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ATP Awards of the Week: Djokovic reigns again at Wimbledon

July 12, 2021
Novak Djokovic kisses the Wimbledon trophy.

Photo : Martin Sidorjak

Welcome to the ATP Awards of the Week. Every week from now until the National Bank Open, we will be highlighting the best and worst from the previous week on the ATP Tour.

Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened.

A two-year wait for two weeks of tennis and now we have to wait another 50 weeks to return to the sport’s most sacred venue.

Even if the final result was very predictable, the journey was still extremely enjoyable.

Wimbledon 2021 was certainly worth the wait after the event was cancelled in 2020, with tons of high-quality tennis, some nail-biting action, and a huge milestone hit.

It has also set up a potentially historic plotline for the summer.

Before the tour shifts to the hard courts of North America, let us take a moment to enjoy the highs and lows from the last fortnight at the All-England Club with our Awards of the Week.

Performance of the Week: Novak Djokovic

Three down, one to go in Djokovic’s Grand Slam bid.

Or three down, two to go in his Golden Slam bid.

Either way, the world number one’s assault on tennis’ greatest challenge continued to build steam this week as he added a sixth title at Wimbledon.

More importantly, Djokovic has now tied Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal at the top of the men’s Grand Slam singles title list with 20 apiece. And he will be the overwhelming favourite to take the lead later this summer at the US Open.

Remember when Pete Sampras broke Roy Emerson’s record of 12 that had stood for 33 years? That’s cute.

He also joined Nadal as the only men to win Grand Slam titles on all three surfaces in the same season.

The Serb may not have had things all his own way at Wimbledon this year, overcoming challenges from Jack Draper, Denis Shapovalov and Matteo Berrettini, but when his opponents had him on the ropes, he did what he does best: dig in and refuse to lose. And as is often the case, he weathered the storms and found a way to win.

Match of the Week: Wimbledon fourth round – Félix Auger-Aliassime d. Alexander Zverev 6-4, 7-6(8), 3-6, 3-6, 6-4

Going into the fifth set of his fourth-round match, Félix Auger-Aliassime must have been suffering from déjà-vu.

Fourth round of a major, taking a two-sets-to-love lead, only to be forced back to a fifth.

In Melbourne early this year that was the case and he lost that fifth set to Aslan Karatsev.

More than just the potential historical repeat, nothing seemed to be going the young Canadian’s way in the fifth set, as he took a break lead, only for a short rain delay to push them off the court. When they returned, Zverev rallied and broke back.

All signs seemed to point to the German completing his comeback. And from Zverev’s perspective, that must have been deserved. He had led by a break in every set, including the first two which he had lost, even missing a set point in the second set tiebreak.  

But this was not to be another big-match letdown for Auger-Aliassime, whose 0-8 record in finals and poor record in Slams has been a bit of a stain on his stellar young career.

After losing the break in the fifth, he quickly got another one and this time did not let up, hanging on to reach his first Grand Slam quarter-final, exorcising the ghosts of his Australian Open loss, and claiming the biggest win of his career to date.

Surprise of the Week: Hurkacz’s bounce back

It has been a weird year for Hubert Hurkacz. He looked to be one of the top players on the rise earlier in the spring when he won the title in Miami, only to follow it up with a six-match losing streak.

He entered Wimbledon on that skid, but broke it with a first-round win. He then won four more to reach his first Grand Slam semi-final.

Prior to Wimbledon 2021, the Pole had never made it past the third round of a Slam, and had only gotten past the second round once before. He also had a brutal draw that put world number two Daniil Medvedev and eight-time Wimbledon champion Roger Federer in his path.

Given the poor form he brought into the All-England Club, Hurkacz was definitely not one of the young players who many expected to make a run. But he did it! The question is now will he crash again like he did after Miami, or can he turn this run into consistency.

Unforced Error of the Week: Khachanov-Korda fifth set

Remember that time that John Isner and Nicolas Mahut played a fifth sent that lasted over eight hours and went 137 games without a break of serve?

Well the fourth-round meeting at this year’s Wimbledon between Karen Khachanov and Sebastian Korda was the opposite of that.

The fifth set set a record for most breaks of serve with 13 between the two men. Khachanov ended up winning it 10-8, which means of the 18 games played in the decider, there were only five holds.

Korda got the initial breaks and had the early lead, but the Russian tied things up at 3-all after four breaks.

