After defeating Viktor Troicki in his first match of the day in just 37 minutes, 4-1, 4-1, world No. 1 Novak Djokovic was stunned in his second round-robin match at his Adria Tour exhibition event in Belgrade on Saturday night, falling to No. 32-ranked countryman Filip Krajinovic, 2-4, 4-2, 4-1.
Djokovic’s win over Troicki was so dominant that at 4-1, 1-0, Troicki handed his racquet to a ball boy, who went on to play three points against Djokovic - even winning one of them with a drop shot.
And after going up 4-2, 2-1 against Krajinovic, it looked like another quick win was in the cards for Djokovic, but Krajinovic kicked into high gear from there. By ripping his huge groundstrokes to perfection and throwing in some perfectly-timed drop shots, the Sombor native claimed seven of the final eight games. He clinched the victory with a forehand return that clipped the net and dribbled over for a winner.
Djokovic praised Krajinovic afterwards in his press conference.
“Filip is like a younger brother to me,” the 17-time major champion said in a translation. “We have a great relationship. I always try to support him. He’s a great guy. His work with his coach, Janko [Tipsarevic], is already producing results, and I’m positive that with the quality of his game and the amount of talent he has, if he keeps improving, he has a chance to be a Top 10 player. I’m certain of it, and I truly wish him that.
“We are all in this together, and that mutual bond we have in Serbian tennis is the reason we’ve had all of this success as a nation, winning the Davis Cup, playing the finals again, and of course this year’s ATP Cup. None of that is an accident: the chemistry we have as a team and the relationships we cherish, it’s something that motivates us and inspires us to play our best tennis.”
It wasn’t Krajinovic’s first time beating Djokovic. He won their only tour-level meeting, coincidentally in the same city, though that one ended far differently. Djokovic retired against an 18-year-old Krajinovic in the quarterfinals of the ATP Belgrade event in 2010 after losing the first set, 6-4, due to illness and allergies.
While Djokovic may not have emerged unscathed, the other two Top 10 players in action—No. 3 Dominic Thiem and No. 7 Alexander Zverev—went two-for-two. Grabbing hold of the driver's seat heading into Sunday, which will determine the final match-up, wasn’t easy for either by any means.
Thiem had an easy afternoon at the office, recording a 2-0 retirement victory over Damir Dzumhur after the Bosnian had to stop due to a right leg injury. But things got much, much tougher at night for the Austrian, who not only had to fight back from a set down, but also triple match point down. The three-time Slam finalist rallied from 6-3 down in the third set tiebreak to escape No. 23-ranked Dusan Lajovic, 1-4, 4-1, 4-3 (6).
Meanwhile, Zverev struggled to a 0-4, 4-3 (5), 4-3 (2) victory over Krajinovic in the afternoon. He was first down 4-0, 2-0, later trailed 4-2 in the second set tiebreak, and fell behind a break early in the third set, too. But at night, the German blitzed Troicki in straight sets, 4-1, 4-1.
“I didn’t start the day very well but I finished it very well, so I’m very happy about that,” Zverev said. “I’m excited to play Novak tomorrow. I think everybody here is looking forward to that as well.”
The other Top 20 player in the field, No. 19 Grigor Dimitrov, went 1-1 on Day 1, beating Lajovic in the day session, 4-3 (2), 3-4 (5), 4-1, before falling to Nikola Milojevic under the lights, 4-1, 4-3 (4).
Finalists To Be Determined On Sunday Afternoon
The third and final wave of round-robin matches, which begins at 2 p.m. local time on Sunday, will see Lajovic play Milojevic, Krajinovic play Troicki, Djokovic play Zverev and Thiem take on Dimitrov.
“We’ve played a few finals already,” Zverev said ahead of his clash against Djokovic. “It’s always very, very nice to play him. It’s never easy. You don’t win most of the time, but it’s still always fun.”
Thiem and Zverev can both clinch their spots in Sunday night’s final by going 3-0 in their groups. If either loses, it would open the door for other players.
Zverev is currently on top of Group Novak Djokovic, but if he loses to Djokovic in the third match of the day, he and Djokovic would be tied at 2-1. Krajinovic could be 2-1, too, if he beats Troicki.
Thiem stands in first place on the leaderboard of Group Dominic Thiem, but if he falls to Dimitrov in the fourth match of the day, he and Dimitrov would both move to 2-1. Milojevic, who was an alternate for Dzumhur, could improve to 2-0 with a win over Lajovic, which is the first match of the day session.
The final is set for 8 p.m. local time on Sunday night.
Emese Kardhordo contributed to this report.