SYDNEY, January 10, 2020 (by Michael Dickens)
World No. 5 Daniil Medvedev and No. 17 Karen Khachanov arguably are the best 1-2 combo at the inaugural ATP Cup this week. Both Russians have gone undefeated (4-0) in singles, and this pair of 23-year-old giants – both are 6-feet-6 tall (1.98m) – are the main reason Team Russia has powered its way to the semifinal round in Sydney.
In Perth, Russia easily won its group with consecutive tie victories over Italy, the United States and Norway. The Russian’s only blemish was a doubles rubber loss – ironically by Medvedev and Khachanov – to the U.S. that was sandwiched in between a pair of 3-0 shutout victories. Otherwise, Medvedev and Khachanov have dropped just three sets in singles between them the entire tournament.
“We made our job,” said Medvedev during his team’s press conference after Russia advanced with a 3-0 shutout win over Argentina in Thursday evening’s quarterfinal action at Ken Rosewall Arena. “All the matches were won in singles, which is amazing, and I think only Spain did the same so far.
“It’s really great. We played great with Karen. Hopefully, we can go all the way, but I’m really happy with the way ATP Cup is going for Team Russia.”
In his latest victory, Medvedev clinched the tie for his team against Argentina with a 6-4, 4-6, 6-3 win over Diego Schwartzman, whom he has never lost to in three meetings. He called his win a “super tough match.” It came after Khachanov beat Guido Pella, 6-2, 7-6 (4), in the opener.
However, Medvedev’s rubber was not without incident as he received a point penalty from chair umpire Mohamed Lahyani at 6-4, 3-4, when he emphatically struck the side of the umpire’s chair with his racquet during a discussion.
“I didn’t have anything near me to hit at than the chair … so just hit one thing with the racquet,” Medvedev said. “I got a code violation, which I deserve – the second one is no question. Then we moved on.”
Russia captain Marat Safin calmed Medvedev during the ensuing changeover. Afterward, Safin said: “It was important for him to stay mentally strong, just hold on to what he can. Give the best and see what’s going to come. Not to go too crazy and not to rush with the approach shots, with hitting the ball too hard.
“You have to be smart and sometimes squeeze yourself together and maintain yourself calm and see what’s going to come.”
Serbia advances to the semi-finals
Meanwhile, next for Russia will be a Saturday semifinal showdown with Team Serbia, which advanced with a 3-0 victory over Team Canada in Friday afternoon’s quarterfinal tie. The Serbians remained undefeated (4-0) thanks to their latest triumph. In group play, they rolled over South Africa, France and Chile. There’s been a confident attitude throughout the team all week.
Serbia’s captain Nenad Zimonjic said before Friday’s tie against Canada that he’s been pleased with how his team has performed, first during group play in Brisbane and now in the Final Eight in Sydney.
“I’m happy with how the level both from Dusan and Novak went. Beginning of the year, first matches, the pressure playing for the team and for your country, it’s complete different. That adds a lot to this competition,” Zimonjic explained. “That’s why I think that after the ATP Cup, all of them they will play on a much higher level in upcoming tournaments. Hopefully, they bring the best form as the matches are going through.”
World No. 2 Novak Djokovic, who has anchored the Serbians at No. 1 singles with wins over Kevin Anderson, Gaël Monfils and Cristian Garin during group play – and beat No. 15 Denis Shapovalov for the fifth time in his career on Friday, rallying for a 4-6, 6-1, 7-6 (4) win that clinched the tie victory – has embraced the team concept of the ATP Cup and enjoyed helping create a family atmosphere among his teammates. He called his tie-clinching win against Shapovalov an “amazing match.”
“Having that journey through various places in Australia feels like a World Cup to us a little bit, which I’ve never felt. It’s quite exciting,” Djokovic said Wednesday following Serbia’s victory over Chile. “And now we are a family. We have been together almost 10 days and keep on going. So, hopefully, the success will follow as well.”
Before leaving Brisbane for Sydney, Djokovic said he looked forward to going to a different Australian city together … “travel, practice there (and) play in a different environment. Sydney’s got a big Serbian community. Hopefully, the support can be as good as it was (in Brisbane), even better.”
— ATPCup (@ATPCup) January 10, 2020
During Friday’s Serbia-Canada tie, dozens of Serbian flags could be seen flying throughout the confines of Ken Rosewall Arena and there were plenty of vocal Serbian fans shouting their support for Dusan Lajovic and Djokovic during the singles rubbers. At times, the noise got to be a little overbearing and made it difficult for the players to concentrate on their tennis.
However, after winning the opening rubber against Canada’s Felix Auger-Aliassime, the 34th-ranked Lajovic said that he appreciated the energy the Serbian fans showed. “It’s unique … there is no one place where you have as many Serbs as here because we don’t have any tournaments in Serbia. The more they pump you, the more energy you feel.
“I think it really helps us a lot here in this ATP Cup, and I hope it will be like that in Melbourne as well.”
During Team Serbia’s press conference Friday afternoon, Djokovic said the Serbian crowd “definitely played a role” in its success throughout the tie.
“We were hoping we were going to have a big support, but this has definitely exceeded our hopes and expectations,” Djokovic said. “We are super grateful to have this many Serbian people show up. … I am so happy and so glad I was able to experience something like this today.”
If Serbia’s quarterfinal triumph over Canada is any indicator, Djokovic and his teammates – not to mention the Serbian fans – are enjoying the Sydney atmosphere very much.