July 8, 2021
By Martyn Herman
LONDON (Reuters) – So clinical has Novak Djokovic’s form been during the Wimbledon fortnight that it is tempting to suggest the All England Club engravers are already etching his name on the trophy for a sixth time.
The 34-year-old Serb has looked utterly dominant and the scary thing for the other three players to make it to the semi-finals is that he probably has not required top gear yet.
Five-time winner and defending champion Djokovic will contest his 10th Wimbledon and 41st Grand Slam semi-final on Friday against 22-year-old Canadian Denis Shapovalov who has reached this stage for the first time in his career.
Add in the fact that Djokovic’s gaze is locked on winning his 20th Grand Slam title to match record holders Roger Federer and Rafa Nadal and his career record against Shapovalov reads 6-0, and a place in the final looks a formality.
Friday’s first semi-final sees Matteo Berrettini take on Poland’s Hubert Hurkacz — the man who sent Federer packing, possibly for the last time, in the quarter-finals.
Whoever wins will be making history with Berrettini bidding to become the first Italian to make a Wimbledon final and Hurkacz the first Polish man to reach the final of any Slam.
While Djokovic is part of the furniture in the business end of Grand Slams, the semi-final line-up for Wimbledon’s return after last year’s cancellation feels as fresh as the damp weather that has left Centre Court lush.
Djokovic’s biggest problem early in the tournament was staying upright, but since those early tumbles he has looked flawless, winning 15 consecutive sets since losing the opening set of his title defence against British wildcard Jack Draper.
That said, his draw has been kind and the only seed he has faced was number 17 Cristian Garin in the fourth round.
Left-hander Shapovalov, seeded 10, represents a big step up in terms of threat, although the Canadian must replicate the dazzling form he showed in beating twice champion Andy Murray, Roberto Bautista Agut and Karen Khachanov en route to the semi-final if he is to stand any chance of an upset.
One thing is probably certain. Shapovalov will not just sit back and wait to be ground down by the relentless Djokovic.
If he goes down, he will go down swinging.
“It’s a tennis match. Anything can happen,” Shapovalov said. “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.”
Djokovic, however, will be uber confident, having won 15 of his last 16 Grand Slam semi-finals and his last 19 matches at Wimbledon — a run that bagged him the 2018 and 2019 titles.
With a 20th Grand Slam tantalisingly close, there is zero chance of Djokovic taking Shapovalov lightly.
“I saw him play against Murray. He’s really feeling great. It’s impressive the way he’s been playing,” Djokovic said.
“I’m sure that it’s going to be the biggest test I will have so far in the tournament, which is expected. It’s semi-finals.”
Berrettini has the chance to make it quite a Sunday for Italian sport with the Azzurri facing England in the Euro 2020 soccer final a few hours later down the road at Wembley.
But first he must get past the dangerous Hurkacz.
Berrettini’s run to his second Grand Slam semi-final has been almost as impressive as Djokovic’s with only two sets dropped.
The seventh seed posted a message of intent by becoming the first debutant since Boris Becker in 1985 to win the Queen’s club title last month and has carried that form into Wimbledon where his 130mph first serves and grass-scorching forehands have helped him carve his way through the draw.
He is only the second Italian man to reach the Wimbledon semi-finals and the first since Nicola Pietrangeli in 1960.
The way he is playing and with a Grand Slam semi-final rookie across the net, Berrettini has a clear shot at goal to become the first Italian male Grand Slam finalist since Adriano Panatta won the French Open in 1976.
(Reporting by Martyn Herman; Editing by Toby Davis)