Canada’s Denis Shapovalov celebrates winning a point against Spain’s Roberto Bautista Agut during the men’s singles fourth round match on day seven of the Wimbledon Tennis Championships in London, Monday, July 5, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Alberto Pezzali

Canada’s Denis Shapovalov celebrates winning a point against Spain’s Roberto Bautista Agut during the men’s singles fourth round match on day seven of the Wimbledon Tennis Championships in London, Monday, July 5, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Alberto Pezzali

Shapovalov on Djokovic: ‘I do believe that I have the game to beat him’

Shapovalov made his Tour debut in 2017 and is still considered a rising star

As expected when going up against one of the game’s greatest players, the tale of the tape doesn’t give many edges to Canada’s Denis Shapovalov in his Wimbledon semifinal tilt with top-seed Novak Djokovic.

Grand Slam success? Advantage Djokovic. The Serbian star has won 19 major titles, just one shy of the record held jointly by Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal. He’s won five Wimbledon titles alone, including the last two at the All England Club. Shapovalov, meanwhile, is in a Slam semi for the first time in his career.

Consistency? Advantage Djokovic. The World No. 1 is playing excellent tennis this year even by his already lofty standards. He has a 27-3 record this year with three titles, including the Australian Open and French Open.

Experience? Advantage Djokovic. The 34-year-old won his first ATP Tour match in 2004, which launched a career that saw Djokovic set a record for most weeks at the No. 1 ranking with 322. Shapovalov made his Tour debut in 2017 and is still considered a rising star.

And, of course, Djokovic has a 6-0 advantage in head-to-head meetings.

What Shapovalov does have heading into Friday’s match, however, is confidence and the respect of his elite opponent.

“I do believe that I have the game to beat (Djokovic),” the 22-year-old from Richmond Hill, Ont., said following his quarterfinal win over Karen Khachanov of Wednesday.

“Obviously he’s been playing super well this season and he loves this (grass) surface. Definitely a super-difficult match ahead of me, but I believe in my game. I think I’ve been playing really good tennis.”

Djokovic’s most recent win over Shapovalov was a 7-5, 7-5 victory in the round robin the ATP Cup at Melbourne, Australia back in January. They have met once at a Grand Slam, with Shapovalov taking a set from Djokovic — no mean feat — before falling in the third round of the 2019 Australian Open. That same year they faced off in the final of the prestigious Paris Masters, with Djokovic winning 6-3, 6-4.

Friday is a blank slate, according to Shapovalov.

“When you walk out on that match, it’s 0-0,” he said. “That’s it. It’s a tennis match at the end of the day. Experience, this, that — it comes down to that moment and who’s playing the best.”

Djokovic said Shapovalov will present his biggest challenge at Wimbledon.

“I’m looking forward to it,” Djokovic said after his quarterfinal win over Marton Fucsovics. “It’s going to be a battle and I need to be at my best.”

Djokovic called Shapovalov one of the leaders of the next generation of tennis stars.

“Maybe he was not winning big matches over the last couple of years, (but) it seems like he’s maturing,” Djokovic said. “You would expect that from a player like him that has really an all-around game.”

As daunting an opponent as Djokovic is, Shapovalov does have unique weapons in his arsenal. He plays with an exciting high-risk, high-reward style that become more effective after being tempered with experience. And his strong serve, coming from his left-handed delivery, is a danger that gives even Djokovic pause.

“It’s always tricky to play someone who is left-handed on the quick surfaces,” Djokovic said.

“You don’t get many opportunities against his service game, especially on grass,” he added.

Shapovalov is looking to become the first Canadian to win a men’s Grand Slam singles title. Milos Raonic reached the Wimbledon final in 2016 before falling to Andy Murray.

Bianca Andreescu became the first Canadian Grand Slam singles winner when she beat Serena Williams in the final of the 2019 U.S. Open,

This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 8, 2021.

Tennis