Djokovic teaches Shapovalov a lesson

 - Simon Cambers

Young Canadian takes set but fades against six-time champion

Denis Shapovalov congratuling Novak Djokovic at the net during the Australian Open 2019.©Corinne Dubreuil/FFT

Denis Shapovalov is relatively new to the world of grand slam tennis so perhaps he didn’t know the first rule of playing Novak Djokovic. Don’t get him angry.

Down two sets and a break, the 19-year-old Shapovalov, perhaps the most talented of the young generation of players inside the top 50, won five straight games to win the third set. The momentum was with him and with the crowd behind him, he felt he had an opportunity to extend the match even further.

But that served only to rile Djokovic.

“I had my chances“

After giving the crowd a sarcastic thumb-up as they cheered Shapovalov’s efforts, Djokovic took a short bathroom break, gathered his thoughts and returned to the court, before proceeding to rip the young Canadian apart in a fourth set in which he barely made a mistake, clinching a 6-3, 6-4, 4-6, 6-0 victory.

Novak Djokovic during his third round match at the Australian Open 2019©Corinne Dubreuil/FFT

“I had my chances definitely (but) especially after the third set, I felt a little bit physically dead,” Shapovalov said. “He started the fourth really well. After that it was a little bit tough. The balls rolled. He was really taking advantage. He played a really good fourth set. After that it was a little bit too late.”

Djokovic, back at world No 1 after a stunning second half of 2018 during which he won Wimbledon and the US Open, was too solid for Shapovalov, who made far too many mistakes in the opening stages, struggling to find the balance between attacking and staying patient when the ball was not there to go after.

Cuting out the errors

His only dip came in the third set when he let slip the lead, allowing Shapovalov to gain confidence as he worked his way back into contention. After breaking back for 3-4, the Canadian held for 4-4 and then after Djokovic double-faulted to drop serve again, he won a tight game to take the set.

It was then that Djokovic’s greater experience kicked in. Cutting out the errors, he was a brick wall in the fourth and Shapovalov, the No 25 seed, could not cope.

“Other than the little let down I had when I was 4-1 in the third set, I thought I played well, especially in the fourth set,” Djokovic said. “I expected Denis to come out and be aggressive. He made a lot of unforced errors in the first set and a half. I stayed solid, played the right shots.

Something of a crisis

“At 4-1, I was agitated. It should not happen to me. I know better, I have experience. But it does happen, I guess. I allowed him to come back to the match. It was important to start the fourth set well, making that break was crucial for me. I like the fact that I was tested as well. You want to be tested as you’re going along in the tournament. I feel like I’ve been playing well.”

This time last year, Djokovic was in something of a crisis, struggling with an elbow injury and unsure of himself, his usual confidence missing as he played in pain.

Shortly after the Australian Open, he had an operation on his right elbow and though it took time for him to find form, when he did, there was no stopping him as he ended the year ranked No 1.

And now Medvedev

Djokovic will now play another of the younger generation, Daniil Medvedev, the Russian who has not dropped a set yet in this tournament. But the world No 1 said he was sure Shapovalov would be a force in the game in future.

“He’s got a pretty complete game,” he said. “He’s got a big serve, lot of rotation, he can hit it flat, with the spin. I like his mentality, his confidence in himself, he’s always backing himself. Obviously he’s lacking some experience, playing in the big stages, in big matches, but that’s going to come.I like the way he plays. He seems like a guy who dedicates a lot of time to training and to the process of understanding of how he can improve. These kind of experiences can only help him.”