WIMBLEDON, England — The victories keep adding up for Novak Djokovic: 20 in a row at Wimbledon since the start of the 2018 tournament, 20 in a row in all Grand Slam matches since the start of this season.
Make both of those streaks reach 21 on Sunday, and Djokovic will accomplish something he’s been chasing for years: He would tie his rivals Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal with a 20th major championship, the most by a man in tennis history.
The top-seeded Djokovic worked his way in and out of trouble against a much younger, much-less-experienced opponent Friday until eliminating No. 10 Denis Shapovalov 7-6 (3), 7-5, 7-5 to reach the final at the All England Club.
"At this stage of my career, Grand Slams are everything, really. They are the four events that count the most in our sport. I’ve been very privileged to make history of a sport that I truly love. It fills my heart every time that I hear there is something on the line that is historic. Obviously it inspires me, it motivates me," said Djokovic, a 34-year-old from Serbia. "But at the same time, I have to balance it with trying to be present and in the moment and win only the next match."
Each set of his semifinal was tight and intense. Each appeared to be within Shapovalov’s grasp — until it was in Djokovic’s.
"I don’t think that the scoreline says enough about the performance and about the match," said Djokovic, who saved 5 of 5 break points in the second set, then 3 of 3 in the third. Talking about Shapovalov, a 22-year-old from Canada, Djokovic told the capacity crowd at Centre Court: "We’re going to see a lot of him in the future, definitely."
Djokovic is most definitely dominating the sport’s present. If he can beat another new-to-these-stages foe, No. 7 seed Matteo Berrettini of Italy, in Sunday’s final, Djokovic will collect a sixth championship at Wimbledon — his third straight. And then there’s this: He already won the Australian Open in February and the French Open in June, so a Wimbledon triumph would put him three-quarters of the way to a calendar-year Grand Slam, with only the U.S. Open remaining. No man has pulled that off since Rod Laver in 1969.
First things first. This will be Djokovic’s 30th major final, Berrettini’s first.
It was Djokovic’s 41st major semifinal, Shapovalov’s first. Cries of "Vai!" (Go!), "Forza!" (Let’s go!) and even "Andiamo, amore mio!" (Let’s go, my love!) rang through the All England Club’s main stadium earlier, supporting Berrettini in his native tongue on his way to becoming Italy’s first Grand Slam male finalist in 45 years.
With booming serves delivering 22 aces, and powerful forehands helping compile a total of 60 winners, the No. 7-seeded Berrettini used an 11-game run to grab a big lead and then held on to beat No. 14 Hubert Hurkacz 6-3, 6-0, 6-7 (3), 6-4 in the first semifinal.
"Obviously, the job is not done yet. I want to get the trophy now that I’m here," said the 25-year-old Berrettini, who lost his only previous Slam semifinal, at the 2019 U.S. Open. "But, just, it’s a really unbelievable feeling."
He’s now on an 11-match winning streak on grass courts, including a title at the Queen’s Club tuneup last month, when he became the first man since Boris Becker in 1985 to win the trophy in his debut at that event. Becker went on to triumph at Wimbledon that year.
A key moment in the semifinal, oddly enough, came less than 20 minutes in, when Hurkacz was ahead 3-2 and held a break point. That was erased by Berrettini — no surprise — thanks to a service winner at 130 mph, punctuated by one of his many yells of "Si!" From there, Hurkacz morphed from the guy coming off the biggest wins of his career — against his idol, eight-time Wimbledon champion Federer, and No. 2 Daniil Medvedev — back to the player who arrived in England on a six-match losing streak.
Berrettini (almost) couldn’t miss. Hurkacz (almost) couldn’t connect. By the finish, Berrettini had 24 winners off his forehand alone, and merely 18 unforced errors. Hurkacz’s totals? Just 27 winners — four on forehands — and 26 unforced errors.
When Hurkacz got broken for the first time, the 24-year-old from Poland sat for the ensuing changeover and, between bites of a banana, motioned to his American coach, Craig Boynton, to adjust the seating arrangements in their guest box. As if that were the issue.
Cheered from the stands by his girlfriend, Ajla Tomljanovic, who made it to the quarterfinals this week, and his parents and brother — mom captured his on-court interview with her cellphone — Berrettini was two points from winning in the third set. But Hurkacz extended the contest, before Berrettini asserted himself again.
Shapovalov kept pushing Djokovic to the brink, but couldn’t quite get the job done.
Djokovic dropped his opening set this fortnight to British teen Jack Draper — and has won all 18 since. Djokovic’s 6-0 record head-to-head entering Friday did not portend a fair fight. But Shapovalov is a lefty with a vibrant, sometimes violent, swing, including when it comes to his one-handed backhand. There’s hardly a hint of subtlety, nary a trace of playing it safe. That backhand forced a Djokovic error to conclude a 15-stroke exchange that provided Shapovalov with a break and a 2-1 edge. He stretched that to 5-3 and was two points from taking the set in the next game, but couldn’t get closer.
Serving for the set at 5-4, Shapovalov faltered for the first time — pushed by Djokovic’s indefatigable defense. Djokovic broke, then was better in the tiebreaker. Not perfect, but better. Mostly playing it safe and letting Shapovalov err worked just fine. Shapovalov double-faulted to end that set. He did so again to get broken to trail 6-5 in the second. And again in the game that left him behind 6-5 in the third.
By then, Djokovic was punching the air and shouting, knowing the match’s end, and another final, was near.