Feature

The New Serbian Hero Emerging At The ATP Cup

By Andrew Eichenholz
Updated , First
Published

Feature

The New Serbian Hero Emerging At The ATP Cup

By Andrew Eichenholz
Updated , First
Published

When Dusan Lajovic was eight years old, his aunt bought him a book titled Wimbledon, which he says was the 1991 edition. The Serbian, who originally wanted to be a soccer player, began playing tennis at seven because it was the only sport available to his age group, and he remembers reading the book to learn about the history of the sport.

“It gave me a lot of good stuff to see how the players were playing in such an important tournament,” Lajovic said. “I always wanted to do this as my job.”

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Little did Lajovic know that two decades later he’d be representing his country at the highest of levels on one of tennis’ biggest stages. The 29-year-old has won four of his five matches at the inaugural ATP Cup, helping lead Serbia to Sunday’s championship match.

Throughout the tournament, Serbian fans have turned out in force, in both Brisbane and Sydney, to support their countrymen. On Saturday, Serbian flags flew throughout Ken Rosewall Arena, with some fans even holding signs that read DULE, Lajovic’s nickname.

The 2019 Umag champion has performed tremendously under that spotlight. He hasn’t shied away from the moment, instead conjuring some of his best tennis. But at heart, Lajovic claims he is an introvert, so he’s still getting used to competing in such hair-raising environments.

“[I’m] still not as comfortable as somebody else would be. But I'm working on myself and trying to be aware of what's going on and understand the situation,” Lajovic said. “I think that this week, especially here in Sydney, I would also say that I'm a different player from Brisbane and here. I got used to it a little bit with the atmosphere and everything. And I'm enjoying the court, especially in the moments where you're fighting for every point like today. This is what you play tennis for.”

The 6’ right-hander recently took a personality test based off the work of psychologist Carl Jung, and got interesting results.

“I'm an architect, which is like [a] 90 per cent introverted person,” Lajovic said. “All the persons with this personality are scientists or professors or stuff like that. There are not so many athletes.

“So with my personality, it's weird being a professional athlete. But I think it came out great. I'm really grateful that I'm able to do the job that I love since I was a kid. For example, you've got to put things in perspective, I think. And then if you ask kids, ‘What do you want to be?’ I don't think that many of them say accountant or whatever. So you have the privilege to do something that you wanted to do as a kid, and I think this is a big benefit for the whole life.”

Lajovic was not a top junior, reaching a career-best junior ranking of No. 132. During his late teens, he did not have much financial support, so Lajovic considered going to college instead of turning professional.

“I had a very interesting meeting and conversation with my parents and they said, ‘Look, if this is what you want to do, we’ll do whatever it takes for us to help you and support you.’ I’m always grateful for them that they were doing this for me because sometimes it’s hard when you don’t see the future and you don’t know what’s going to happen,” Lajovic said. “But I’m happy that I was able to make them proud and succeed and be in this profession where I am today.”

Not only is Lajovic a professional athlete, but he is a role model for his entire country. World No. 2 Djokovic is widely viewed as a national hero, but according to Milan Vuckovic, a Serbian tennis fan in attendance on Saturday at the ATP Cup who moved to Australia when he was four and a half, Lajovic’s efforts during this event rival those of Djokovic’s, with both earning points for their country.

“[He’s] very important. He represents the country, so [he’s] definitely important,” Vuckovic said. “He’s an opening player, so he represents from the first starting match. It means a lot to get up front straight up. He’s only sort of come about in the past five years, but everyone is really starting to recognise him, so it’s good that people outside of Serbia are also recognising him and that he’s representing the country.”

That’s something that means a lot to Lajovic. He first broke into the Top 100 of the FedEx ATP Rankings nearly six years ago, so he has been an elite player for years. But the ATP Cup is giving him a massive platform to show the world how good he is, and to do it for his country, too.

“That's great. I'm probably not aware of that still, but if there is at least one kid that's looking up to me, that's great. If there are more, even better,” Lajovic said. “I'm trying to be the best person off the court as well as on the court. I hope that they can see those qualities as well, not just tennis. That's what life is all about.”

"If there is at least one kid that's looking up to me, that's great."

Dusan Lajovic

Team Serbia

Lajovic has helped push his country to within one tie victory of lifting the inaugural ATP Cup trophy. And while Djokovic has gotten plenty of attention for wins over the likes of Kevin Anderson, Denis Shapovalov and Daniil Medvedev, the World No. 2 praised his countryman Lajovic for his tremendous play.

“So proud, and I want to give him a huge credit for what he has done in this competition so far. He's won all of his matches except one, and the one he lost was in tight three sets,” Djokovic said. “His level is getting higher and higher as the competition progresses, which is so good to see him [do]. I mean, as a friend and someone that has followed his development for many years and to see him playing this well is fantastic.

“I'm enjoying it, and I'm also thankful, because I have been coming into most of my matches with 1-0 rather than 0-1. So it's a huge relief obviously. We have been clinching all of our ties except one match after singles, which is a huge advantage.”

Lajovic will walk into Ken Rosewall Arena with one more singles match to go against either Team Australia or Team Spain. Either way, it’s another opportunity for the No. 2 Serbian to perform in front of the raucous Sydney crowds, and do his part in helping secure a trophy.

“It's a great feeling, especially in the tough moments when they give you the energy and the support,” Lajovic said. “It makes you more pumped and, I would say, ready for the moment, like you are feeling the pressure, but somehow they are giving you the strength.”