Denis Shapovalov held off a stern challenge from Karen Khachanov on Wednesday to reach the Wimbledon semifinals, where he'll lock horns with defending champion Novak Djokovic. Looking ahead to the high-octane clash, Shapovalov sounded upbeat about his chances despite never having beaten the 19-time Slam champion previously.
The Canadian hopes to draw confidence from the pair's last few meetings, which were tight affairs. Shapovalov went down to Djokovic in a third-set tiebreaker at the 2020 ATP Cup, before losing 5-7, 5-7 at the 2021 edition of the same tournament.
"We have met a couple of times, and he has always beaten me," Shapovalov said. "The last times, however, have been very close matches."
Denis Shapovalov believes he has the wherewithal to take the game to Novak Djokovic, but he acknowledged that the Serb was in top form himself.
"It is clear that he is playing very well. It's going to be a tough match, but when you enter the court, the score is 0-0," Shapovalov said. "It's a tennis match; anything can happen. I am going to fight for every point. I believe in myself: I really think I have the game to beat him. I have the game to win this match."
Denis Shapovalov will play in his first Grand Slam semifinal on Friday, while Novak Djokovic will be playing his 40th (28-11 win-loss record) and 11th (7-3) at Wimbledon. Djokovic has dropped just one set at the tournament so far this year, and has managed to beat all his opponents without having to hit top gear.
Shapovalov, however, is not fazed by the wide gulf in big-match experience between the two. The Canadian believes there are no pushovers in the last four of a tournament, and he claimed that he wouldn't think about the difference in stature between the two when he takes the court on Friday.
"No, it's not something that worries me," Shapovalov said. "I'm going to go out and play my tennis. I don't think about any of that at all. The match will be won by the best player when the day comes, there's nothing more."
"When you're in the semifinals of a tournament, there are no hopefuls, no favourites, no 'underdogs', whatever you want to call it," he added. "It is clear he has a lot of experience, but as I said, the score is 0-0, and from there you play the match. It's tennis, and anything can happen, that's my mentality."
"I knew it was going to be a tough match against Karen" - Denis Shapovalov
Denis Shapovalov won the opening set against Karen Khachanov on Wednesday. But with the Russian cutting down on his errors and capitalizing on Shapovalov's, the Canadian fell into a two-sets-to-one deficit.
Shapovalov managed to raise his game just in time, overwhelming his opponent 6-1 in the fourth set. And he was steadier in the decider too, eventually breaking Khachanov at 4-4 before serving out a hard-fought 6-4, 4-6, 5-7, 6-1, 6-4 win.
Shapovalov acknowledged that Khachanov "played better" in vast portions of the match, and that he knew going in it was going to be a "tough match".
"I knew it was going to be a very tough match against Karen," Shapovalov said. "We had met before, and they were very physical matches. I think he played better than me for most of the match."
After crediting his opponent for playing well in the match's early exchanges, Shapovalov claimed that he felt Khachanov was tiring in the fourth. That was when the young Canadian upped the ante and played some of his clutchest tennis to emerge victorious.
"It is clear I had some opportunities, but he played them very well. Everything worked out for him," Shapovalov said. "In the fourth set I tried to be a little more aggressive. I think he lowered the piston a little physically; he got a little tired from the fourth set, and I was able to take a step forward. By the fifth, I felt very well."
"I am very happy to have won," he added. "I told myself I should play every point in the fifth set as intensely as possible, fight for every point, no matter what the result or the moment. I think it was a very tough battle, I gave everything I had, but I'm very proud of myself. "
Denis Shapovalov also claimed that in the fifth set against Karen Khachanov, he tried to draw experience from his marathon tussle against Pablo Carreno Busta in the 2020 US Open quarterfinals. The young Canadian fought back from a two-set deficit in that match to force a fifth, but he failed to ride on his momentum and fell 3-6 in the decider.
Shapovalov knew he couldn't take his eye off the ball against Khachanov on Wednesday, something he learnt the hard way against Carreno Busta.
"I was in a very similar circumstance against Pablo: I won the fourth set 6-0 or 6-1, very easily," Shapovalov said. "That made me lower my guard and relax a little, it made me think that I had everything under control, that I had positive inertia. But things changed quickly."
Against Khachanov, Shapovalov made sure he didn't leave anything to chance. He fired some of his fastest serves in the decider and kept "going for his shots".
"I knew that I had to face the fifth set (against Khachanov) giving absolutely everything I had, going for my shots," Shapovalov said. "That is the difference this time."
"I felt like I had to serve perfectly, and I think it was in the fifth set that I served better," he added. "My percentages went up, the speeds were higher. I think I raised my game, and it's something I'm very proud of. "
Denis Shapovalov looked the fresher of the two players in the decider on Wednesday, and he believes he is well-positioned to prepare for the upcoming battle against Novak Djokovic.
"You always want to win in three sets, and you try to establish your own rhythm, and I've been lucky enough to do that, but it doesn't always happen," Shapovalov said. "In general, I have felt very good. Even today, in a fifth set, I was very fresh. I feel prepared for everything. It's great to have another day off so that I can prepare 100% for the match against Novak."
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