Surging Shapovalov Earns Shot At Federer
Denis Shapovalov kicked in the door to the ATP Rankings Top 20 club Thursday night after outgunning fellow #NextGenATP star Frances Tiafoe at the Miami Open presented by Itau. The Canadian guaranteed that he would move to a career-high mark inside the Top 20 on Monday after reaching his third ATP Masters 1000 semi-final with a free-swinging 6-7(5), 6-4, 6-2 win over the American.
For a place in the final, the left-hander faces three-time champion Roger Federer for the first time after the Swiss outclassed sixth seed Kevin Anderson in straight sets. This was Shapovalov’s third Masters 1000 quarter-final, and the teenager has now been victorious on all three occasions (also 2017 Canada and 2018 Madrid).
"It's definitely a matchup I have been looking forward to, I think, my whole life," Shapovalov said with a smile. "It's going to be a dream come true to play him in such a big event over here, and the stakes are so high, semi-final match of a Masters 1000 against your idol. It's just a dream come true."
But it did not come easy against 2018 Delray Beach champion Tiafoe, who scratched and clawed. The clash was entertaining throughout, with both players hitting the fuzz off the ball from the baseline and showing their willingness to swoop into net. But Shapovalov's forehand was the biggest difference-maker on the Grandstand, and the 19-year-old advanced after two hours and 15 minutes.
"It's tough in the sense that I wish the best for him, and I love seeing him go deep in tournaments and doing as good as possible. But when you're on the other side, like, for example today when you win, obviously you feel great. But part of me does also feel kind of bad, just in the sense that he couldn't go on in the tournament," Shapovalov said of facing a friend in Tiafoe. "I know he deserves it as much as I do. He works so hard. He's such a great person. But in that sense, it's definitely tough. But I think once we get on the court, once we start playing, it's just tennis. We just play our sport. We both try to win."
The key to the match was the end of the second set and the beginning of the decider. Shapovalov led 5-1 in the second set, but Tiafoe appeared to have wrangled back the momentum when he brought it back to 5-4. While he did not earn the set, he found a high level of tennis and almost rode the momentum to a break in the Canadian's first service game of the third set, forcing the lefty to deuce.
But Shapovalov was able to control rallies with his forehand under pressure, escaping that game. And while Tiafoe came up with unbelievable tennis to save the first three break points he faced in the next game, the 21-year-old hit a backhand into the net to give Shapovalov the advantage.
Shapovalov raised his level even higher the rest of the way. And this time, he did not let slip a double-break lead, saving break point as he served for the match before his big lefty serve overwhelmed Tiafoe on match point.
The butterflies will begin to set in for Shapovalov, who will look to deny Federer his pursuit of a fourth Miami title.
"I'll try to put on some tennis sunglasses so I don't see him, so I see blurry or something, or I see someone else on the other side," Shapovalov joked. "I'm going to try to go about it the same way, and I'm really happy with how the week's gone so far, so I'm just going to go out there, enjoy myself, just have a good time on the court and give it my all. That's all I can ask at this point. Obviously Roger is a really tough opponent, so it's going to be a really difficult match. I'm just happy to have the chance to play him here in the semis."
Shapovalov and countryman Felix Auger-Aliassime, who advanced on Wednesday, are the first teenagers to reach the Miami semi-finals in the same year since Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray accomplished the feat in 2017, both at 19.
Tiafoe arrived in Miami having lost five of his previous six matches. But the American found the tennis that helped him to the Australian Open quarter-final two months ago, advancing to his first Masters 1000 quarter-final.