimbledon semi-final, has shown the world that he can be a disruptive force on Centre Court’s hallowed grass carpet, and he’s also demonstrated that he has the mental fortitude to fight his way past the savvy veterans that used to trouble him in the past.
The swift change in tone has been impressive. Shapovalov, 22, entered the fortnight with just one main draw win at Wimbledon to his name. As a junior champion in 2016, he had always vibed with the grass, but he had yet to truly make his presence felt at the All England Club at the professional level. That changed in a big way in 2021, as the Canadian powered past Andy Murray in his Centre Court debut in the third round, then toppled proven veterans Roberto Bautista Agut, the No.8 seed, and Karen Khachanov, the No 25 seed, to reach his first Grand Slam semi-final.
Shapovalov: “If you’re outplaying Novak, you can beat anyone”
Those who watched Shapovalov’s emotional exit from Centre Court on Friday could see that he had formed a bond with the Centre Court faithful that should serve him well over the next decade. When the sadness of an excruciating loss hit him he became teary-eyed as he headed off to the clubhouse, but the Canadian can hold his head high and embrace the fact that he played the best tennis of his career this fortnight at Wimbledon – at the tournament that matters the most to him.
“Denis is playing the best tennis I’ve ever seen from him,” said John McEnroe in the ESPN commentary booth during the match with Djokovic. “His volley skills, his return, but it’s more like his presence, his shot selection has always been key for him, and to be able to bounce back from some of the things he has gone through has been quite impressive.”
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 trophyDenis Shapovalov
Shapovalov can feel how close he is to unlocking his game at the highest level, and that’s why he took Friday’s loss so hard. Credit to him for actually believing he could beat Djokovic.
“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 reflected in his post-match press conference. “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 the stress of the last month got to him, which makes it clear just how much he put into his grass-court season. He played two lead-up events, in Stuttgart and Queen’s, and when he got to Wimbledon, he made the preparation pay off.
“It just hurt a lot,” he said of today’s loss. “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.”
Now Shapovalov “knows exactly what (he’s) capable of”
Despite the loss, Shapovalov leaves this tournament with an idea of how effective his high-octane game can be on the grass. Not only did he reach his first major semi-final, he also played remarkably well against Djokovic on Friday. Shapovalov reeled off seven love holds against Djokovic in the first two sets. In the third set he struggled more on serve, but was able to show his character by saving the first seven break points he faced.
He finished with 40 winners to 33 for Djokovic. He cracked six backhand winners to just one for Djokovic.
Shapovalov didn’t get the win, and he’s not ready to take down a juggernaut like Djokovic on the Grand Slam stage (is anybody?), but he’s closer than ever before.
“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.”