Gone missing and last seen in the Wimbledon area – the multitude of chances that Denis Shapovalov had to stop Novak Djokovic reaching the men’s singles final.
Such was the sheer frustration experienced by the young Canadian that his failure to capitalise upon them literally drove him to tears as he walked off the Centre Court on Friday evening.
He left behind Djokovic to soak up the admiration of the crowd, who had been treated to three compelling sets that ended 7-6 7-5 7-5 in the 34 year-old Serbian’s favour.
Novak Djokovic (above) beat Canada’s rising star Denis Shapovalov on Friday afternoon
Djokovic defeated 10th seed Shapovalov 7-6 (7-3) 7-5 7-5 in two hours and 44 minutes
We had seen this movie before and it contains mixed messages for Matteo Berrettini, the man who will try to prevent him equalling Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer’s record of 20 Grand Slam titles on Sunday.
One of them is that Djokovic is not at his imperious best this fortnight. Another is that he does not need to be, such is his incredible resilience on the crisis points that tennis’s genius scoring system throws up.
The overall lesson is that taking only one of eleven break point opportunities is never going to do it against the world number one, who is into his seventh championship match at SW19.
In some ways winning it would be his biggest achievement to date: ‘It would mean everything to me,’ he said.
‘I came here imagining myself fighting here for the trophy. Experience is on my side but Berrettini has been winning a lot on grass, he’s red hot. History is on the line.’
Shapovalov is only 22, and he showed enough to suggest that in due course he will be written into this tournament’s history. Blonde, left handed and a flamboyant shotmaker, he still left quite a mark on this edition, but you were left feeling that it could have been more.
Djokovic will look to claim his 20th Grand Slam and fourth Wimbledon title in a row
As Djokovic was gracious enough to admit: ‘The scoreline doesn’t say enough about Denis’s performance and match. He was serving for the first set, probably the better player for most of the second and had many chances.
‘I’d like to give him a big round of applause for everything he has done today. You could see he was emotional, we will see a lot of him in the future.’
Shapovalov appreciated the words, which were repeated in the locker room afterwards. He also explained why he struggled to contain his emotions.
‘For me it’s big coming from someone like him, it shows the kind of person he is. I’d like him to be my mentor one day because that would mean he’s stopped playing,’ half-joked the Canadian.
‘I’ve been here for a month and mentally I’m starting to go. I’m exhausted from this whole situation, the restrictions.
The 34-year-old is also looking to achieve the famous calendar Grand Slam this year
‘He does a really good job of putting pressure on when he needs to.. I had chances in every set, a couple of strokes and it could have been a different match but it’s a learning process.
‘What hurts so much is that I felt like the game is there and I could have played for the trophy, I felt like I was outplaying him for parts of the match. It all kind of spilled out on the court.’
He also believes that Sunday is anything but a foregone conclusion: ‘I think Matteo is looking super-solid, if he’s serving like he is today then he does have a chance.’
Shapovalov walked onto court exactly a week after he strode onto the same arena to face Andy Murray in the third round, when he showed that he is not shy of the big occasion.
That much was evident early on as Djokovic started uncomfortably in the swirling wind, lacking timing in the face of the extravagant groundstrokes coming at him from the other end.
The Canadian’s problem in claiming break points was also on show from the beginning. Aided by two double faults from his opponent he still needed three bites before getting ahead for 2-1.
An emotional Shapovalov showed his appreciation to the crowd on Centre Court
That relaxed him and the champion was unnerved up until Shapovalov served for the opener at 5-4, when the combination of a wobble, bad luck on a replayed line call and his opponent’s resolute defence undid him.
A comedy of errors unfolded in the tiebreak with both players desperately tight, but Shapovalov the more strung out of the pair. You simply cannot serve like that against the world number one and expect to come out on top in these shootouts.
He lost all five points on his serve, with two double faults contributing to his downfall, the second one giving Djokovic the set.
Yet still the Serbian looked vulnerable. Instead, five break points went begging as the favourite somehow emerged intact at 3-3.
If there was a point that summed up why Djokovic wins so much it came at 30-15 in the eleventh game. Some frantic retrieving kept him in it, and when the young Canadian failed to close it out his head went.
By the time he had missed two more break opportunities at 1-0 in the third, ten break points had come and gone. From there Djokovic began to move through his gears, and the likely became the inevitable.