NOVI SAD, SERBIA: Former world No. 1 Roger Federer and 2014 Australian Open champion Stanislas Wawrinka gave Switzerland a highly anticipated 2-0 lead after the opening day of their Davis Cup by BNP Paribas World Group first round tie against hosts Serbia in Novi Sad’s SPENS Arena.
Federer put the Swiss in the driving seat with a 64 75 62 win over Ilija Bozoljac after fighting back from a 5-2 deficit in the second set, while Wawrinka overpowered Dusan Lajovic 64 46 61 76(7) in Friday’s second singles rubber to give his team a commanding advantage ahead of Saturday’s doubles.
Federer, who arrived in Serbia as a last-minute inclusion in the Swiss squad, laboured through the opening set against hard-hitting Bozoljac, who produced a barrage of aces in the opening exchanges.
Federer came under even stronger pressure in the second, when Bozoljac, roared on by a passionate home crowd, raced into a 5-2 lead as he continued to pour aces garnished with some delightful volleys and forehand winners.
It all went wrong for the world No. 268 when he squandered a set point on Federer’s serve by sending an easy volley into the net, thus allowing the 32-year old Swiss maestro to claw his way back into the set and clinch it after he won the next five games against his despairing opponent.
As unfazed as in his prime, Federer applied the trademark killer instinct which once made him the most feared player on the circuit.
The writing was clearly on the wall for battling Bozoljac after he failed to hold serve in the opening game of the third set and Federer raced through it to seal the match in one hour and 40 minutes.
“I struggled to read Ilija’s serve early on although I wasn’t really surprised because I played against him not that long ago so I knew that he has a big serve, Federer told a news conference.
“In the second set I was just glad to take advantage and fight back. The most important thing is that I won the match in straight sets,” he said.
Bozoljac rued the chances he missed to engineer a more dramatic match against one of the all-time greats: “The difference between the top players and those at my level is that the likes of Federer bounce straight back from adversity while I always need a game or two to regain my composure
“My head dropped a bit after I squandered a golden opportunity to level the match and he punished my resultant errors ruthlessly. But I can take some positives from this match because I played pretty well at times.”
Still showing signs of fatigue after a long-haul flight from Melbourne following his impressive victory over Rafael Nadal in Sunday’s Australian Open final, Wawrinka had to dig deep into his resources to overcome a spirited challenge from a fired-up Lajovic.
Having eked out the opening set against Lajovic, who showed none of the stage fright which played into the Czech Republic’s hands when they beat Serbia 3-2 in last year’s final, Wawrinka was on the back foot in the second as the world No. 102 tormented him with a plethora of stinging baseline shots and a powerful serve.
The Serb pumped his first in delight and drew a standing ovation from the home fans when he unleashed an ace to clinch the second set, stirring hopes in the home team’s camp that they could finish the day on level terms with their illustrious and more heralded rivals.
Wawrinka, however, then showed the makings of a champion as he moved up two gears and had a colourful band of Swiss supporters in full swing as he raced into a 3-0 lead in the second set. There was no letting up as Wawrinka broke serve again with a superb backhand down the line and then held his own to regain the upper hand in the match.
Wawrinka carved out a 3-1 lead in the third set but it was not all plain sailing for the Swiss as Lajovic held his next service game and then earned a triple break point. Wawrinka forced deuce but Lajovic took the next two points to draw level in the third set and reinvigorate expectations of a comeback among the home supporters.
The 23-year-old Lajovic then saved a break point in a magnificent exchange to nose ahead in the set, with musing blaring from the arena’s sound system pumping extra adrenaline into the fans enjoying their own contest in the orange-clad venue.
The next six games went with serve and the knife-edged set headed into a tie-break, where the tiring Wawrinka had to use up every last ounce of energy left in his ailing body to seal the match.
The Swiss showed his nerves after he double-faulted when he was 4-2 up in the tie-break and Lajovic took temporary advantage to earn two set points as both sets of supporters held their breath.
But the Serb choked under pressure, double-faulting and making an unforced error as Wawrinka got the better of his opponent in the final twist when Lajovic blasted a relatively easy smash well beyond the baseline.
“It was a tough match and it wasn’t easy for me to come here after the last few weeks,” Wawrinka told reporters.
“I didn’t really have enough time to get ready as I was exhausted both mentally and physically, but I was determined to fight and win the match and I was really happy to get through it.
“He is a good player and tough to beat in front of his home fans so it was a tough situation for me, so we are really happy to be 2-0 up after the opening day.”
Swiss team captain Severin Luthi said he was likely to stick with his nominated duo of Marco Chiudinelli and Michael Lammer for Saturday’s doubles, with Serbia opting for veteran Nenad Zimonjic and the youthful Filip Krajinovic.
“We haven’t made a final decision yet but I think we are gojng to leave it as it is because we have no guarantees that Roger and Stan will win the doubles while Marco and Michael certainly have a chance. We have to keep Sunday in mind although we are looking to finish the job and not let the Serbs back into the match.”
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Captain Severin Luthi (SUI)
Captain Bogdan Obradovic (SRB)
Roger Federer (SUI) - 31/01/2014
Ilija Bozoljac (SRB) - 31/01/2014