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 coronavirus 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.
Djokovic is into his seventh Wimbledon final and one victory away from a sixth Wimbledon title and record-equalling 20th major title.
Shapovalov repeatedly put pressure on Djokovic but faltered at the crucial moments. He failed to serve out the first set at 5-3 and then double-faulted on set point in the tiebreaker.
Djokovic saved all five break points he faced in the second set before Shapovalov double-faulted again to hand him a 6-5 lead.
Djokovic broke again for 6-5 in the third set and served out the match at love.
Shapovalov had become an ‘adopted Briton’ due to his engaging personality and expressive behaviour on court.
Children at a London school had recorded a song in his honour 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.”
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.
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.”
A seventh final at the All England Club ties Djokovic for second on the all-time list, equaling Boris Becker, Arthur Gore and Pete Sampras. Roger Federer has played in 12 Wimbledon finals, winning eight.
In Sunday’s final, Djokovic will face Matteo Berrettini after the world number nine became the first Italian to reach a Wimbledon singles final by beating Hubert Hurkacz 6-3, 6-0, 6-7 (3/7), 6-4.
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 (Djokovic) an incredible guy,” said Shapovalov.
“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.”
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.”