On paper Serbia, led by Novak Djokovic, were always viewed as a shoe-in for a place in the last four of the ATP Cup especially after Dusan Lajovic secured the opening rubber leaving the world number two to mop up the second against the Canadians in Sydney.
It was so close it could have gone a different way easily. Novak Djokovic
They eventually secured their expected victory but note before Denis Shapovalov gave Djokovic a bit of a fright before the Serbian clinched it 4-6 6-1 7-6(4) to inflict his fifth win over the 20-year-old in as many matches.
It was extremely close and reaffirmed the hype surrounding the young Canadian is one of the young guns who will be a major player in the near future.
On this occasion though it was Djokovic who emerged the victor but he readily admitted it had not been easy.
“This was the closest match I have ever played against Denis,” Djokovic said after the match. “It was so close it could have gone a different way easily.
“He was playing some terrific tennis and I want to give a huge round of applause and credit to him. Well done.”
The Serbian, who has always felt at home in Australia, knew he was in a battle early and had to fight hard to hang n to his serve while Shapovalov swung the ball around with relative ease.
The Canadian, ranked fourteen in the world, eventually got a break and pocketed the opening set and looked on the verge of claiming another break early in the second as everyone looked on in surprise at a possible upset.
Djokovic, however, prevented that second break with an accurate lob and then against the run of play, managed to break his opponent for the first time to the delight of the huge Serbian section of the crowd leading to him commenting after his victory: “It felt, not a little bit, fully like I’m playing at home!”
“I mean, Brisbane (where they played their group matches) we had amazing support – but this has taken it to a different level,” he added. “All the Serbian people came out today.”
Having levelled the rubber, the two combatants settled into the deciding set with the leftie Shapovalov resorting to moving his opponent about the court with angled play.
After some late third set drama with the pair exchanging breaks, the match inevitably entered into a deciding tiebreak where Djokovic kept his composure making Shapovalov force the play.
Earlier Dusan Lajovic’s had beaten Felix Auger-Aliassime 6-4 6-2, and with Nikola Cacic and Viktor Troicki defeating Adil Shamasdin and Peter Polansky in the doubles 6-3 6-2 Serbia went through into the semis 3-0 and will face Russia for a place in the final.
That clash will see Djokovic face world No 5 Daniil Medvedev, a player who has beaten the Serbian in their last two meetings.