Some words on Djokovic, Barty, Shapovalov, Jabeur and more

Denis Shapovalov at Wimbledon 2021

Unstoppable Nole?

Going into Wimbledon, only two men had beaten Novak Djokovic in the final of a major since 2014: Rafael Nadal and Stan Wawrinka. Another fortnight has passed and the record lives on.

When will someone beat the world no.1 in a grand slam final? Might he retire without suffering the fate? As things stand, it looks like neither outcome will occur in the near future.

Having joined Roger and Rafa on 20 majors overall, the next prize for Djokovic is of course Flushing Meadows. If the 34-year-old is victorious at the US Open, he will not only complete a calendar slam but also stand alone in the all-time major chase.

Djokovic will of course be favourite in New York but I think there are two factors to consider before handing him the trophy.

First, the US Open suits just about everyone and far more players will fancy a crack at the world no.1 on standard hard courts rather than the lesser seen sod. 

And second, I still remember how the pressure of chasing so much history overwhelmed Serena Williams in 2015. 

Given the circumstances, the next grand slam will yield the greatest pressure and potential reward for the man from Serbia.

Barty's Best

Fifty years after Evonne and ten years removed from her own junior success, Ash Barty finally won the grand slam she was purpose built for.

After a shaky opener against the magnificent Carla Suarez Navarro, the world no.1 grew into the tournament and proved to be the best player by fortnight’s end.

While nerves proved a hindrance from time-to-time, in those crucial moments, no one had an answer for Barty’s destructive forehand, devilish slice and improvisation.

With two majors garnered on the most extreme surfaces on tour, what’s stopping the 25-year-old going after a career grand slam?

Italian Stallions

At time of writing, Italians will only have started consuming various celebratory food and beverages.

While Sunday did not go to Matteo Berrettini’s plan, he can be very proud of his efforts and what an exciting time for the Peninsula both on the pitch and on court.

Matteo Berrettini at Wimbledon 2021
Matteo Berrettini | Raph_PH

Alongside a top eight stalwart in Berrettini, Italy can enjoy the development of Jannik Sinner, Lorenzo Musetti and Lorenzo Sonego over the coming years. Forza Italia!

Embracing The Bigger Aryna

After phenomenal success on the main tour, Aryna Sabalenka finally replicated that form in a major. For only the second time, the Belarusian made the business week of a slam and went all the way to the last four.

The 23-year-old has certainly benefited from more variety in her game in recent months. However, it’s still hard to guess whether she will become a consistent major force or a streaky performer.

Denis Clicks

I’m not sure there’s a young male player with more outright talent than Denis Shapovalov. However, we have rarely seen him combine those wonderful ingredients into a formidable combination.

Things shifted in London as the 22-year-old certainly found the right balance of shotmaking and consistency. He was frightening at times on Centre Court, pouncing on forehands like a young Federer and dispatching backhands like a vintage Stan-imal.

Please give us more of this Denis. I still believe that he has an exhilarating triumph at Flushing Meadows to show us.

Ons Her Way Up

The first Arab woman to make a major quarter-final, win a title and rank in the top 30 - everything Ons Jabeur does these days is record breaking. 

Ons Jabeur in Wimbledon qualifying 2017
Ons Jabeur | Kate Tann

But apart from that, I can’t think of many players more entertaining to watch on either tour. 

The Tunisian will attempt, and pull off, every shot you can think of. Thankfully, she’s making the right decision more often with each passing month. 

There may just be a slam in her.

Promise or Concern?

Much has been made of the exits of Roger Federer and Andy Murray. 

There’s no doubt that the Scot was completely outplayed by Shapovalov. In hindsight though, is that a disgrace? Murray had very little tennis beforehand and the Canadian gave Djokovic fierce trouble in the semis.

As for Federer, it was a sorry sight watching the great man bageled in the quarters. Inevitable questions about retirement surface after such a display but maybe the 39-year-old is content with a quarter-final showing after such a long hiatus?

Let’s give these legends some time on court and judge later in the year.

Looking To Rebound

Beyond Federer and Murray, there are a number of players who will be looking to rebound on the North American hard courts and/or the Olympics.

Serena Williams, Naomi Osaka, Dominic Thiem, Simona Halep, Stan Wawrinka and Juan Martin del Potro will all hope to get back on court after their respective issues.

Excluded from the Wimbledon draw due to being a Covid contact, Jo Konta will also be raring to go as she tries to rediscover the form that took her to the US Open quarters in 2019.

Unfavourable Comparison

Let’s be clear, there will never be another class like Federer, Nadal and Djokovic. They are otherworldly so it’s pointless comparing them at any age to the likes of Thiem, Medvedev, Tsitsipas, Zverev and Rublev.

A better comparison would be with two top ten stalwarts who also competed with the terrific trio. I’m not talking about Murray, Wawrinka or del Potro. Let’s take a look at David Ferrer and Tomas Berdych. 

The Spaniard, who retired in 2019, reached a career high ranking of no.3 and remained in the top 10 for six straight years. Ferrer made the second week of a major on 27 occasions, 17 of those times the quarter-finals or better.

Tomas Berdych at Wimbledon 2013
Tomas Berdych | Marianne Bevis

As for Berdych, the Czech peaked at no.4 in the world and also remained in the top 10 for six consecutive seasons. By his career’s end in 2019, there were 33 second week appearances in a major and 17 runs to the quarter-finals or better.

As I write, here are the number of quarter-final (or better) appearances for Thiem (8), Zverev (6), Medvedev (4), Tsitsipas (4) and Rublev (4). Plenty of work for the lads to do then!

And since I’m sure you’re curious, here are the obscene major quarter-final or better figures for the big three:

Main picture of Denis Shapovalov by Raph_PH.