This won't get old for Novak Djokovic and Team Serbia. Behind yet another boisterous pro-Serbia crowd on Saturday afternoon in Sydney, Djokovic clinched the team's fifth consecutive victory at the ATP Cup and booked its place in the inaugural title match.
The top Serbian dismissed World No. 5 Daniil Medvedev 6-1, 5-7, 6-4, ending a two-match losing streak against the 23-year-old Russian, who had beaten Djokovic two of three times in 2019 (Monte-Carlo, Cincinnati).
Highlights: Team Serbia, Spain Set Up ATP Cup Final Clash
Their sixth head-to-head matchup (Djokovic leads 4-2) featured gut-busting rallies that, even in cooler conditions, left Djokovic bent over and gasping for air. And Medvedev was winning the majority of the rallies that lasted more than nine shots.
But with the Russian serving at 2-2 in the third set and facing his second break point of the game, Djokovic outlasted him, staying home for a backhand volley that erupted the flag-waving crowd, whose cheers reverberated off the Ken Rosewall Arena roof and will get only louder on Sunday night during the final. Serbia will face the host country Australia or Spain, who play on Saturday night, for the first title of the season.
“Exciting, exhausting, joyful, dreadful all at once. At one point we both refused to miss from baseline, so it was a lot of rallies and it was very exhausting. Very physical battle, but also mental battle,” Djokovic said.
“He showed why he's one of the best players in the world, why he's Top 5. This kind of consistency and this kind of solid game from back of the court, big serves got him to where he is. He deserves to be there.
“Definitely one of the most exciting matches I have played against him or any other top player last few years.”
Djokovic raced through the opening set, winning 64 per cent (7/11) of his first-serve return points against the 6'6” Medvedev and luring him into net with drop shots and slices. But the 2019 US Open finalist rebounded in the second, breaking Djokovic three times, including in the 12th game, to force a deciding set.
“I had a clear vision what I want to do and it worked great. But then he started figuring it out, and then he started missing less. He was playing really, really solid and very tough from back of the court,” Djokovic said.
Medvedev was testing Djokovic in lengthy exchanges, battling the Serbian from side to side and probing Djokovic's fitness with rally-ending drop shots. He seemed unfazed by the rowdy Serbian crowd as well, serving through their chants and generally looking unbothered.
“There are times in the match when it's just tough. It's a one-on-one battle. If you play a player that is in a kind of complete lockdown, doesn't miss a shot, makes you work double as much, and nerves and obviously pressure, everything has its effect on how you feel,” Djokovic said.
“But I overcame it, and he did, too. I think all the way till the end we were actually playing high-quality tennis, hitting the ball rather than just pushing it, which was impressive to experience and also to see.”
Medvedev started the third strong as well until the fifth game when, with both players at net, Djokovic ripped away momentum by winning the 30-shot rally. Medvedev had two chances to break as Djokovic served out the match. But the Serbian erased them both, including a cat-and-mouse point that will go down as one of the highlights of the tournament.
“I think I'm not that far, but to stay not that far and maybe get even closer, I have to continue to work hard. I have to continue to be consistent, to have this level of play that I had in the last two sets over months, maybe years,” Medvedev said. “If not, that's the strength of these guys that they are always there, always in the semi-finals, finals of Slams, and that's the most important.”
Highlights: Djokovic Edges Medvedev, Sends Serbia To ATP Cup Final
Dusan Lajovic defeated Karen Khachanov 7-5, 7-6(1) to put Serbia ahead 1-0 in the semi-final tie. The Serbian crowd arrived early, and there were even some supporters holding signs reading “DULE”, which is Lajovic’s nickname. And the 29-year-old did not let them down, hitting 26 winners to just 16 unforced errors in a one-hour, 49-minute triumph.
"Going in with [a] 1-0 [lead] and Novak playing a match, I think it helps him a lot. But yesterday was really tough," Lajovic said. "So if I lost today, I still believed that Novak is a big favourite to win and then doubles would decide."
In theory, fans may have thought Khachanov’s powerful baseline game would overwhelm Lajovic, who made his first ATP Masters 1000 final at last year’s Rolex Monte-Carlo Masters. But the Serbian has now won all three of his ATP Head2Head meetings against the 2018 Rolex Paris Masters champion. He has not dropped a set against the Russian.
Highlights: Lajovic Overcomes Khachanov
"I'm just happy that I won in two [sets], because a tie-break, it's always open," Lajovic said. "But I won [my] past two or three tie-breaks this week already, so it gave me a lot of confidence today."
On match point, Lajovic cracked a cross-court forehand that Khachanov couldn’t handle, pointing to the raucous crowd as he walked to the net as if to thank them for helping him through. The World No. 34 has now won four of his five matches at the ATP Cup, and he has not lost a set since arriving in Sydney for the Final Eight.
Khachanov fought hard to stay in contact in the second set, with Russian captain Marat Safin urging him in the late stages of the match to take deep breaths and stay calm. The World No. 17 showed plenty of intensity with two massive fist pumps after an incredible forehand passing shot while serving at 4-5.
But when the pair went to the second-set tie-break, it was all Lajovic, urged on by the Serbian fans. The 2019 Umag champion curled a tremendous forehand passing shot to take a 3/0 lead. And in the two points after that, Khachanov missed backhand returns, putting the match all but out of reach.v
Lajovic did not face a break point during his victory, winning 78 per cent of his service points.
In doubles, Nikola Cacic and Viktor Troicki completed a 3-0 tie victory for Serbia. Cacic and Troicki broke serve on three occasions to defeat Teymuraz Gabashvili and Konstantin Kravchuk 6-4, 7-6(7).
Highlights: Cacic/Troicki Complete Serbia's Sweep