BELGRADE, SERBIA: The Davis Cup by BNP Paribas semifinal between 2010 winners Serbia and this term’s dark horses Canada appears set to go down to the wire as an epic after a pair of contrasting opening singles rubbers on Friday left the teams deadlocked 1-1.
With Canada trailing 1-0 after world No.1 Novak Djokovic brushed aside the bewildered Vasek Pospisil 62 60 64 to put the hosts in the driving seat in Belgrade’s Kombank Arena, 22-year old Milos Raonic dug deep into his resources to redress the balance with a thrilling 57 63 36 63 108 win over Janko Tipsarevic.
The result improved the Montenegrin-born Raonic’s perfect record against Tipsarevic to 4-0 and silenced a vociferous home crowd, while it threw into raptures a small but vociferous and colourful band of Canadian supporters sporting scores of national flags.
Raonic appeared set for a walk in the park against Tipsarevic as he hit one winner after another to conjure a total of 11 early on and took a 3-0 lead in the opening set, but his effervescent display made way to some erratic shots while the home crowd favourite regained his composure.
Tipsarevic recovered superbly to take the opening set and although Raonic claimed the second, the Serb again swung the pendulum in the third with a myriad of unstoppable groundstrokes which had his opponent dashing in vain from one end of the court to another.
The Canadian returned the favour in the fourth set to set up a dramatic and strength-sapping fifth, in which he saved a match point in the 10th game before he finally outgunned and overpowered Tipsarevic in four hours and 11 minutes of rip-roaring tennis.
The indoor red clay designated to tame Raonic’s lethal serve did not play into Serbia’s hands on the opening day but their team captain Bogdan Obradovic was confident it would eventually do the job and take its toll in Saturday’s doubles and Sunday’s reverse singles.
“Raonic served brilliantly today and all credit to him, but we are still optimistic about our chances of reaching the final,” Obradovic told a news conference after seeing Tisparevic squander a golden opportunity to put Serbia 2-0 up.
“Every aspect in the Davis Cup counts and while we would have preferred to be two points to the good, we can take a lot of positives today and the main one is that Canada’s first-ranked player had to work his socks off to beat our second-ranked,” he added.
Tipsarevic said: “I am very disappointed because I thought I looked the fresher and fitter player in the final set. I could have carried on for another hour or two if I had to while Milos appeared to be running on fumes, but his huge serve bailed him out.”
Raonic, who rifled in 34 aces, will have a rest day on Saturday when Daniel Nestor teams up with Vasek Pospisil in the doubles, with Djokovic remaining an option for Serbia should Obradovic choose to field him instead of Ilija Bozoljac alongside the evergreen Nenad Zimonjic.
Earlier on Friday, Djokovic brushed aside Pospisil although the early exchanges did not suggest it would be plain sailing for the world No.1.
Pospisil held his opening two serves comfortably with the home crowd favourite apparently still feeling the effects of what has been a long week for the 26-year old.
Having suffered a tough US Open final loss to Rafael Nadal on Monday, Djokovic rushed home from New York to get to Belgrade in time for Thursday’s draw and practice.
Hence the Serb looked a bit weary as he took centre stage but quickly found his feet and took the match by the scruff of the neck, winning 13 games in a row after trailing 2-1 in the opening set.
Tormenting the 22-year old Canadian with punishing ground strokes from the baseline as well as successful forays to the net, a fired-up Djokovic rekindled the memories of Serbia’s epic 2010 season when they won the trophy in grand style at the same venue.
He conjured an impressive 12 out of 14 points on the net, while world No.41 Pospisil faded after a bright start and although the Canadian held his own in winners and excelled in aces, he committed a barrage of unforced errors in the one-sided contest.
“Djokovic does not let you breathe on the court and this will be a tough lesson learned,” Pospisil said in a post-match interview to the ITF.
“Still, I have nothing to be ashamed of because I was up against the world’s top-ranked player and I didn’t feel like there was anything wrong with my game. He was just too good.”
Djokovic was delighted to have put Serbia in the driving seat and left open the possibility of playing in Saturday’s doubles, while he also relished the prospect of locking horns with Raonic on Sunday.
“It’s always great to win a Davis Cup match, especially in front of the home crowd, because you represent your country and I can say that it’s been a fantastic performance for me given that I only got here 48 hours ago,” Djokovic told a news conference.
“There is a possibility that I might play in the doubles tomorrow but team captain Bogdan Obradovic will have the final say. Either way, this win will have boosted my confidence and the overall team spirit.”
Asked what kind of challenge he expected against Raonic in Sunday’s opening reverse singles, he said: “A tough one, because he has the potential to storm into the top five on the ATP Tour very soon. He has a big serve and one of the strongest pair of calf muscles I have ever seen in tennis.”
The winners will play either holders Czech Republic or Argentina in the Nov. 15-17 final.
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Milos Raonic (CAN) - 13/09/2013
Captain Martin Laurendeau (CAN) - 13/09/2013
Novak Djokovic (SRB) - 13/09/2013