Denis Shapovalov pushed world No. 2 Novak Djokovic to the limit but lost 4-6, 6-1, 7-6 (4) on Friday as Canada was eliminated by Serbia in an ATP Cup quarter-final.
Shapovalov, ranked No. 14 in the world, had lost all four of his previous meetings with Djokovic.
“It’s another step for me, you know, showing me that I’m right there with these guys,” Shapovalov said. “Honestly, I was a couple points away from taking the match. So, yeah, I think I’m at a really good position. Hopefully I don’t stop here. Hopefully I can keep going.”
Earlier, Montreal’s Felix Auger-Aliassime fell to Dusan Lajovic 6-4, 6-2 in the first match of the best-of-three quarter-final.
The two singles losses guaranteed Canada’s elimination, but the two countries still played a doubles match with Serbia’s Nikola Cacic and Viktor Troicki topping Peter Polansky of Thornhill, Ont., and Adil Shamasdin of Pickering, Ont., 6-3, 6-2.
Spain beat Belgium in Friday’s other quarter-final.
Host Australia advanced with a 2-1 win over Britain and Russia routed Argentina 3-0 in Thursday’s quarter-finals.
The semi-finals are set for Saturday and the final on Sunday.
Shapovalov, from Richmond Hill, Ont., pushed Djokovic to triple deuce in the first set, then dropped a clever volley during a lengthy rally to take a 5-4 lead. The young Canadian continued to push the pace on the next point, winning the set when Djokovic’s return went into the net.
Djokovic shifted the momentum in the second set, with the pro-Serbian crowd getting behind him. With Djokovic leading 3-1, chair umpire Carlos Bernardes had to warn the crowd to be quiet.
After Djokovic took a 4-1 lead in the second set, Bernardes warned Canadian captain Peter Polansky that Shapovalov was not to directly address rowdy fans after the 20-year-old from Richmond Hill, Ont., took issue with how some spectators had spoken to him.
Three points later, Bernardes lectured the fans about their behaviour.
“The most important thing between all of us is respect,” he said over the public address system. “If you don’t want to watch tennis just go home. Don’t disturb the people who are here to watch tennis.”
Djokovic understood why Shapovalov was upset.
“They were engaged – sometimes a little bit too much. Denis was rightfully annoyed at times, you know, with the sounds, but it was a Davis Cup-like atmosphere, really,” Djokovic explained. “I mean, ATP Cup brings this kind of opportunity for players to experience something they don’t experience in 90% of the tournaments.”
Afterward, Shapovalov played down the incident.
“The crowd was so respectful today. Great crowd,” he said.
Djokovic continued to roll through the second set, with Shapovalov requiring a medical timeout afterward.
There was a delay in the 10th game of the third set when a spectator needed medical attention from paramedics and Djokovic, despite being down 0-30 while serving for the match, took a bottle of water over toward the stadium seating and asked the crowd to pass it along.
He got back level at 30-30 in that game before Shapovalov broke to level the set at 5-5.
The Canadian saved a breakpoint in the next game but after it went to a tiebreaker following 2 1/2 hours, Djokovic seized control by winning the first five points and then finished off a comeback.
“That was so close, it could have gone in a different way easily. (Shapovalov) was playing terrific tennis,” Djokovic said. “It felt, not a little bit, fully like I’m playing at home.
“When you have most of the stadium backing you up after every point, of course it makes a significant difference in terms of how you feel on the court. You find that strength. You find that motivation,” Djokovic added. “That’s why I try to cherish these kind of moments and take them with me anywhere I go.”
Almost an hour after he walked off Ken Rosewell Arena to the raucous chants of his name, Djokovic was distracted by replays of his comeback win.
It was like he was reliving the big moments again, as he regularly glanced over to a TV monitor showing highlights in between answering questions at a news conference.
Djokovic, who has won a record seven Australian Open men’s singles titles, was playing in Sydney for the first time in a decade after going 3-0 in singles in the ATP Cup in Brisbane. There was no question who the crowd was supporting Friday. The constant chants and even a burst of trumpet from the flag-waving Serbian fans certainly helped him.
The 16-time major champion revelled in the environment, with his teammates and coaches on the side of the court, and the echo of “Nole, Nole, Nole” going around the stadium.
“I’m mean, Brisbane we had amazing support – but this has taken it to a different level,” Djokovic said. “All the Serbian people came out today.”
Earlier Friday, aside from a brief 2-1 lead in the second set, Auger-Aliassime struggled against Lajovic.
Auger-Aliassime’s return was just past the baseline for the match point, with Lajovic pumping his fist as the ball landed out of bounds.
Auger-Aliassime is scheduled to play in the Adelaide International next week, while Shapovalov is entered in the ASB Classic in New Zealand.
Both are tuneup events for the Australian Open, which starts Jan. 20.
With files from The Associated Press