Serbia vs South Africa ATP Cup Preview and Tips

andrew hendrie:

World No. 2 Novak Djokovic launches his 2020 season in Brisbane on Saturday night as he leads Serbia in an ATP Cup clash against South Africa.

After a somewhat disappointing end to 2019, Novak Djokovic is back in action as the reigning Australian Open champion gets his season underway in Brisbane for Serbia against South Africa in the ATP Cup.

Djokovic is undoubtedly the star attraction of the tie, but he could be in for a tough opening match against the big-serving Kevin Anderson, who is returning from injury and determined to make up for lost time.

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Group A

SERBIA ??: 1. Novak Djokovic 2. Dusan Lajovic 3. Nikola Milojevic 4. Nikola Cacic 5. Viktor Troicki. Captain: Nenad Zimonjic.

SOUTH AFRICA ??: 1. Kevin Anderson 2. Lloyd Harris 3. Ruan Roelofse 4. Raven Klaasen 5. Khololwam Montsi. Captain: Jeff Coetzee.

Rubber 1: Dusan Lajovic (??) vs Lloyd Harris (??), live from Brisbane at 5.30pm local time (7.30am GMT)

With Janko Tipsarevic retiring and Viktor Troicki sliding down the rankings, Lajovic has stepped up and assumed the title of Serbia’s No. 2 player in recent years behind Djokovic – and he’s looking more and more comfortable on tour in recent seasons.

Lajovic compiled a career-best season in 2019, winning his maiden ATP title on the clay of Umag and reaching his first Masters 1000 final in Monte-Carlo, earning the biggest win of his career over No. 5 Dominic Thiem before going down to Fabio Fognini.

Dusan Lajovic (PA Images)

The 29-year-old was only the second player to make a first ATP final at a Masters 1000 event since 2013, and that run catapulted him to a career-high ranking of No. 24. Lajovic did his best work on clay as he made the third round of Roland Garros, losing to Alexander Zverev in five sets, but he didn’t have a great end to the season, losing six of his last seven matches to finish at No. 34.

Harris meanwhile had a decent end to the season, making two Challenger semi-finals in Brest and Eckental as he finished the year just inside the top 100 at No. 99.

The 22-year-old hasn’t had much fanfare compared to other youngsters coming through the rankings, but he’s positioned himself nicely for an attempt to establish a presence in the top 100 and perhaps top 50 in 2020.

Harris reached his first ATP semi-final in Chengdu and also made a bit of an impact at Wimbledon when he took the opening set off eight-time champion Roger Federer on Centre Court before succumbing in four.

The South African actually beat Lajovic in straight sets on his way to the Chengdu semi-finals in their only previous meeting. Equiped with a big serve and powerful groundstrokes, hardcourt suit the game of Harris more than Lajovic, but the Serbian has a load of experience and can be tough to break down from the back of the court. It’s a good test for both players to start their respective seasons.

Rubber 2: Novak Djokovic (??) vs Kevin Anderson (??), live from Brisbane around 7.00pm local time (9.00am GMT)

It’s a rematch of the 2018 Wimbledon final as Djokovic brings a 8-2 head-to-head record over Anderson into the second rubber.

Djokovic started 2019 with a bang as he crushed Rafael Nadal in straight sets to win a record seventh Australian Open title, but the Spaniard gained the upper hand as the year went on, and after Djokovic saved two championship points to beat Roger Federer for the Wimbledon title, the Serbian struggled for the remainder of the year, retiring against Stan Wawrinka in the fourth round of the U.S. Open and relinquishing the No. 1 ranking in the final stages of the season.

Novak Djokovic gets to know some Australian wildlife in Brisbane (PA Images)

That being said, it was still a wonderfully successful season for Djokovic – he increased his Grand Slam tally to 16, just four shy of Federer’s 20 and three off Nadal, while he also claimed Masters 1000 titles in Madrid and Paris, along with the 500-level crown at the Japan Open in Tokyo.

The only man in history to win three straight slams on three separate occasions, Djokovic has spoken about his determination to recapture his best tennis in 2020 – and that’s what he usually does in Australia. Can he put in a dominant performance in his opening match of the season?

Anderson will certainly be hoping he can’t. 2019 was a tough year for the South African – he only played five tournaments before shutting down his season and undergoing right knee surgery in September, with his ranking dropping to No. 91 as a result.

Nevertheless, Anderson still managed to win a title last year, taking home the Pune silverware in his first tournament of the season, but it was a season to forget, especially when you consider his incredible rise in the previous years, where he reached the U.S. Open final in 2017 and Wimbledon final in 2018, losing to Nadal and Djokovic respectively.

The highest-ranked South African player of all time after peaking at No. 5 in 2018, Anderson will be hoping for a sustained period of fitness as he tries to claw his way back up the rankings in 2020.

However, he probably rather would have faced anyone other than Djokovic in his first competitive match back. The ATP says Anderson has won two matches against the Serbian, but one of them was in the Laver Cup exhibition, so it doesn’t rally count. Djokovic has won their last three professional encounters in straight sets and should extend that record come Saturday.

Rubber 3: Doubles – teams to be confirmed, live from Brisbane around 9.00pm local time (11.00am GMT)

Serbian captain Nenad Zimonjic won’t play Djokovic if Serbia have already wrapped up the tie, but he might be tempted if the scores are level. Nikola Milojevic, Nikola Cacic, Viktor Troicki are the other options for Serbia, while South Africa can call upon the services of Raven Klaasen, the veteran 37-year-old who is currently ranked No. 8 in doubles.