ATP Cup Team Profile: Serbia and Novak Djokovic

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The inaugural ATP Cup last year reinvented the idea of team tennis, following on from the change in format in the now-infamous Davis Cup. Singles and doubles players alike battle it out to crown their country victorious in the blazing sun of Australia. The format has changed for this year, halving the number of teams to 12 and only taking place in one venue, Melbourne Park. However, the stakes are still as high as ever. Serbia stormed to victory last year with Novak Djokovic undoubtedly the star of the show. The current world no.1 defeated Rafael Nadal in the finals to help his country lift the inaugural title and set up this years defence. The Serbian team will look to defend their title this year despite some stiff competition across the globe, and here’s how the team will fair in Melbourne.

Novak Djokovic:

Novak Djokovic arrives in Australia chasing the title of most weeks atop the ATP rankings, and a strong showing down under should ensure Federer’s record (310 weeks) is beaten. His performance last year is something he’s sure hoping to emulate. The Serbian went unbeaten at last year’s tournament only dropping two sets. His route to the final saw him beat the likes of Gael Monfils and Kevin Anderson in the group stages. A string of difficult matches saw him take on Denis Shapolvalov of Canada and Daniil Medvedev of Russia, dropping sets against both but prevailing to set up a finals clash with Spaniard Rafael Nadal. The eight-time Australian Open champion won his finals match 6-2 7-6 before emerging victorious in the doubles match to lift the crown.

Djokovic in 2020:

Following the success in the ATP Cup, Djokovic went on to win his eighth Australian Open title, defeating Dominic Thiem in the final despite being 2-1 down. This made him the first man to win an Open Era Grand Slam title in three separate decades. His hot streak continued in Dubai, winning the Tour 500 event by defeating Stefanos Tsitsipas in the final. The resumption of tennis proved ultimately successful for the World No.1, becoming the first man to win a “Golden Masters“. By defeating Milos Raonic in the final, Djokovic equaled Rafael Nadal’s 35 Masters 1000 titles, but would soon overtake the Spaniard. Favorite to win the US Open, Djokovic exited in the fourth round after accidentally striking a lines official with the ball during a match with Pablo Carreno Busta.

He returned to action with his 36th Masters 1000 title, winning the Rome Masters after besting Diego Schwartzman in the final—the Argentine winning against tournament favorite Nadal in the semifinal. What followed was a strong run at the French Open before falling at the hands of the “King of Clay,” losing in straight sets in the final. A shock loss to Lorenzo Sonego in Vienna left only the Nitto ATP Finals for Djokovic to cement himself as the top player in 2020. He qualified for the semi-finals but lost to Dominic Thiem, leaving the Serbian without a year-end crown since 2015. His dominance across the calendar year left him 10 weeks short of Federer’s record as the no.1 ranked player.

Djokovic at the 2021 ATP Cup:

Serbia have been drawn in Group A for the 2021 ATP Cup. This is widely considered the “Group of Death” at this year’s tournament, matched with Germany and Canada. As the highest ranked player for the nation, Djokovic faces Alexander Zverev of Germany, fresh off of his first Grand Slam final and successive titles in Cologne. The two met at last year’s ATP Finals, Djokovic winning their round robin match and taking their head-to-head record to 4-2. Canada’s top seed is Denis Shapovalov, with the two meeting for consecutive years after Serbia’s win in the Quarter Finals last year. The Serbian has a 5-0 head-to-head record against Shapovalov.

Dusan Lajovic:

Retaining his place from last year, Dusan Lajovic returns to Australia after a strong showing at the 2020 ATP Cup. The World No.26 won four of his six matches last year, coming out victorious against Lloyd Harris and Nicolas Jarry. His group stage loss to Beniot Paire did not stop Serbia from qualifying for the Quarter Finals, where Lajovic beat the exciting talent Felix Auger-Aliassime in straight sets. His Semi-Final match against Karen Khachanov helped the nation reach the final where he lost to Spain’s second player, Roberto Bautista Agut. This didn’t deter Serbia from being crowned the inaugural ATP Cup champions, which would prove the highlight of Lajovic’s season.

