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With measured abandon, Denis Shapovalov scores his first Wimbledon semifinal over Karen Khachanov
The 22-year-old Canadian rallied from two sets to one down to book a meeting with world No. 1 Novak Djokovic.
Published Jul 07, 2021
WATCH: Denis Shapovalov outlasted Karen Khachanov in five epic sets to reach the final four at Wimbledon.
There’s a freedom that endlessly emanates from Denis Shapovalov, his explosive one-handed backhand quickly becoming one of tennis’ world wonders. On the brink of a major breakthrough, the Canadian youngster has perfectly distilled his sometimes-wild game to book a semifinal spot at Wimbledon, roaring from two sets to one down to defeat Karen Khachanov, 6-4 3-6, 5-7, 6-1, 6-4.
The No. 10 seed shook off missed opportunities early in the fifth set to regain control after a jaw-dropping backhand winner to ultimately outlast the No. 25 seeded-Russian in just under three-and-a-half hours.
Dominant since the end of the first week—especially through three decisive sets over two-time champ Andy Murray—the 22-year-old has been in an undeniable groove at the All England Club, feeling flawless by his own measure ahead of the Khachanov clash.
“Honestly, it's been really, really fun out there,” he admitted after a straight-setter over Roberto Bautista Agut on Monday. “I feel like everything's kind of working for me. Obviously, it's not a guarantee that it's going to continue like this. But, for sure, I'm super, super happy with the way I've been able to play the last two matches.”
I feel like everything's kind of working for me. Obviously, it's not a guarantee that it's going to continue like this. But, for sure, I'm super, super happy with the way I've been able to play the last two matches. Denis Shapovalov
Shapovalov eased through the opening set on No. 1 Court before Khachanov reeled off four straight games to start the second.
Where the Canadian is uninhibited off both sides, Khachanov lives and dies by an extreme forehand grip and struggles to generate pace when outside an ideal strike zone. Still, the pioneer of this bourgeoning Russian next generation—one that now includes Daniil Medvedev, Andrey Rublev, and Aslan Karatsev—held firm through the following two sets, fending off break points at 3-4 in the third to ultimately put himself within reach of victory.
Leveling the match with a defiant fourth set, Shapovalov raced ahead 0-40 on the Khachanov serve at 2-2, only to lose all three opportunities to make his mark on what was fast becoming a hotly contested decider.
Ahead 30-15 in the pivotal ninth game, Khachanov could only watch when the Canadian audaciously unloaded a game-changing backhand winner, one that was initially called out by the chair umpire only for Hawkeye to hand it the justice it deserved.
With the momentum back up north, Shapovalov pumped up the crowd as he sent Khachanov running and struggling to match his intensity off the forehand side.
His seventh break point of the set proved lucky for Shapovalov, who gamely converted and served out the win by forcing one last error from the overmatched Russian.
In the end, Shapovalov struck a scintillating 59 winners—well ahead of his 48 errors—and put down 17 aces that he hopes will put him in good stead in a looming matchup with world No. 1 Novak Djokovic.
The crowd grumbled at the very mention of Djokovic’s name, only to immediately brighten by Shapovalov’s confident demeanor, eager to pull off one more flawless finish and reach his first Grand Slam final.
“He’s obviously the best player in the world, but I think anything is possible and when you look at the scoreboard first thing on Friday, it’ll be 0-0," he said to cheers during his on-court interview. "That’s it. Nothing else matters, because it’s a tennis match that can go either way. I have full belief in me and my team, and we’re all putting in the worth.”
In the face of opposition as supreme as the double-defending champion, it would be foolhardy for most to feel that way. Then you see a Shapovalov backhand, the commitment it requires and the freedom of its execution, and you remember that anything has already been proven possible.