BELGRADE (Reuters) - Winning the 2010 Davis Cup for Serbia proved the launch pad for Novak Djokovic to reach the top of the men’s game and the 26-year-old hopes another epic run will have a similar effect.
Looking upbeat and raring to go just a few days after a crushing U.S. Open defeat by Rafael Nadal, Djokovic was named to play singles on the opening day of the semi-final against Canada in the cavernous Belgrade Arena.
Any fatigue from his New York battles and the long-haul flight home will be soothed by the prospect of playing in front of the partisan home crowd, the world number one said.
“I am tired and jet-lagged but also as inspired and motivated as ever to play for my country,” Djokovic told a news conference after Thursday’s draw which pitted him against Vasek Pospisil in Friday’s opening singles rubber.
”It’s not the first time I’ve had only two days to recuperate for a Davis Cup tie after the U.S. Open and the fact that we will be playing at home for the first time in two years will galvanize us to perform.
“The 2010 triumph was a stepping stone for all of us in terms of our individual careers and that’s why we are really looking forward to it.”
Following their epic 3-2 win over France in the 2010 final, which produced a soccer-like atmosphere in a jam-packed arena, Serbia suffered their first loss at the venue in the 2011 semis.
An ailing Djokovic, who was nursing a ribcage injury, retired against Juan Martin del Potro in the reverse singles, handing Argentina an unassailable 3-1 lead as he collapsed to the ground in anguish.
It was an anti-climax to his memorable U.S. Open final win against Nadal that season, the most successful in the Serb’s career as he also claimed the Australian Open and Wimbledon to go with a myriad of Masters Series titles.
“I am fit this time and I don’t think adapting to red clay will be a problem because I’ve done it before,” he said of the specially-prepared clay surface.
“Canada are a very strong team but our home fans can help us prevail in what promises to be a delicately balanced tie.”
Janko Tipsarevic has returned to the Serbian squad after a 16-month absence and faces big-serving Milos Raonic in Friday’s second singles rubber.
Nenad Zimonjic and Ilija Bozoljac play Belgrade-born Daniel Nestor and Vasek Pospisil in Saturday’s doubles, while Djokovic locks horns with world No. 11 Raonic and Tipsarevic clashes with Pospisil in Sunday’s reverse singles.
Nestor, Zimonjic’s former doubles partner on the ATP Tour, said he expected no empathy from a raucous Belgrade crowd although he called his birthplace “a home away from home.”
“Will they take it easy on me? Maybe they will early on but if Serbia find themselves on the receiving end they will do what they have to in order to help the home team win,” he said.
Frank Dancevic, the other player in Canada’s squad, also has Serbian roots and added: “I always felt very welcome here and it’s great knowing the city and where to go to have a Serbian burger.”
The winners of the tie will face either holders the Czech Republic or Argentina in the final.
Editing by Martyn Herman