Denis Shapovalov knows a thing or two about how to bounce back stronger and prove doubters wrong. In fact, it’s the theme of a lot of his music, as the 22-year-old Canadian moonlights as a part-time rapper.
But on his favourite surface and up against the best player in the world at Wimbledon, he’ll have to dig deeper than ever to halt five-time champion Novak Djokovic and his quest for Grand Slam history when they meet on Centre Court on Friday.
“I think proving people wrong is what has made me who I am today,” Shapovalov said after his fourth-round win. “It’s always been that for me, for sure it’s always a constant theme. It’s how I keep inspiring myself, and keep myself going.”
From having to withdraw from Roland Garros due to a shoulder injury to reaching his first Grand Slam semi-final at Wimbledon, Shapovalov has been steadily picking up steam in 2021. The 10th seed arrived at the All England Club high on confidence after reaching his second grass-court quarter-final at the MercedesCup in Stuttgart and the semi-finals at the cinch Championships at The Queen’s Club.
While his third-round win over two-time champion Andy Murray in his Centre Court debut might have grabbed all the headlines, it’s what happened afterward that might have been an even bigger win for Shapovalov. He went on to take down Roberto Bautista Agut for a place in the quarter-finals, recording his first Top 10 victory of the year and his first since last year’s US Open (Goffin).
It was a confidence-booster for Shapovalov, who has struggled against top-ranked opponents in the past. The Canadian owns a career 1-13 win-loss record against Top 5 players in the FedEx ATP Rankings. His only victory came back in 2017 over Rafael Nadal in his breakthrough run at the National Bank Open presented by Rogers, but he’s gone on to lose his next dozen matches since – eight of those in straight sets.
The 22-year-old held match points against Nadal again two months ago at the Internazionali BNL d’Italia in Rome, but he couldn’t close it out. The lefty shotmaker will be keen to not waste any more chances as he takes on Djokovic, who leads their 6-0 ATP Head2Head record, in the Wimbledon semi-finals.
“The last couple of times that we’ve played, it’s been really, really tight,” Shapovalov said. “I’m feeling really good. I’m feeling great physically and tennis-wise. Obviously, he’s been playing really well. It’s definitely a tough battle ahead of me.
“When you walk out on that match, the score is 0-0. It’s a tennis match. Anything can happen. I’m going to fight for every point and believe in myself. I do believe that I have the game to beat him and the game to win that match.”
While Shapovalov works up the mental strength to defy the odds and doubters, top seed Djokovic looks primed to continue rewriting the tennis record books as he eyes a seventh Wimbledon final berth. He sits just two matches away from a monumental achievement.
Most players demure about their goals and expectations before a tournament, and often refuse to look ahead past their next match. But not Djokovic. It’s a sixth Gentlemen’s Singles Trophy or nothing, and the World No. 1 has not been shy about declaring his desire to continue breaking records in the sport.
“It’s not a secret that I am trying to win as many Grand Slams as possible. I went for historic [weeks at] No. 1 and I managed to achieve that milestone,” Djokovic said after his quarter-final win. “[Records] are a motivating factor, but they are not consuming my everyday life.
“Of course, it’s soothing to my ears and my ego, as well, that someone thinks of me that greatly. To be in that conversation [for the greatest player of all time] is obviously an honour.”
The reigning Australian Open and Roland Garros champion, Djokovic is bidding for his third Grand Slam title in a row. Victory at the end of the fortnight would bring him his 20th major crown, bringing him level with rivals Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal for the all-time most Grand Slam titles in men’s singles.
But despite the contrasts and comparisons pitting him against his fellow ‘Big Three’ greats, it is not Federer or Nadal’s records that Djokovic is after. He is determined to continue carving out his own slice of tennis history, and going about things in his own way as he does it.
“I’m not chasing anybody. I’m making my own path and my own journey, my own history,” Djokovic said. “I’m privileged to be part of the history of this sport that I love.”
Potential Wimbledon Final H2Hs
Djokovic leads Hurkacz 2-0
Djokovic leads Berrettini 2-0
Shapovalov trails Hurkacz 1-3
Shapovalov leads Berrettini 2-0
Did You Know?
Should Djokovic win his third consecutive Wimbledon title, it would be the third time in his career that he has recorded a streak of three consecutive titles at a Grand Slam event, having done so at the Australian Open in 2013-15 and 2019-21. He would also become the fourth man in the Open Era to record a streak of three consecutive Wimbledon titles – after Federer, Bjorn Borg and Pete Sampras.