WIMBLEDON, England — We know, of course, that Novak Djokovic can lose matches at Wimbledon, and he can lose at other Grand Slam tournaments, too, because it has happened – and actuality proves possibility.
And yet he keeps showing, over and over again, that it is foolhardy to doubt his supremacy at the moment.
The top-seeded Djokovic stretched his current runs to 20 consecutive victories at Wimbledon, dating to 2018, and 20 in a row at all majors this season, working his way in and out of trouble against a much younger, much-less-experienced opponent until eliminating No. 10 Denis Shapovalov 7-6 (3), 7-5, 7-5 on Friday night to reach the final at the All England Club.
Each set was tight and intense. Each appeared to be within Shapovalov’s grasp. Until it was in Djokovic’s.
“I don’t think that the scoreline says enough about the performance and about the match,” said Djokovic, who saved 5 of 5 break points in the second set, then 3 of 3 in the third.
Then, talking about Shapovalov, a 22-year-old from Canada, Djokovic said: “We’re going to see a lot of him in the future, definitely.”
And now, if he can beat another new-to-these-stages foe, Matteo Berrettini, in Sunday’s final, Djokovic will collect a sixth championship at Wimbledon – third straight – and, more importantly, a 20th Grand Slam title, which would tie his rivals Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal for the most by a man in tennis history.
And then there’s this: He already won the Australian Open in February and the French Open in June, so a Wimbledon triumph would put him three-quarters of the way to a calendar-year Grand Slam, with only the U.S. Open remaining.
First things first. This will be Djokovic’s 30th major final, Berrettini’s first. Much as it was Djokovic’s 41st major semifinal, Shapovalov’s first.
Cries of “Vai!” (Go!), “Forza!” (Let’s go!) and even “Andiamo, amore mio!” (Let’s go, my love!) rang through Centre Court earlier, supporting Berrettini in his native tongue on his way to becoming Italy’s first Grand Slam male finalist in 45 years.
With booming serves delivering 22 aces, and powerful forehands helping compile a total of 60 winners, the No. 7-seeded Berrettini used an 11-game run to grab a big lead and then held on to beat No. 14 Hubert Hurkacz 6-3, 6-0, 6-7 (3), 6-4 in the first semifinal.
“Obviously, the job is not done yet. I want to get the trophy now that I’m here,” said the 25-year-old Berrettini, who lost his only previous Slam semifinal, at the 2019 U.S. Open. “But just, it’s a really unbelievable feeling.”
He’s now on an 11-match winning streak on grass courts, including a title at the Queen’s Club tuneup last month, when he became the first man since Boris Becker in 1985 to win the trophy in his debut at that event. Becker went on to triumph at Wimbledon that year.
The outcome Friday seemed to turn early against Hurkacz, never before past the third round at a Slam but coming off victories over eight-time Wimbledon champion Roger Federer and No. 2 Daniil Medvedev.
A key moment, oddly enough, came less than 20 minutes in, when Hurkacz was ahead 3-2 and held a break point. That was erased by Berrettini – no surprise here – by a service winner at 130 mph, punctuated by one of his many yells of “Si!”
From there, Hurkacz morphed from the guy coming off the biggest win of his career – in straight sets in the quarterfinals against his idol, Federer – back to the player who arrived in England on a six-match losing streak.
Berrettini (almost) couldn’t miss. Hurkacz (almost) couldn’t connect.
By the finish, Berrettini had 24 winners off his forehand alone, and merely 18 unforced errors. Hurkacz’s totals? Just 27 winners – four on forehands – and 26 unforced errors.
When Hurkacz got broken for the first time, the 24-year-old from Poland sat for the ensuing changeover and, between bites of a banana, motioned to his American coach, Craig Boynton, to adjust the seating arrangements in their guest box.
As if that were the issue.
Cheered from the stands by his girlfriend, Ajla Tomljanovic, who made it to the quarterfinals this week, and his parents and brother – Mom captured his on-court interview with her cellphone – Berrettini was two points from winning in the third set.
But Hurkacz extended the contest, before Berrettini asserted himself again.
Shapovalov kept pushing Djokovic to the brink, but couldn’t quite get the job done.
Djokovic dropped his opening set this fortnight to British teen Jack Draper – and has won all 18 since.
When Djokovic and Shapovalov took over the arena in the late afternoon, it was filled with whipping wind that rippled the players’ shirts and covered by dark clouds. The sun did make an appearance in the third set, however.
Djokovic’s 6-0 record head-to-head entering Friday did not portend a fair fight. But Shapovalov is a lefty with a vibrant, sometimes violent, swing, especially when it comes to his serves and his one-handed backhand. There’s hardly a hint of subtlety, nary a trace of playing it safe, and he loves high-risk, high-reward shot-making.
That backhand forced a Djokovic error to conclude a 15-stroke exchange that provided Shapovalov with a break and a 2-1 edge. He stretched that to 5-3 and was two points from taking the set in the next game, but couldn’t get closer.
Serving for the set at 5-4, Shapovalov faltered for the first time – pushed by Djokovic’s indefatigable defense.
Djokovic broke there, then was better in the tiebreaker. Not that he was perfect. He double-faulted, after all, and gave away another point by plopping a backhand into the net.
But mostly playing it safe and letting Shapovalov err worked just fine. Shapovalov double-faulted to end that set. He did so again to get broken to trail 6-5 in the second. And again in the game that left him behind 6-5 in the third.
By then, Djokovic was punching the air and shouting, knowing the match’s end, and another final, was near.