Photo: Martin Sidorjak

What a place to put on a show – Centre Court, Wimbledon, July, 2, 2021!

On one of the most famous patches of green grass in the sports-world, and playing there for the first time, Denis Shapovalov was nothing short of sensational in overwhelming Andy Murray 6-4, 6-2, 6-2 to advance to the round-of-16.

Murray, 34, was not the man who won the title on the same court in 2013 and again in 2016, and Shapovalov was on a mission to make sure he did not have a chance to turn back the hands of time.

On the first point of the match Murray slipped and fell, watching helplessly as Shapovalov won the point with a drop shot. Another fall a game later and the current world No. 118 changed his shoes to try to get better traction. But on this day nothing was going to help against an opponent who was outrageously “on song”, as the Brits like to put it.

In truth there was a moment when Murray had a chance to reverse the tide and possibly begin to impose his game. After leading 5-1 in the opening set, Shapovalov had his only iffy passage of the match. Obviously feeling some nerves, he lost consecutive games to love as Murray rallied from 1-5 to 4-5. In the tenth game, Murray had three break points for 5-all but Shapovalov staved off all of them. On the first, he got a bit of luck when his shot tipped the top of the net. It seemed to bother Murray and he erred with the forehand. On the second Murray hit a lob long and on the third he angled a superb backhand pass cross-court low over the net. But Shapovalov, a full extension to his left, hit a glorious forehand drop volley winner that was so good even Murray had to acknowledge it with a tap of his racquet.

Photo: Martin Sidorjak

From then on it was basically clear sailing as Shapovalov just had too much weight of shot, too good a serve and too much spunk. By the third set, after the roof was closed with light fading and officials wanting to have a clean break at the end of the second set, it was almost time to invoke the mercy rule. Shapovalov grabbed an insurmountable 4-0 lead with Murray struggling to win points and no longer really capable of being competitive.

Winning 14 of 14 first serve points in the set, for the day Shapovalov was 6/11 on break point chances and had 45 winners to go with 24 unforced errors.

Grosso modo, the 22-year-old from Richmond Hill, Ont., showed the world what many tennis observers have known for several years – on his day Denis Shapovalov has the kind of potent game-style that can make life miserable for anybody on the tour.

It’s unfair to minimize Murray’s ability – coming back as he is from hip-joint surgeries – to play at his best with so few tournaments and matches in recent months and years. But Shapovalov’s ability to handle his venerable opponent and the occasion was a sign of growing maturity.

“I feel like I didn’t give away almost anything,” he said about his performance against Murray. “I really was making him earn a lot and really dictating when I had chances. I think it was just really, really flawless for me today.

“To grow up one day and play on the Centre Court at Wimbledon – I’ve seen so many legends play there. It’s always just been a huge goal of mine. So to go out there and to play a guy like Andy, who is also just such a legend, and to beat him today, you know, with the tennis I was playing, it was incredible for me.”

A Wimbledon-ophile, Shapovalov added, “growing up, Wimbledon is the tournament that you hear about constantly and the tournament that you always want to compete in one day and be on that Centre Court. For me, it was the most special one. Growing up a Roger fan, too, he’s won it so many times here. To be on the court he’s had so much history on, it was really special.”

Photo: Martin Sidorjak

As for Murray, he said he had survived Wimbledon without picking up any injuries and revealed he had not practiced on Thursday, which is unusual for him, but obviously due to his two long four and five-set matches on Monday and Wednesday.

“Unless me and my team can find a way of keeping me on the court for a consistent period of time, and allow me to practice the way that I need to, to compete with these guys, then that’s when the discussions about what I do next will come in,” Murray said in his remarkably frank final answer at his media conference. “I have genuinely put a lot into this to get to this point, but I’m not being able to practice and prepare how I need to, to perform how I would like at these events, which like I said I’m not expecting and saying I would beat Denis Shapovalov. He’s a brilliant player. But I feel like I can do a lot better than what I did this evening.”

Next for Shapovalov will be a Monday match-up against World No. 10, the eighth seeded Roberto Bautista Agut. Unlike many Spaniards, the 33-year-old from Castellon de la Plana is comfortable on grass. He reached the semi-finals at Wimbledon two years ago and has his best Grand Slam record – 18-6 – at Wimbledon. It will their first head-to-head encounter.

“Against Roberto,” Shapovalov said, “we have never played against each other. He’s a really tough opponent. He doesn’t give much to the other guy. It’s definitely a match I’m going to have to earn. For sure, it’s going to be a long battle.”

Photo: Martin Sidorjak

On Saturday, the other Canadian still in the running, No. 16 seed Félix Auger-Aliassime will take on the ever-unpredictable but super-talented Nick Kyrgios on No. 1 Court with its retractable roof on a day when rain is in the forecast. It will be the second match after a 1 p.m. start (8 a.m. ET in Canada) featuring Sorana Cirstea of Romania versus 18-year-old British phenom Emma Raducanu.

There are pros and cons to Auger-Aliassime vs Kyrgios possibly being played under the roof – and most seem to favour the 26-year-old Aussie.

  1. He is the bigger server and no sun or wind usually favours the better server.
  2. He has already played on No. 1 Court – during his two-day upset of No. 21 seed Ugo Humbert on Tuesday and Wednesday.
  3. The crowd – usually firmly on his side – will be louder under the roof.
  4. If it were outside with no roof and there were interruptions caused by the weather, that would probably be easier on the younger, more limber Auger-Aliassime. 

Factors favouring Auger-Aliassime, if the match is indoors, would be:

  1. Slower conditions with the court holding more moisture.
  2. He is fitter than Kyrgios – especially after the Aussie spent nearly two hours on Friday winning a mixed doubles match with Venus Williams – and is less susceptible to injury or fatigue.

Auger-Aliassime did beat Kyrgios on grass at Queen’s Club two years ago – but that was not the same eager, full-of-good-cheer guy that has turned up at Wimbledon this year.

But no one should believe this is an entirely reformed tennis bad boy. As reported by the Tennis Podcast Twitter account on Friday, Kyrgios said the following to the umpire when he got his serve broken during Friday’s mixed doubles. “What the f*** are you talking about? It’s the same f***ing thing! It’s the same f***ing thing!”

If there’s one player who’s the knight in shining armour on No. 1 Court on Saturday, it won’t be the tempestuous, uncouth character from Down Under.


The spire of St. Mary’s church can be seen in the background of many pictures of Wimbledon. Aussie great Lew Hoad and wife Jenny were married in St. Mary’s in June, 1955, a year before he won the singles title in 1956 and 1957.