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It’s Novak Djokovic vs. Matteo Berrettini in the Wimbledon Final

WIMBLEDON, England – The theme for the playoffs at this year’s Wimbledon men’s tournament is Novak Djokovic against the newcomers.

After holding the inspired Canadian 22-year-old Denis Shapovalov in the semifinals on Friday, he will meet the powerful Italian 25-year-old Matteo Berrettini in the final on Sunday.

Djokovic has only lost one set in the tournament and it was the first he played against British wildcard Jack Draper on opening day as the grass was still lush along the baseline.

But it has turned to dust at this point along with his opponent’s hopes of getting a disturbance. After beating Shapovalov 7-6 (3), 7-5, 7-5, Djokovic can continue to dream big as he chases two great tennis performances.

Defeat Berrettini on Sunday and he will join his longtime rivals Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal with 20 Grand Slam singles titles, which is the men’s record.

Defeat Berrettini and Djokovic will also stay on track for the so-called Golden Slam, which requires a player to win all four Grand Slam tournaments and the Olympic gold medal in the same calendar year.

“I have been very privileged to make the story of the sport I truly love, and it fills my heart every time I hear that there is something on the line that is historic,” he said in his post-match interview. “It naturally inspires me and motivates me, but at the same time I have to balance it with being present and in the moment.”

As a 34-year-old, he has certainly had ample experience on the game’s biggest stages. This will be his 30th Grand Slam singles final.

It will be the first for the seventh-seeded Berrettini, who defeated number 14 seed Hubert Hurkacz of Poland, 6-3, 6-0, 6-7 (3), 6-4 in Friday’s preliminary semifinal.

Berrettini is the first Italian, man or woman to reach a Wimbledon singles final.

“I think I never dreamed of this because it was too much for a dream,” Berrettini said.

He certainly talked about his childhood, not about his recent past, because this race to the final could not have come as a complete shock in light of his recent achievements.

Last month, he reached the quarter-finals of the French Open and pushed Djokovic, the eventual champion, hard in a tense four-set match. Berrettini then won the warm-up event on the turf of the Queen’s Club, which has often been a proclamation of success at Wimbledon.

At 6 feet 5, he has a powerful serve and one of the heaviest forehands in a sport full of heavy forehands. But when he demonstrated against Hurkacz, he has improved his mobility and backhand, both his blocked, two-handed service return and his one-handed target.

Hurkacz, an aggressive player with a game well-suited to grass, had upset the No. 2 seed, Daniil Medvedev, in the fourth round and Federer in the quarterfinals, winning the final set 6-0 against the eight-time Wimbledon champion.

Berrettini won the second set with the same score on Friday, and although Hurkacz lifted his game and pushed the semifinals into a fourth set, he could never find a way to break Berrettini’s serve.

But Berrettini, who hit 22 aces, is not just a server. He finished with 60 winners and 18 unforced errors, a remarkable and frightening relationship.

“Matteo played pretty well,” Hurkacz said. “I mean, he served bombs. He really did not make many mistakes during the entire four sets. I mean, if he continues to play like that, he really has a great chance in the final. ”

The problem for so long has continued to play like that against Djokovic, the game’s top big-point, big-match player.

Djokovic bends like no other and distorts his angular frame in positions worthy of Cirque du Soleil. On Friday, he continued to struggle with his foothold, as he has done throughout the tournament and fell repeatedly. By the end, his white shirt covered in dirt, he looked like someone who had just come out of the backyard after rough house with his two small children.

But finishing Djokovic is one of the toughest tasks in sports. Shapovalov was the last to swing on it. The Canadian left-handed player is one of the fastest players in tennis, and he came out ripping first server and airborne court strokes, forcing even Djokovic out of his defensive comfort zones.

Credit…Neil Hall / EPA, via Shutterstock

But Djokovic is never more dangerous than when he becomes the corner, and his well-deserved reputation smokes the minds of his rivals. Shapovalov, in his first Grand Slam semifinal, served for the opening set at 5-4 and faltered and lacked a forehand long at 30-30 after playing brilliantly to open the course.

Djokovic continued to break his serve and take command of the tiebreaker as Shapovalov could not win a point on the points he served and ended it with a double fault.

Djokovic continued to break his serve and take command of the tiebreaker as Shapovalov could not win a point on the points he served and ended it with a double fault.

It was a reminder of the past. Djokovic dominated the tiebreakers during his five-set victory over Federer in the 2019 Wimbledon final on the same track. It was also a sign of the things to come, as Shapovalov continued to impress with his light power and stylish play, but continued not to win the points that matter most.

He converted only 1 out of 11 break points, and although Shapovalov did a good job of keeping his emotions in check most of the match, in the final stages he calmed himself down after mistakes and shouted into the persistent gloom this cloudy afternoon.

Djokovic can do it against a man, even a very talented one, as he bends but refuses to crack. And although Shapovalov received a standing ovation from the Center Court crowd after the match, he was also in tears as he headed for the exit.

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