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Wimbledon breaking point: Israel-born Shapovalov rues letting Djokovic off hook

Canadian player given standing ovation as he leaves Centre Court, says he outplayed Serb in parts of semi-final but praises rival as an ‘incredible guy’

Canada's Denis Shapovalov acknowledges the crowd after being defeated by Serbia's Novak Djokovic during the men's singles semifinals match on day eleven of the Wimbledon Tennis Championships in London, July 9, 2021. (AP Photo/Alberto Pezzali)
Canada's Denis Shapovalov acknowledges the crowd after being defeated by Serbia's Novak Djokovic during the men's singles semifinals match on day eleven of the Wimbledon Tennis Championships in London, July 9, 2021. (AP Photo/Alberto Pezzali)

LONDON (AFP) — Denis Shapovalov left Centre Court at Wimbledon to a standing ovation but in tears due to what he felt was a missed opportunity to beat world number one Novak Djokovic and reach the men’s final.

The 22-year-old Canadian, who admitted to being mentally exhausted owing largely to having to live in a bubble due to COVID-19 restrictions, had good reason to rue his missed chances on Friday.

Djokovic saved 10 of 11 break points to go through to defend his title after running out a 7-6 (7/3), 7-5, 7-5 winner.

Shapovalov had become an “adopted Briton” due to his engaging personality and expressive behavior on court.

Children at a London school had recorded a song in his honor a revised version of MC Hammer’s “U Can’t Touch This” as their teacher Adam Kohlbeck knows Shapovalov from his days as a tennis coach.

Shapovalov, though, could not hold back the emotion at the end of his first ever Grand Slam semi-final.

“I think what hurt so much this time was just that I felt like the game is there and it’s possible to go and play for the trophy,” said Shapovalov.

“It’s a feeling I’ve never had before, so that’s why it just hurt so much.

“I felt like I was outplaying Novak in parts of the match. If you’re outplaying Novak, you can beat anyone. It just hurt a lot.”

Serbia’s Novak Djokovic celebrates after defeating Canada’s Denis Shapovalov during the men’s singles semifinals match on day eleven of the Wimbledon Tennis Championships in London, Friday, July 9, 2021. (AP Photo/Kirsty Wigglesworth)

The Israel-born Shapovalov — his Ukraine-born mother and Russian father emigrated to Canada when he was a baby — said the intensity of his campaign had taken a toll.

“It’s been a long two weeks,” said Shapovalov.

“It’s been a lot of pressure, a lot of mental fatigue.

“Like, it all kind of spilled out on the court before I could control myself.”

Shapovalov, though, could see positives too from his campaign.

Canada’s Denis Shapovalov celebrates winning a point against Serbia’s Novak Djokovic during the men’s singles semifinals match on day eleven of the Wimbledon Tennis Championships in London, July 9, 2021. (AP Photo/Alberto Pezzali)

He beat two-time champion Andy Murray, 2019 semi-finalist Roberto Bautista Agut and prevailed in a thrilling five set quarter-final with Karen Khachanov.

“For sure there’s a lot of things to be proud for myself,” he said.

“It’s almost good to have a little bit of a taste because it just makes me want it that much more going into the next slams and into the future.”

‘Incredible guy’

Djokovic had paid Shapovalov warm compliments after he departed Centre Court saying he had been the better player in the second set and the Canadian revealed he had not stopped there.

“He’s an incredible guy,” Shapovalov said of Djokovic.

“I don’t think he’s praised enough. Even he came up to me in the locker room, he just said a couple of words.

“For me, it means a lot. He really doesn’t have to.”

Canada’s Denis Shapovalov serves to Spain’s Roberto Bautista Agut during the men’s singles fourth round match on day seven of the Wimbledon Tennis Championships in London, July 5, 2021. (AP Photo/Alberto Pezzali)

Shapovalov will regroup ahead of the US Open at the end of August — he reached the quarter-finals last year — and bypass the Olympics in Tokyo later this month.

He said part of the reason is he is sick to the back teeth of living in the bubble.

“I’ve been here for a month,” he said.

“Mentally I’m starting to go. It’s not easy mentally for anybody. That was a big part of the decision.”

Shapovalov said it is not easy to decline an invitation to represent one’s country.

“Obviously I want to play the Olympics, I want to represent my country,” he said.

“It’s a dream for me. But it’s really tough with these restrictions. It puts a lot of pressure on you.

“It’s really tough on the mental. I’m exhausted, not just from the tournament, but from this whole situation, the restrictions.

“We can’t leave. I mean, it’s not easy for anyone.”

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