Khachanov then started getting leads and served for the match three times at 5-4, 6-5, and 7-6, but was broken back all three times. He finally booked his place in the last eight with a hold to love at the fourth time of asking.

Had he lost, Khachanov would probably be having nightmares about that set. Korda, given his early lead and how many times he escaped defeat only to give the break back, probably is.

It’s almost like neither man wanted to reach their first Wimbledon quarter-final.

Maybe they were right to, as Khachanov fell to Shapovalov in the last eight, although he pushed the Canadian to a fifth set, this time only dropping his serve once.

Upset of the Week: Hubert Hurkacz d. Roger Federer – Wimbledon QF

Back to Hurkacz. The Pole had two victories that would classify as major upsets in week two at the All-England Club.

The first was his two-day round of sixteen comeback win over second seed Daniil Medvedev, where he was mere games away from defeat in the fourth set when the match was postponed. When they started up again on Tuesday, he came through for a shocking win.

But while Medvedev was the higher-ranked and more in-form opponent, beating Roger Federer on Centre Court is always going to be the bigger upset.

And it was not just that the 24-year-old beat the Swiss legend on his best court, it was how, dropping a rare bagel on Federer in the third set.

Federer came into the match as the favourite and, while he had looked shaky at times in his earlier matches, had been improving and looked to be close to peak form heading into the quarter-final match-up.

Surely there was no way an in-form Federer was going to lose on Centre Court to a guy playing his first Slam quarter-final, coming off a five-setter, and had played each of the last two days, right?

Well, not only did Federer lose, he went down in straight sets, with Hurkacz pummelling him 6-0 in the third.

Scary thought: that bagel could be the last set Federer ever plays on Centre Court.

Canadian Performance of the Week: Denis Shapovalov

Don’t be deceived by the straight-sets scoreline, Shapovalov was unbelievably close to causing one of the biggest upsets in tennis history and reaching his first Grand Slam final.

Four points. That’s all it was.

Serving at 5-4, 30-all and deuce in the first set. Two points from taking the opener. He had multiple break points to get leads in the second and third sets. He converts one in each and he could just as easily have been in the final with a straight-sets win as Djokovic was.

Ok, maybe not just as easily, we know Djokovic would have mounted a fight like he did in the opening set, but you get the point.

There is really nothing but good things to say about Shapovalov’s run at Wimbledon.

It contained a bit of everything. His fourth-round win was a beat-down of a favoured player in Roberto Bautista Agut. He then gutted out a tight five-set battle in the quarter-finals before exceeding expectations by pushing the best player in the world to his limit in a semi-final decided by razor-thin margins.

In the process, he joined Milos Raonic as the only Canadian men in the Open Era to reach a Grand Slam semi-final.

If you want to be cynical, you can look at that semi-final loss as a missed opportunity, because there were a bunch of them, but the fact that the match was as close as it was, and that Shapovalov showed no nerves on the biggest stage in the biggest match of his career to date, only shows that the young Canadian is primed to be a contender for years to come.

Under the Radar: New champions are approaching

The narrative all week was about Djokovic tying Federer and Nadal in the Slam race, and now the focus will be on his taking the lead and his Grand Slam bid.

But if you look closely at recent Slams, you will realize that the field is actually starting to catch up to the Big Three.

There are the obvious ones, like the fact that Dominic Thiem won last year’s US Open and the runners-up at the last three slams have been Medvedev, Berrettini and Stefanos Tsitsipas (and you only have to skip one to add Zverev to that list).

But at three of the last five Slams, three of the four semi-finalists were players without Slam titles.

Matteo Berrettini. Photo : Martin Sidorjak

Sure, it may be more or less the same guys each time (Medvedev, Tsitsipas, Zverev), but these guys are getting pretty consistent at going deep in Slams.

Wimbledon took it to a new extreme, with three men who had never reached a major final before making the semis. And all of them looked pretty good in the late stages.

Going into the US Open, Djokovic will be overwhelming favourite again, with Nadal probably next. But would anyone be surprised if Shapovalov, Berrettini or Hurkacz made another run? Tsitsipas will be back and more comfortable on the hard courts. Same with Zverev. Medvedev will be the second seed and usually plays better in New York. Even guys like Khachanov are starting to make in-roads at Slams.

When we say Djokovic vs the field, sure the world number one is still the favourite, but the field is getting more and more threatening with each passing Slam.

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