SYDNEY — Almost an hour after he walked off Ken Rosewell Arena to the raucous chants of his name, Novak Djokovic was distracted by replays of his comeback win over Canadian opponent Denis Shapovalov that secured Serbia’s place in the ATP Cup semifinals.
It was like he was reliving the big moments again, as he regularly glanced over to a TV monitor showing highlights in between answering questions at a news conference.
Djokovic, who has won a record seven Australian Open men’s singles titles, was playing in Sydney for the first time in a decade after going 3-0 in singles in the ATP Cup in Brisbane. There was no question who the crowd was supporting Friday. The constant chants and even a burst of trumpet from the flag-waving Serbian fans certainly helped him in his comeback 4-6, 6-1, 7-6 (4) win.
The 16-time major champion reveled in the environment, with his teammates and coaches on the side of the court, and the echo of “Nole, Nole, Nole” going around the stadium.
“I’m mean, Brisbane we had amazing support – but this has taken it to a different level,” Djokovic said. “All the Serbian people came out today.”
Shapovalov was on the receiving end of some of it, getting a warning from the umpire when he reacted to some taunts from the crowd.
“They were engaged – sometimes a little bit too much. Denis was rightfully annoyed at times, you know, with the sounds, but it was a Davis Cup-like atmosphere, really,” Djokovic explained. “I mean, ATP Cup brings this kind of opportunity for players to experience something they don’t experience in 90% of the tournaments.”
On either side of Djokovic’s win, Dusan Lajovic beat Felix Auger-Aliassime 6-4, 6-2 in the opening singles match and Serbia won the doubles to complete a 3-0 sweep of Canada.
Russia captain Marat Safin kept an eye on proceedings, and figured Djokovic’s tough win may count against Serbia in the semifinals. Karen Khachanov will play Serbia’s No. 2 and Daniil Medvedev will take on Djokovic. The Russians were involved in Day 1 of the quarterfinals, with Medvedev clinching the win in a heated match against Diego Schwartzman and blaming his cranky mood on jetlag following the trip from Perth to Sydney via Melbourne.
“I think is very important for Karen to win that first match so he gives some confidence to Daniil,” Safin said. “Daniil, I think he will have a chance tomorrow, especially (because) Novak had the long match today. They are playing tomorrow morning, so hopefully Novak will not recover well.
“Then doubles will be important ones, but I think we can – we try to do it in the first two matches. I honestly believe … that we will win in two (singles) matches, so we don’t want to go into the doubles.”
If Serbia’s run so far is any guide, there’s almost a home-ground advantage for Djokovic’s team.
Djokovic knew he had the crowd onside against Canada, so he felt like he needed to be a responsible host for his guests.
There was a delay late in the third set against Shapovalov when a spectator needed medical attention from paramedics and Djokovic, despite being down 0-30 while serving for the match, took a bottle of water toward the stadium seating and asked the crowd to pass it along.
He got back level at 30-30 in that game before Shapovalov broke to level the set at 5-5. The Canadian saved a break point in the next game but after the match went to a tiebreaker, Djokovic seized control by winning the first five points.
“That was so close, it could have gone in a different way easily. (Shapovalov) was playing terrific tennis,” Djokovic said. “It felt, not a little bit, fully like I’m playing at home.
“When you have most of the stadium backing you up after every point, of course it makes a significant difference in terms of how you feel on the court. You find that strength. You find that motivation,” Djokovic added. “That’s why I try to cherish these kind of moments and take them with me anywhere I go.”