Preview: Djokovic v Fucsovics, Shapo v Khachanov
Entering the final stages of a Grand Slam in 2021, once again the biggest question is: Who can stop World No. 1 Novak Djokovic in his quest to rewrite the tennis record books? After conquering the Australian Open and Roland Garros, Djokovic is eyeing a record-equalling 20th Grand Slam title as he heads into the quarter-finals at Wimbledon on Wednesday.
It is easy to get caught up in the figures and statistics of the monumental feat Djokovic is attempting to achieve at the All England Club: after winning the Australian Open and Roland Garros, he is half way to a calendar-year Grand Slam, something only Rod Laver (1969) has ever achieved in the Open Era.
He could also be set for a record-breaking finish as year-end No. 1 in the FedEx ATP Rankings. And if he wins his third consecutive Wimbledon title, he’ll be only the fourth player to do so after Roger Federer, Bjorn Borg and Pete Sampras.
“You always enjoy obviously hearing those stats. It's a privilege to break records in the sport that I truly love,” Djokovic said after his win over Cristian Garin, which put him into his 50th Grand Slam quarter-final. “I'm devoted to this sport as much as I think anybody out there on the tour. I just try to do my best. I am aware that there are many records on the line. They do inspire me to play my best tennis.”
Djokovic admitted earlier in the fortnight that this wasn’t always the case. He recalled the mental fatigue and a ‘deflated’ feeling that affected his previous race for the calendar-year Grand Slam in 2016, which ended in a third-round defeat at Wimbledon at the hands of Sam Querrey. But now, with the benefit of years of experience in breaking records and rewriting the tennis history books, a calmer and more-centered Djokovic is determined to block out the noise and focus on the task at hand.
“If I start, you know, giving away my attention and energy to these speculations and discussions and debates, I feel like it's going to derail me from what I feel is the priority at this moment for me: [to] take it step by step, day by day, stick to stuff that makes me feel good, that make me feel comfortable, confident, [and] that makes me prepare the best that I possibly can be prepared for the final stages of Grand Slams,” he said. “It's not a secret that I am trying to win as many Slams as possible. I went for the historic [weeks at] No. 1 [record]. I managed to achieve that milestone.”
By all accounts he is succeeding. Djokovic has dropped only one set in the tournament, in the first round against wild card Jack Draper. He has only lost his serve three times in the tournament: once against Draper and twice against American Denis Kudla. He comfortably cruised past 2018 finalist Kevin Anderson and 17th seed Garin to reach the last eight.
Djokovic’s next hurdle will be Hungary’s Fucsovics, the only unseeded man through to the last eight. He leads Fucsovics 2-0 in their ATP Head2Head, with both of their meetings taking place on hard courts.
Fucsovics, currently No. 48 in the FedEx ATP Rankings, had to go about things the hard way to reach his first Grand Slam quarter-final at Wimbledon. He came back from a set down to overcome 19th seed Jannik Sinner in the first round 5-7, 6-3, 7-5, 6-3, and then halted a late comeback effort against Diego Schwartzman to see off the ninth seed in four sets. He earned a sweet-revenge win over Andrey Rublev, the fifth seed and a player who has haunted his draws in 2021, in five sets before booking a meeting with the World No. 1.
“Against Novak, against the top guys, you cannot tell the winning strategy,” Fucsovics said. “I will go out there and try to enjoy every moment, fight for every point. That will be most important... This is the first time I reach the quarter-finals in a Grand Slam. Hopefully I get to play on the Centre Court, and I want to enjoy every moment of it.”
The winner will take on either 10th seed Shapovalov or 25th seed Khachanov, who are both into the quarter-finals at Wimbledon for the first time. But it’s been a long time coming for the two players who have been knocking on the door of a major breakthrough and equalled their best Grand Slam result this week.
Shapovalov has thrived under pressure throughout the fortnight, pulling off one of his biggest wins to oust two-time champion Andy Murray under the lights on Centre Court in the third round. The 2020 US Open quarter-finalist has improved with every week of the grass-court swing, reaching the quarter-finals in Stuttgart (l. to Cilic) and semi-finals at The Queen’s Club (l. to Norrie) before arriving at SW19.
“I think I'm just a different, different person, different player,” the 22-year-old said. “I knew it was going to be a process on this surface the next couple years to really develop my game on it. Obviously I had great success in the juniors. But it's a different game in the pros.”
Khachanov, who reached this stage at Roland Garros in 2019, has flown under the radar during a historically strong showing for Russians at Wimbledon. But after Daniil Medvedev and Andrey Rublev fell in the fourth round, only Khachanov has been left standing as the first player from his country to reach a Wimbledon quarter-final since Mikhail Youzhny in 2012.
The 25-year-old has maneuvered past three American opponents after defeating Mackenzie McDonald, Frances Tiafoe – who knocked out Stefanos Tsitsipas in the first round – and taking down Sebastian Korda in a five-set rollercoaster. Shapovalov leads their ATP Head2Head 1-0, with the Canadian lefty claiming a victory in their 2019 Davis Cup tie against Russia.
“I know what to expect. I will try to get ready. It will be a different trajectory of the balls because he's lefty,” Khachanov said. “Once you're in quarter-finals, expectations go even higher. Obviously both of us will try to prepare well, and hopefully it will be a good match and the better player wins.”
Potential Wimbledon Semi-final ATP Head2Head Records (top half):
Djokovic leads Khachanov 4-1
Djokovic leads Shapovalov 6-0
Fucsovics ties Khachanov 1-1
Fucsovics leads Shapovalov 1-0