As he sought out his fifth singles title at Wimbledon this year, Novak Djokovic could rest assured that his quest on behalf of his homeland, Serbia, would not be a lonely one.
The world No. 1 was joined in the main draw of singles at the All England Club by five of his countrymen, with two of them, Laslo Djere and Dusan Lajovic, also among the 32 seeds. Those three were also seeded at the French Open, and all of them advanced to at least the third round in Paris.
Djere and Lajovic are in the midst of career-best seasons and at last week’s tournament in Umag, Croatia, they were among the top eight seeds alongside their compatriot, Filip Krajinovic. Djere reached the semifinals, while Lajovic won his first ATP title, defeating qualifier Attila Balazs, 7-5, 7-5.
Dusan Lajovic finished runner-up in Monte Carlo and won his first ATP title last week in Umag. (Getty Images)
Including the teenager Miomir Kecmanovic, there are five Serbians currently ranked among the top 70 in the world, helping the tiny Balkan nation re-emerge as an international powerhouse.
Back in 2010, the country showed itself as a force to be reckoned with on the global stage with its first triumph in Davis Cup. Djokovic; Janko Tipsarevic, who’d go on to reach the top 10 in singles a year later; future world No. 12 Viktor Troicki; and doubles standout Nenad Zimonjic defeated France 3-2 in that final. Three years later, Serbia would reach the championship match again, losing this time to the Czech Republic.
Aside from Djokovic, the next few years were lean for the nation's men's tennis prospects, with injuries playing a large part in the others’ misfortunes. Their past successes, though, have clearly had an impact on the next generation.
Among the next group of Serbs racing up the rankings, Lajovic is the oldest at 29. Just a few months ago, he reached his first ATP singles final, and it was a significant one. At the Monte Carlo Masters tournament, he advanced to the championship match without dropping a set, defeating David Goffin, Dominic Thiem and Daniil Medvedev—past, present and future members, respectively, of the Top 10. Fabio Fognini stopped him in the final, but afterward, Lajovic was ranked in the Top 25 for the first time. With his title in Umag, he's back up to No. 26.
Laslo Djere is currently the third-ranked Serbian on the ATP Tour, at No. 31. (Getty Images)
On clay, Djere made an early statement by capturing the Rio Open in Brazil during the ATP’s “Golden Swing” of tournaments through Latin America. Impressive as that feat was, the 24-year-old nearly topped it at the French Open, when he had the seventh seed Kei Nishikori on the ropes in the third round before losing 8-6 in the fifth set.
Lajovic and Djere are both in a place their compatriot Krajinovic has been before—and at this point, appears likely to return to. In 2017, he made an unexpected run to the final at the Paris Masters to end the season. Expectations were high for 2018, but injuries stopped his ascent cold. Battling back this year, the former world No. 26 has posted two wins over Goffin, and has also beaten Medvedev and Stan Wawrinka. Back in April, he reached his second career final at the Hungarian Open, coming through the qualifying rounds to top such players as Radu Albot and Borna Coric in main-draw action.
Just 19, Miomir Kecmanovic is the youngest of Serbia's Top 100 players. (Getty Images)
One of the more recent Serbian finalists at a tour event might be one of the most unexpected—and the player with the brightest future.
Only 19, Kecmanovic—who’s nearly shaved his ranking in half this year—advanced to the title match in Antalya, Turkey, right before Wimbledon. Grass courts have been known to vex many a young opponent, but Kecmanovic navigated them perfectly to reach the first final of his burgeoning career.
More championship matches could be in line for the four in the future as they try to follow in the path set by Djokovic—as well as Troicki and Tipsarevic, both of whom are on the comeback trail.
As they all pull and push each other along, there could soon be a logjam of Serbians near the top of the standings, sooner rather than later.