Serbia and Russia both stormed into the ATP Cup semi-finals dropping barely any rubbers - but only one can progress to the final, with Novak Djokovic and Daniil Medvedev highlighting the tie as the pair clash in a top five showdown in Sydney on Saturday.
Serbia vs Russia ATP Cup tennis is live from Sydney at 11.00am local time on Saturday (12.00am GMT).
Road to the semi-finals
Serbia ?? def. South Africa ?? 3-0
Serbia ?? def. France ?? 2-1
Serbia ?? def. Chile ?? 2-1
Serbia ?? def. Canada ?? 2-0
Russia ?? def. Italy ?? 3-0
Russia ?? def. USA ?? 2-1
Russia ?? def. Norway ?? 3-0
Russia ?? def. Argentina ?? 3-0
SERBIA ??: 1. Novak Djokovic 2. Dusan Lajovic 3. Nikola Milojevic 4. Nikola Cacic 5. Viktor Troicki. Captain: Nenad Zimonjic.
RUSSIA ??: 1. Daniil Medvedev 2. Karen Khachanov 3. Teymuraz Gabashvili 4. Ivan Nedelko 5. Konstantin Kravchuk. Captain: Marat Safin.
Rubber 1: Karen Khachanov (??) vs Dusan Lajovic (??), live from Sydney at 11.00am local time (12.00am GMT)
Unbeaten in all four of his ATP Cup singles matches so far, Khachanov must overturn a 0-2 record against Lajovic if he is to get Russia off to the perfect start on Saturday.
Khachanov has only dropped one set in helping spearhead Russia into the final four, although it must be said he hasn’t come up against the strongest of opposition, beating Taylor Fritz in three and Stefano Travaglia, Viktor Durasovic and Guido Pella in straights.
The World No. 17 saved five of six break points against Pella in Friday’s quarter-final with Argentina, controlling the match from start to finish to prevail 6-2 7-6(4).
“I started to get really pumped, aggressive, and basically making the shots, not missing. That’s important when you want to play aggressive. And I think that was working pretty well,” Khachanov said. “Overall, I’m really happy with my performance today.”
Khachanov is trying to get back to his best tennis after a disappointing 2019 saw him fall from No. 8 to No. 17 as he failed to make a final – can he continue to build up some confidence by giving Russia the initial advantage on Saturday?
He’ll have beat an in-form Lajovic for the first time to do so. By contrast, Lajovic compiled a career-best season in 2019, winning his maiden ATP title in Umag, reaching his first Masters 1000 final in Monte-Carlo – beating Dominic Thiem along the way – and making the third round at Roland Garros.
Lajovic ended up losing six of his last seven matches of the season to end the year at No. 34 in the world, but he’s won three of his four matches at the ATP Cup, conquering Lloyd Harris and Nicolas Jarry in the group stage and then cruising past rising star Felix Auger-Aliassime 6-4 6-2 in Friday’s quarter-final against Canada in Sydney. His only loss came against Benoit Paire of France in three sets.
“I can tell that I was feeling much more comfortable today than the whole time in Brisbane. I felt pretty relaxed and positive on the court from the first point,” Lajovic said after beating Auger-Aliassime.
“We started off pretty well, really high intensity rhythm. I was feeling that it was not something that I’m uncomfortable with. Then I was just waiting to one of us to start to open up a little bit and push a little bit more, and I was able to do that first and crack him in the first set. And I think that was the key today, that the one who stayed longer on this high level was the one who could prevail in the end.”
As mentioned, Lajovic has beaten Khachanov in both of their previous meetings, but they each came on clay in 2016 and 2018, which is definitely the Serbian’s best surface. In saying that, Lajovic has been excellent on hardcourt this week, while I haven’t been entirely convinced of Khachanov’s form. This could be a tight one to launch the tie.
Rubber 2: Daniil Medvedev (??) vs Novak Djokovic (??), live from Sydney around 12.30pm local time (1.30am GMT)
Both Djokovic and Medvedev have won all four of their ATP Cup singles matches to reach the semi-finals, but only one can emerge triumphant on Saturday in what is shaping as a blockbuster showdown.
Djokovic leads their head-to-head 3-2, but Medvedev has won their last two meetings – and they’ve been significant matches as well, with the Russian prevailing in three sets at the Monte-Carlo and Cincinnati Masters events last year.
— ATP Tour (@atptour) January 10, 2020
After straight sets victories over Kevin Anderson, Gael Monfils and Cristian Garin, Djokovic was pushed all the way by another youngster in Canada’s Denis Shapovalov in the quarter-finals on Friday, but he used his greater experience to race out to a 5-0 lead in the deciding set tiebreak, and although Shapovalov managed to clay his way back to 6-4, the World No. 2 never really looked like relinquishing the lead and closed out the win by a 4-6 6-1 7-6(4) scoreline.
It was a spicy affair, with both Djokovic and Shapovalov having words with the umpire, but the strong Serbian contingent in Sydney ultimately cheered their man to victory, with Djokovic improving to 5-0 over Shapovalov.
“It was an amazing match. One of the closest matches I’ve played against Denis. It was very even match. He played fantastic, very aggressive, served great. We fought both until the last shot,” Djokovic said.
Speaking of spice, there was plenty involved in Medvedev’s own three-set win over Argentina’s Diego Schwartzman on Thursday night.
If *this* is not an instant default, then what exactly does it take to get defaulted?
— Bastien Fachan (@BastienFachan) January 9, 2020
Medvedev was given a warning for unsportsmanlike conduct after a war of words with Schwartzman as he won the first set, while in the second set he twice hit his racquet against the umpire’s chair – an act some were saying was worthy of a default.
Nevertheless, Medvedev regrouped strongly – reminiscent of what he did during his run to the U.S. Open final – and channeled his emotion the right way in the deciding set, earning a 6-4 4-6 6-3 win to seal the tie for Russia.
“We made our job. All the matches were won in singles, which is amazing, and I think only Spain did the same so far,” Medvedev said. “It’s really great. We played great with Karen. Hopefully we can go all the way, but I’m really happy with the way ATP Cup is going for Team Russia.”
Medvedev has had Djokovic’s number in their last two matches, but both were extremely close, and my recollection from their Cincinnati encounter was that Medvedev was redlining on his second serve because he didn’t want to get into extended rallies. That tactic might work once, but it’s not sustainable in the long run. I still think Djokovic’s the slight favourite in this match-up – and it will be interesting to see what role the loud Serbian crowd play, especially against the hot-headed Medvedev…
Rubber 3: Doubles, live from Sydney around 3.00pm local time (4.00am GMT)
Teams to be confirmed
Serbia and Russia are likely to play their singles stars in doubles if the tie comes down to it. Djokovic won his only doubles rubber of the ATP Cup with Viktor Troicki against specialists Nicolas Mahut and Edouard Roger-Vasselin of France, while Khachanov and Medvedev have combined for two victories – although, Konstantin Kravchuk and Teymuraz Gabashvili have also been successful this week.