12:52 AM GMT March 30, 2019
#NextGenATP Canadian Denis Shapovalov was unafraid of saying that competing against Roger Federer was a dream come true before his clash with the Swiss superstar in the Miami Open presented by Itau semi-finals.
The best part of those dreams is usually seeing your hero across the net, hitting an amazing shot, or possibly even finding a way to triumph.
With a sheepish grin on his face, the teen made his surprising choice: “The warmup.”
That’s because Federer dismissed the lefty in straight sets after just 73 minutes. The 37-year-old broke in his second and third return games of the match to set the tone, and he never gave the Canadian a chance to battle back. Shapovalov still had fun, though.
“It's always tough to lose, but it's definitely enjoyable to be out there with your idol on the court,” Shapovalov said. “I gave it all I had. He played a good match today. That's it. That's all you can really say.”
Shapovalov has practised with Federer before. But practice and competing in an ATP Masters 1000 semi-final are two entirely different propositions.
“It's kind of surreal, being on the court against him. Obviously I wasn't trying to focus on the fact that it's Roger on the other side,” Shapovalov said. “I was just trying to play as good as I can, and he did a good job today. He played an excellent match. I wasn't able to kind of stay at his level. So I'm just going to try to learn from this and move forward.”
The three-time Masters 1000 semi-finalist did well throughout the tournament to impose his athletic, attacking game, showing no fear in unleashing his forehand and coming to net. But he showed his nerves early on with a number of errors, and that was not what he had in mind strategically.
“Try to hit four aces a game and hope he double [faults],” Shapovalov said, kidding. “There is a couple of things that I was trying to do out there that I talked [about] with my team. But honestly, I was just trying to play my game and just be myself on court.
“Honestly I don't think I was able to play at 100 per cent of my level today, but that's why he's so good. He didn't let me get into my groove and get into my game… it shows how experienced and how good he is.”
While it was clear that Federer was in control throughout the match, Shapovalov did not get too down on himself. In the second set, he hit a forehand stab volley for a winner right on the line that drew applause from the crowd, and the Canadian then waved his arms to try to have people cheer even louder.
“I was just trying to kind of get into the match. Obviously I started off a little bit tight. He started off pretty strong in the first. So in the second set I tried to turn it around. Had a couple chances. Wasn't able to convert,” Shapovalov said. “I did what I could. And with that moment, it was just kind of a fun moment. I hit a ridiculous volley. I think even he said, ‘No way,’ or something. I just tried to get the crowd involved. Just have a little bit of fun.”
Federer is into his record 50th Masters 1000 final. The Swiss may not have served his best — landing just 49 per cent of his first serves — but he produced a tidy performance, winning all but two of those points (20/22) to lead the way to victory.
“I just think he has every shot mastered. When he needs a shot, he's going to make it,” Shapovalov said. “He's going to go for it, he's going to make it. I don't think he has any weaknesses. That's why he's the GOAT [greatest of all-time].”
Shapovalov may leave Miami disappointed, as he was just two victories from lifting his maiden ATP Tour trophy. But on Monday he will crack the Top 20 of the ATP Rankings, and he will hope to carry the momentum into the clay season.
“It's a good part of the season for me, I think. I think I have proven myself on the dirt. I see that I can play on it and beat good players on it. So I'm really looking forward to it,” Shapovalov said. “Obviously it's a little bit of a different change of pace. Going to have to play a little bit differently than these couple of weeks. Yeah, I'm looking forward to it. I have had good success last year. It's going to be a good opportunity for me.”