He got through the first two rounds of the Australian Open before falling to Argentina’s first player, Diego Schwartzman, in straight sets. He followed up his run in Melbourne with a quarterfinals appearance in Buenos Aries losing to eventual winner Casper Ruud. What followed was a string of tournaments where the Serbian exited earlier than hoped, his best win coming against World No.19 Milos Raonic in Rome. He was then knocked out by Rafael Nadal. Lajovic managed to match this feat in Hamburg weeks later, beating another top 20 player in Karen Khachanov – his second successive win over the Russian. He exited in the quarterfinals to eventual finalist Stefanos Tsitsipas. He rounded the year off with a single victory in five tournament appearances, beating only Gianluca Majer at the French Open.

Lajovic at the 2021 ATP Cup:

The Serbia second-string will face the second highest ranked players from Germany and Canada. This sees group stage clashes with Jan-Lennard Struff, the pair only facing once in their careers. Struff holds the single match advantage, winning their Round of 32 clash at Metz in 2014. Milos Raonic is the second player Lajovic will face, with the Canadian looking to avenge his loss to Lajovic in Rome last year. Both players have a single victory over their opponent, Raonic emerging victorious at Cincinnati in 2018.

Filip Krajinovic:

Only five ranking spots lower than teammate Dusan Lajovic, Filip Krajinovic will be making his ATP Cup debut. The Serbian missed out last year to Nikola Milojević, who subsequently will miss this years tournament.

The Serbian started the 2020 season successfully. He lost to Roger Federer in straight sets at the Australian Open but recovered to make consecutive semifinals in Montpellier and Rotterdam. The World No.31 lost to Gael Monfils both times, but recorded a shock victory against Andrey Rublev. The Russian would get his revenge before the tennis paused, beating Krajinovic in Dubai. The season restarted and Krajinovic got his best win of the year–a surprise upset knocking out World No.3 Dominic Thiem in Cincinnati. He would fall short at the quarter finals to Milos Raonic. Krajinovic would go on to reach the Round of 32 at the US Open before losing to teammate Novak Djokovic on the World No.1’s route to a 36th Masters 1000 title. He rounded out the year failing to win a match at the next four major events, including a second loss to Djokovic in Vienna.

Krajinovic at the 2021 ATP Cup:

The doubles teams for the group stages of the ATP Cup have not been announced yet, but with no recognised pairing amongst the Serbia roster, its anyones guess who could line up against Germany and Canada.  Steven Diez represents Canada as their third player, currently ranked 178 in the world. Kevin Krawietz makes up Germany third player, forming the doubles partnership with Andreas Mies. The two have won successive Grand Slam titles, capturing the French Open doubles title in 2019 and 2020 – the first of which as an unseeded pair.

Nikola Cacic:

The fourth member of the Serbia team is World No.1353 Nikola Cacic, more commonly known for his ventures in the doubles circuit. The Serbian won three of four doubles matches at the 2020 ATP Cup alongside current captain Viktor Troicki before substituting for Novak Djokovic in the final. With a singles high ranking of No.281, Cacic mainly tours the ATP Challenger circuit, but has two ATP Tour doubles titles to his name. The first came with teammate Dusan Lajovic in Chengdu before a win in the finals of the Open Sud De France with Croatian Mate Pavic.

Cacic at the 2021 ATP Cup:

The Serbian represents the fourth player of the nation’s line up, putting him in line for a series of doubles appearances at the tournament. Canada has Peter Polansky as their fourth player–the first player in tennis history to qualify for all four Slams as a “Lucky Loser.” Andreas Mies forms a very strong doubles pair for Germany alongside teammate Krawietz, winning two French Open titles without losing a match at Roland Garros.

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