World No. 1 Novak Djokovic dropped his first set of the week but bounced back in mighty fashion to beat Slovakian qualifier Andrej Martin in the semifinals of Belgrade on Friday, 6-1, 4-6, 6-0.

He’s now into his third career final in Belgrade, having won the ATP 250 event in 2009 and 2011.

“I’m super excited to play in front of the Serbian crowd,” Djokovic said in his on-court interview. “This is my hometown, and I’m always very excited—but also nervous—coming out on court and playing in front of the home crowd. It’s a very unique feeling. I’m just glad to fight for a trophy tomorrow.”

It originally looked like Djokovic would cruise through his semifinal match in straight sets, coming within two holds of closing it out after going up a set and a break at 6-1, 4-3. But Martin had been battle-tested throughout the week—after coming through qualifying, he fought his way through three consecutive three-setters to reach the final four, including upsets over No. 3 seed Nikoloz Basilashvili and No. 5 seed Dusan Lajovic—and he won three games in a row to push the match to a decider.

But the No. 1-seeded Djokovic kicked it into high gear from there, rolling through the third set at love, finishing the match off after an hour and 55 minutes on court with one last forehand winner.

“I started off the match very well and thought I finished it even better,” Djokovic said. “It was just a very strange second set. He started with an early break, I came back, then I was a break up and things were pretty much in control, then I just lost my nerves and lost my concentration, and started making unforced errors. I’m not very pleased with the last three or four games of the second set.

“But I take out the positives from this match. I think I played very well in the first and third set, and it’s very important for me to finish off the match in that kind of rhythm, that kind of sensation, which I feel like is going to bring me confidence prior to tomorrow’s final, but also at Roland Garros.”

Novak Djokovic (Getty Images)

Novak Djokovic (Getty Images)


The 2016 Roland Garros champion’s goals in Belgrade this week included getting more match play and fine tuning his game the week before heading to Paris, and it seems like he’s achieving that.

“I’ve been building my form this week, and performance-wise, I think I’ve been playing very close to where I want to be for Roland Garros,” Djokovic said. “So I’m not too concerned about anything, except a few games, a few letdowns I had today, that should not happen tomorrow or in Paris.

“But if they happen, they happen. It’s important to bounce back, which I’ve done in the right way.”

Awaiting Djokovic in the final on Saturday will be another Slovakian qualifier, Alex Molcan, who upset No. 8 seed Federico Delbonis in the second semifinal, 4-6, 6-4, 6-4, in two hours and 41 minutes.

It’s been an absolute breakthrough week for the 23-year-old, No. 255-ranked Molcan, who had never even won a tour-level match before this tournament. He’s now through to his first career ATP final.