Djoker Ready For Canada
Well, Novak Djokovic pretty much just shot down any suggestion tennis players don't care much about the Davis Cup.
"My country needs me," the world No. 1 said today less than 24 hours after arriving in Belgrade for this weekend's semifinal tie against Milos Raonic and Canada.
Djokovic is still, of course, getting over his wrenching four-set defeat to Rafael Nadal on Monday at the U.S. Open. After winning three Grand Slam titles in his spectacular 2011 season, Djokovic's pace has slowed (didn't it have to?) and he has two majors (both in Australia) to show for his last eight Grand Slam appearances.
For mere mortals, that would be more than sufficient. For Djokovic, it's a bit of a letdown.
Still, Djokovic dashed any suggestion today that he might rest on the first day of the competition against Canada, a country that has never before advanced this far in Davis Cup.
It could be, then, that just as Djokovic's efforts in leading Serbia to the Davis Cup championship in 2010 set the stage for that amazing '11 season, Djokovic may be intent on using the patriotic fervour of another Davis Cup performance for a little pick-me-up going into the final stage of the 2013 campaign.
After hosting a charity event in Manhattan on Tuesday, he arrived in Belgrade about 5 p.m. local time on Wednesday.
“I am tired and jet-lagged as I couldn’t get here before Wednesday, but I am fit now and we haven’t played at home in the Davis Cup for two years," Djokovic told reporters. "So I am as motivated and inspired as ever to play for my country in this."
Too bad for Canada if that's true.
Then again, Canada doesn't have to beat Djokovic this weekend to advance to the Davis Cup final, an event that would take place in Canada later this year, possibly in Quebec City. A stadium with at least a capacity of 12,000 is required, and with hockey in full swing, Le Colisee might be one of the few such arenas available.
But that's getting way ahead of ourselves. Canada is a significant underdog this weekend, starting with world No. 41 Vasek Pospisil taking on Djokovic in the first match at 10 a.m. Toronto time on Friday. The surface is indoor red clay and, according to early reports, is playing quite fast.
If it were up to Canada, of course, this tie would be played indoors on a fast hard court. But Serbia, as host, gets to choose, and they've won at Belgrade Arena on this dirt before.
Raonic will face Janko Tipsarevic in the second match on Friday, one that Canada would almost have to win to have a shot at a weekend upset. Raonic is coming off a very solid month of August, while Tipsarevic has struggled all season and has slipped to No. 23 in the world.
On Saturday, the doubles match could be pivotal and will pit Belgrade-born Daniel Nestor against his old doubles partner, Nenad Zimonjic. Both have fallen in international doubles rankings as they near the end of their careers, but there will be lots of emotion on court for what might be the final significant clash of their careers.
“We know each other very well and we’ve both had success on tour down the years so there aren’t going to be any surprises," said Nestor. "He is a big hitter, has a wealth of experience and obviously we have to try to contain him.”
Nestor will again team with Pospisil after that pair almost upset the top-ranked Bryan brothers at the U.S. Open. Zimonjic will play with Ilija Bozoljac, a lesser known singles player who teamed with Zimonjic in the spring to upset the Bryans in a dramatic 15-13 fifth set to push the Serbs past the Americans and into this semifinal tie.
The Nestor-Pospisil combo, meanwhile, also won a 15-13 fifth set against Italy as part of Canada's triumph in April.
Then, on Sunday at 8 a.m. Toronto time, Raonic will face Djokovic in what could be a dramatic confrontation if the tie is still in question. If it's tied 2-2 after that, a Pospisil-Tipsarevic match would decide the tie. One possible edge for Canada against Serbia? Djokovic has never played either Raonic or Pospisil, so they'll be unknowns to him.
Tipsarevic has said he and his teammates are "small favourites."
“Serbia are the favourites as the hosts but it doesn’t mean that we don’t have a chance. Things are going to be tight and close," said Raonic today.
The winner of this tie takes on the winner of the confrontation between reigning champion Czech Republic and Argentina, playing without injured star Juan Martin del Potro, in Prague.
There are also eight other World Group playoff ties going on around the world this weekend. Nadal, who didn't play against Canada last winter, will play for Spain against Ukraine, while Roger Federer won't be in Switzerland's lineup in Neuchatel against Ecuador.
Reigning Wimbledon champion Andy Murray, meanwhile, will try to get Great Britain back into the World Group against Croatia. In the first match on Friday, Murray will face 16-year-old Borna Coric, who just won the junior U.S. Open on the weekend.