CHARLEROI, BELGIUM: World No.1 Novak Djokovic was the star attraction in Charleroi but it was the opening rubber between David Goffin and Viktor Troicki which provided the most drama on the opening day of the Davis Cup by BNP Paribas World Group first round tie between Belgium and Serbia.
Given that Djokovic was the overwhelming favourite against Olivier Rochus, Belgium were relying on 22-year-old Goffin to give them hope that an upset this weekend was possible. A heart-breaking five set defeat for Goffin followed by a straight sets victory for Djokovic gives Serbia a 2-0 lead and leaves Belgium with a task verging on the impossible.
It is up to Ruben Bemelmans and Steve Darcis to keep the tie alive when they face Troicki and Nenad Zimonjic tomorrow. If they do, it would likely guarantee a live rubber on Sunday between Goffin and Djokovic, a clash the crowd at the Spiroudome would relish.
It was almost inevitable that the leading 3-2 head-to-head record that Rochus had over Djokovic before the start of the day’s match was not going to last. Three aces by Djokovic in the opening game served as a warning to Rochus that the Serb was in no mood for hanging about.
Considering that Djokovic had contested the Australian Open final in Melbourne just five days earlier and the issues that he had during practice on the indoor clay court here, he could have been excused had he made a slow start. But Rochus was clearly finding it difficult to stay with his opponent from the off and one break of serve was enough to give Djokovic the first set.
A similar pattern followed for the rest of the match with Rochus struggling to make any impact, particularly on the Serb’s service, at one point watching four aces fly by. The Djokovic that Rochus faced today is a very different one from the Djokovic he beat in the two countries’ previous Davis Cup clash in Belgrade in 2005.
Djokovic completed a routine 63 62 62 win in just one hour and 39 minutes. “It’s very pleasing,” he said. “The serve was incredible and I think that helped me to get the match done in straight sets which was important.
“It wasn’t easy playing on clay after a long time indoors and coming from Australia quite late. At the start I had trouble with movement and getting used to the conditions but I managed to play my best tennis when I needed to.”
Whether Djokovic is required on Sunday now remains to be seen after Goffin failed to take the opening point for the hosts despite being just one service game away. The 22-year-old was in control at two sets and 5-4 up before he blinked and the experienced Troicki took full advantage to fight back and claim a 16 36 76(5) 64 64 victory.
With 11 places between the pair in the rankings – Troicki ranked No.39 and Goffin at No.50 – the match was expected to be tight. But the Belgian came out firing, racing to the opening set in just 30 minutes before doubling his lead in a close second set.
Goffin was unbeaten in his three previous Davis Cup singles matches but this was quite a step up considering it was the first time in the competition he had faced an opponent ranked in the Top 250. However, he was stepping up to the plate, particularly on his returns, at one point hitting a clean backhand winner down the line in response to a 144mph (232kmh) first serve.
However, the first sign of any apprehension from the Belgian came at the crucial moment. Serving for the match, he hit several unforced errors into the net, gifting the break back to Troicki who went on to claim the tiebreak and then the fourth set to level the match.
To the Belgian’s credit, he rallied to provide a decent fight in the decider. But again at another crucial point in the match, a double fault from Goffin at break point down at 4-4 gave Troicki the chance to complete the comeback which he duly did for a hard-earned victory in 3 hours and 51 minutes.
“I was thinking about not giving up and giving 100% to the end of the match and he got a bit tight,” said Troicki, who claimed the crucial point for Serbia when they defeated France in the 2010 Davis Cup final. “It was a great win today but it is maybe the second best win of my Davis Cup career.”
Troicki praised the efforts of the ground staff who worked to fix the issues with the court that the Serbian team had expressed concerns about during practice. Following an inspection before the tie by the Referee, Remy Azemar, the International Tennis Federation (ITF) confirmed that it was of a playable condition.
A statement by the ITF read: “Under Davis Cup regulations, it is the responsibility of the home nation to ensure a playable court surface is available for each tie. There has been some speculation that laying the temporary clay court surface on wood was a source of the problem but the ITF has approved many temporary clay courts laid on wood including more than twelve since 2009 that have been laid without issue.
“The ITF would like to thank the Federation Royale Belge de Tennis for their response to our requests and their efforts over the last 24 hours to ensure that the court is fit for play and we look forward to a weekend of exciting Davis Cup tennis.”
Follow this tie as it happens: Live scores or Watch Live
Olivier Rochus (BEL) - 01/02/2013
Captain Johan van Herck (BEL) - 01/02/2013
Novak Djokovic (SRB) - 01/02/2013
Captain Bogdan Obradovic (SRB) - 01/02/2013
David Goffin (BEL) - 01/02/2013
Viktor Troicki (SRB) - 01/02/2013