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By Chris Oddo | @TheFanChild | Wednesday July 7, 2021

 
Denis Shapovalov

Canada's Denis Shapovalov is playing the best tennis of his career at Wimbledon. But is he ready for the ultimate test?

When his shoulder ailed him towards the end of the clay season, Denis Shapovalov made the difficult decision to skip Roland Garros in order to be healthy for grass.

Tennis Express

A month later, it’s pretty clear he made the right call. The Canadian blasted past Russia’s Karen Khachanov in five sets on Wednesday, popping serves up to 137 MPH, and rifling a personal tournament best 24 forehand winners, to reach his first Grand Slam semifinal.

In his 15th major appearance, the Canadian is fulfilling his promise, and playing the best tennis of his career. Now, he must prepare for the biggest challenge of his career.

Facing Novak: "Anything is Possible"

Shapovalov will face Novak Djokovic—he of the 19-match Grand Slam winning streak—in Friday’s semifinals, and immediately after his hard-fought 6-4, 3-6, 5-7, 6-1, 6-4 victory over Khachanov on No.1 court, he talked about the challenge.

"Obviously he's the best player in the world, but I think anything is possible,” he told the crowd, as they cheered him on. “When you look at the scoreboard first thing on Friday it's going to be 0-0."

Shapovalov will have certainly learned a thing or two about playing Djokovic over the years. He has faced the 19-time major champion six times, and while he hasn’t won, he has taken a pair of sets and even pushed Djokovic to a third-set breaker in their last meeting at the 2020 ATP Cup.

He’ll be a heavy underdog when he takes the court on Friday, and that might help the Canadian relax more than he would otherwise. He’ll also get great crowd support against the World No.1—it seems to be customary when Djokovic takes the court at Wimbledon—and that should help him key in emotionally.

If Shapovalov manages his emotions and plays like he has nothing to lose, he may be able to put a few dents in the armor of the great Serb. Any headway he can make against a top player like Djokovic should help him in the long term. Shapovalov has progressed as a player immensely over the years, but he has fumbled the ball against the ATP's Top-5. After defeating Rafael Nadal as a 17-year-old in his first ever Top-5 match, he has lost his next 13.

If he intends to win Grand Slams he'll have to reverse that trend at some point.

And, even if he fails on Friday, Shapovalov will have finished a breakthrough Wimbledon having taken a massive step in his career, and played two matches on Centre Court against Wimbledon legends—Andy Murray in the third round and Djokovic in the semis—a deal he would have surely taken back in May, when he pulled out of Paris with an ailing left shoulder and a lot of questions about his form.

No matter what happens on Friday, Shapovalov has proven that he can be a force on Wimbledon’s grass. The 2016 Boys’ Singles champion entered the main draw with a 1-3 lifetime record at Wimbledon, and clearly he made it his mission to prove himself as a formidable grass-court player and one that could come up big on the big stage at SW19.

Shapovalov says his progress at Wimbledon is more about his evolution as a tennis player over the last few years.

"I mean, two years is a long time, especially for tennis players,” Shapovalov said after his round of 16 win over Roberto Bautista Agut. “I think I'm just a different, different person, different player. Obviously, like I said before, I knew it was going to be a process on this surface the next couple years to really develop my game on it. Obviously I had great success in the juniors. But it's a different game in the pros.

"I think, yeah, just mentally, physically, tennis-wise, I'm just a different person than I was two years ago. It's really not comparable."


 

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