July 7, 2021
By Martyn Herman
LONDON (Reuters) – Since his junior days Denis Shapovalov has always been a risk-taker on court, preferring to win a match off his own racket rather play the percentages and wait for an opponent to lose it.
It is a strategy that has proved frustratingly hit and miss for the 22-year-old Canadian left-hander who has been tipped for great things since turning professional.
He is a little less wild these days, but in his first Wimbledon quarter-final on Wednesday his old attacking instincts kicked in against Russian Karen Khachanov as he overturned a deficit to survive an absorbing five-set duel.
Shapovalov will now take on 19-times Grand Slam and defending Wimbledon champion Novak Djokovic on Friday and he has vowed to carry the fight to the Serbian.
The 10th seed found himself two sets to one down against the rugged Khachanov after losing an intense third set, but responded by throwing caution to the wind.
“Maybe sometimes I’m a little bit too wild and I don’t make the opponents earn it on the big points,” Shapovalov, whose mum and coach Tessa always encouraged him to attack the net as a youngster despite usually being lobbed, told reporters after a 6-4 3-6 5-7 6-1 6-4 win in which he fired 57 winners.
“I’ve been a little bit more conservative this tournament. But it wasn’t working out today, to be honest, against Karen.
“I knew in the fourth and fifth, I have to dictate myself and be aggressive. Otherwise, he was going to win the match.”
Shapovalov’s only other Grand Slam quarter-final came last year at the U.S. Open when he lost a five-setter against Spaniard Pablo Carreno Busta, when a route to the final had opened up for him.
He also reached the fourth round at Flushing Meadows in 2017, since when his record in the majors has been mediocre for a player with so many weapons.
Shapovalov could easily have gone out to German veteran Philipp Kohlschreiber in the Wimbledon first round, but after that five-set escape he produced a dazzling display to crush home favourite Andy Murray in round three and he pulverised dogged Spaniard Roberto Bautista Agut.
“I’ve always been an aggressive player. I’ve always wanted to go for shots,” Shapovalov said. “It’s actually the other way around that I’ve had to learn to take a step back and put more pressure on the opponents, make them earn the points.
“Sometimes it does help having that naturally come to me, especially in a match like today. You kind of have to go and take it yourself,” he added.
“I think in the fifth set today, my game just elevated. It’s something to be super proud of myself for.”
Having become only the second Canadian man, after Milos Raonic, to reach the Wimbledon semi-finals in the professional era, Shapovalov faces the massive task of trying to stop five-times champion Djokovic.
He has lost all their six previous meetings.
“I’m feeling great physically and tennis-wise,” Shapovalov said. “Obviously, he’s been playing really well.
“I’m going to fight for every point and believe in myself. I do believe that I have the game to beat him.”
(Reporting by Martyn Herman, editing by Ed Osmond)