Serbia won a pair of grueling singles matches against Russia on Saturday to reach the final of the ATP Cup, with Novak Djokovic outlasting Daniil Medvedev, 6-1, 5-7, 6-4, to follow Dusan Lajovic's 7-5, 7-6 (1) victory over Karen Khachanov.
Awaiting Serbia in the final will be Spain or Australia, who played their semifinal tie at night.
Djokovic against Medvedev wasn’t just a battle between the Serbian and Russian No. 1s, it was a battle between two of the Top 5 players in the world. It was also a revenge match for Djokovic—he led the head-to-head, 3-2, but had lost their last two meetings at Monte Carlo and Cincinnati last year.
And it looked like payback was on Djokovic’s mind early on as he came out swinging, cruising through the opening set in 31 minutes and eventually finding himself up a set and a break at 6-1, 1-0. But Medvedev came alive from there, winning the next four games to lead 4-1, and after relinquishing serve, broke one more time to win the second set, hitting a backhand passing shot on set point.
The match looked like it could go either way as they were locked on serve at 2-all in the third, but Djokovic broke one last time for 3-2, and the two men held from there, until the Serbian found himself serving for the match at 5-4. Medvedev fought off one match point with a down-the-line backhand winner, but Djokovic closed it out after two hours and 47 minutes on his second match point.
“It was an exceptional match,” Djokovic said. “Yesterday I spent almost three hours on the court and today it was pretty similar. There were lots of rallies and it was exhausting - Daniil is one of the very best players in the world and he showed why. It was the greatest challenge I’ve had so far this year.
“After the first set he started feeling the ball much better, and he was hitting fewer unforced errors. He felt more comfortable as we progressed in the match, and the conditions were also getting slower, so it was getting harder and harder to get through him. It was a big battle all the way to the last shot.
“I thought it was a great quality match and I hope everyone enjoyed it.”
Lajovic was the underdog in terms of ranking in the first match of the Serbia-Russia tie—Khachanov is ranked No. 17, Lajovic No. 34. But Lajovic had won both of the pair’s previous meetings going in, and handily, too. He won by 6-3, 6-2 scorelines on clay at Kitzbuhel in 2016 and Madrid in 2018.
Their third meeting was much tighter but Lajovic lifted his game at all the right moments, including on the only break point of the match. With Khachanov serving at 5-6 in the first set, and at the end of a marathon five-deuce game, the Serb ripped a backhand winner up the line to take a one-set lead.
After 12 straight holds in the second set, Lajovic lifted his game once again, storming out to a 6-0 lead in the second set tiebreak. Khachanov hit an ace to save the first match point but Lajovic closed it out on his second, uncorking a cross-court forehand the Russian couldn’t get back in the court.
“This is definitely one of the top matches for me in my career, considering the tension, the situation and importance of the moment,” Lajovic said. “The crowd really carried me. The match was very good until the last point. We were both on the edge of our maximum tennis and fighting for every point.
“I was just fighting until the end. I’m happy to bring Serbia the first victory.”
Serbia completed a 3-0 sweep with a victory in the doubles match, as Nikola Cacic and Viktor Troicki defeated the Russian duo of Teymuraz Gabashvili and Konstantin Kravchuk, 6-4, 7-6 (7).