Djokovic Continues Year-End No. 1 Push As Shapovalov Seeks Canadian History
Djokovic and Shapovalov will compete for the Rolex Paris Masters title. For the Serbian, a four-time champion in Bercy, this is an opportunity to claw closer to Rafael Nadal in the battle for the year-end No. 1 ATP Ranking. Shapovalov is not just trying to spoil that opportunity for the top seed, but he is trying to claim his maiden ATP Masters 1000 crown in his first final at this level.
“It's awesome to be in my first [Masters 1000] final,” Shapovalov said. “I'm just going to go for it, see what I can do and just enjoy my time out there.”
Shapovalov has won just one of eight sets he has played against Djokovic, and that came in a four-set defeat at the Australian Open. But Djokovic knows that the big-hitting Canadian has the ability to challenge him with his powerful game.
“Denis is very dangerous player. If he has time, if he's feeling the ball well, it can be a tough match,” Djokovic said after a 6-3, 6-3 victory against Shapovalov less than a month ago in Shanghai. “He was serving really well, [making a] high percentage of first serves, and [it was] just really difficult to return in the first set, so it took me a little bit of time to really adjust [and] start reading his serve a little bit better.”
Djokovic is not just in a battle for year-end No. 1 with Nadal, who withdrew from Paris on Saturday before his semi-final due to an abdominal injury. But Djokovic can also win his 34th Masters 1000 title — in his 50th final at this level — which would put him within one of Nadal’s 35 trophies. It would also be the ninth time he has earned at least five tour-level crowns in a season.
“It is very satisfying honestly, because I haven’t really been feeling my best throughout the week. But I’ve been playing really well the past couple of matches,” Djokovic said. “[I am] looking forward to the final tomorrow.”
Although the pair’s second clash was on the Roman clay of the Internazionali BNL d’Italia, which doesn't match up with this meeting's surface, Djokovic made note of the length of the Canadian’s swing. And on Paris’ quicker indoor courts, where the Serbian will have more opportunities to take time away from his opponent, he will likely try to take advantage of that.
“He has a big swing. He can play really with a lot of spin and also a lot of speed and power from the back of the court,” Djokovic said in Rome. “I took away that time from him.”
Djokovic On Rome Win Vs. Shapovalov
Shapovalov has far more momentum this week than he did during the clay-court season, though. The lefty not only won his first ATP Tour title indoors last month in Stockholm, but he has showed a balance of both shotmaking and patience this week in Paris. On Friday, Shapovalov conceded just four games against Gael Monfils in a match that had a spot at the Nitto ATP Finals on the line for the Frenchman.
“It's going to be a different match. But of course I feel like the way I played against Gael was unbelievable. It was kind of one of those days where everything was going in for me. So I hope I can bring the same kind of level that I did against him,” Shapovalov said. “But at the same time, Novak is a different player. So it's going to be a different kind of game and it's going to be different tennis.”
One area to watch will be where Djokovic targets his second serves. In his semi-final win against Grigor Dimitrov, he went to Dimitrov's forehand with 72 per cent of his second serves in the deuce court — compared to just 25 per cent in his quarter-final against Stefanos Tsitsipas. Shapovalov this week said that with his coach, Mikhail Youzhny, they have been working on blocking his backhand return.
“[On my backhand return, Youzhny and I] worked on blocking it a lot more to start the point and it's a tricky shot for the opponents,” Shapovalov said. “I feel like it's a really big improvement in my game.”
Shapovalov was unequivocal in stating that he will go for his shots against Djokovic, believing he has nothing to lose. But a victory would mean national history, too, as he can become the first Canadian to lift a Masters 1000 trophy.
Even though he knows playing Djokovic is a tall order, Shapovalov feels he has learnt from his losses against the Serbian this season.
“I feel like every time I get a little more and more input on how he plays. I think when he played me in Shanghai, he played absolutely amazing. I don't think I played bad at all, but he was coming up with amazing shots,” Shapovalov said. “Hopefully he's missing a little bit more tomorrow, a little bit tighter. But hopefully I can also step up my game and play the way I've been playing all week.”
Did You Know?
Shapovalov as a 3-13 record against Top 10 opposition (2-6 this year). Djokovic has the same number of Masters 1000 titles as the Canadian has match wins at this level (33).