Photo: ATP Tour
Team Canada battled valiantly on the opening day of ATP Cup action, but was unable to top Novak Djokovic’s Team Serbia in a tough 2-1 loss on Tuesday afternoon in Melbourne, Australia.
Milos Raonic scored a 6-3, 6-4 win over Dusan Lajovic in the first rubber, but Denis Shapovalov, facing World No. 1 Djokovic in the second match, was unable edge out a victory in a tight 7-5, 7-5 decision. In the deciding doubles, the Raonic & Shapovalov fell 7-5, 7-6(4) to the duo of Djokovic and Filip Krajinovic to surrender the loss to Serbia.
Raonic was first up for Team Canada, taking on Serbia’s Dusan Lajovic in tie’s first match-up between each teams’ respective No. 2 players. Though just three places separate World No. 15 Raonic from teammate Shapovalov, 25 spots in the ATP Tour rankings separate World No. 26 Lajovic with compatriot Djokovic, who sits atop the proverbial rankings summit.
With Shapovalov 0-5 against Djokovic in the tie’s second rubber, it was therefore crucial that Raonic get out to a strong start for Team Canada against his Serbian opponent – and he did just that. Though he kicked proceedings off with an ominous double fault, his serve didn’t take much longer to kick into full gear. Pressuring Lajovic with relentlessly dominating consistency from the service line, a break mid-way through the set was all the 2016 Wimbledon runner-up would need to seal the early advantage.
A carbon-copy of the first set, the second followed in similar fashion with Raonic blasting rockets of service excellence in the way of Lajovic, whose one-handed backhand held up well under service pressure but was strategically untested due to the short points in the match. A break in the ever-crucial seventh game of the set all but sealed victory for Raonic, who not long after served out proceedings after one hour, 16 minutes of play.
It was a tidy stat sheet for the Canadian and his thunderous serve, striking 11 aces and surrendering just two points behind his first serve to avenge a second-round loss at the Rome Masters last season.
Second up on the day’s ATP Cup order of play on Rod Laver Arena, Shapovalov took to court with a tall order ahead of him, a man who knows a thing or two about what it takes to win on this very court – eight-time Australian Open champion Djokovic.
Despite losing a heartbreaking three-setter to the Serbian No. 1 last year in the quarter-finals of the inaugural ATP Cup, Shapovalov came out of the gates firing, serving up an impressive 68% first-serve percentage to keep things close with Djokovic. It was a crucial cat-and-mouse set point at the tail end of the first set that tipped the scales in the favour of Djokovic, however, and out of nowhere Shapovalov had a one-set-to-love hole to dig himself out of.
The second set was more of the first, with the electric Canadian’s offence testing World No. 1’s lightning-rod defence, which has helped energize the latter to 17 Grand Slams across his storied career. The two put on quite a show in front of a relatively sparse Australian crowd – though any crowd is a good crowd after most of the previous season being played fanless. In the end, crucial points in the final game of the set (as Shapo served for a tiebreak) once again fell Djokovic’s way to ultimately hand Team Canada the loss despite two tightly contested sets.
The decisive doubles rubber would be a similar story of missed opportunities despite strong patches of play for Team Canada throughout. Shapovalov and Raonic, playing together for just the second time in their careers, were the first to generate a break point against Djokovic and Krajinovic early on, but miscommunication on a central ball lost them the critical point. Serving at 5-5, Shapo dropped his serve, paving the way for his third lost set by a score of 7-5.
The second set was equally tight, with the Canadian duo threatening both Krajinovic’s and Djokovic’s serves, but unable to win the crucial points on return to generate the opportunities. The set was ultimately to be decided by a tiebreak, and it was a few untimely Shapovalov errors that would give the Serbians the cushion they’d need to seal the win. After an hour and 39 minutes of play, Serbia clinched the win to rise atop the standings in Group A.
Up next for Team Canada on Wednesday (Tuesday evening in Canada) is their final group stage matchup against Alexander Zverev’s Team Germany, against whom they still have a shot of reaching the ATP Cup semi-finals with a win.