Photo : Martin Sidorjak
About the only thing he has in common with his GOAT countryman are the last four letters of their surnames. Still, over the years, he’s played the villain in many of his matches against Top 20 and Top 10 favourites.
For a lot of seeds, he’s a thorn in their side, a problem case, a tricky situation.
When I saw Félix Auger-Aliassime would be taking on Lajovic in his first clay court match of 2023, I wasn’t very happy about it. Or confident.
I even avoided expressing my doubts on Twitter so as not to manifest anything, but it was to no avail.
After getting off to an abominable start, Félix found his game—and familiar form—but his lack of matches on clay caught up with him. It was a 6-2, 3-6, 7-6 (5) win for the enigmatic man from Belgrade.
Enigmatic indeed, since the 32-year-old has never risen higher than No. 23.
His ranking curve over the past nine years looks a lot like a rollercoaster ride at your favourite amusement park. Or like those stocks you just can’t bring yourself to sell even though they make you sweat bullets on the regular.
Lajovic was on the run of his career. When he disposed of Félix on April 29, he extended his streak to seven for the very first time. Ahead of Madrid, he secured his second ATP title at the Srpska Open in Banja Luka, Bosnia and Herzegovina.
On his way to raising the crystal trophy, he sent three members of the Top 10 packing—something he’d only done five other times.
So far this year, he’s bettered Diego Schwartzman, Maxime Cressy and Andy Murray, plus a trio of fellow Serbs (Krajinovic! Djere! Djokovic!) in Banja Luka before dismantling Andrey Rublev.
So you understand my concern when realized he’d be battling Félix in his first match in almost five weeks.
Why have I dubbed Lajovic the other Serb even though there are three others besides him and Djokovic in the Top 100?
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Because despite the successive rises of Filip Krajinovic, Laslo Djere and Miomir Kecmanovic, he remains the fiercest competitor of them all.
And he happens to rank in my personal top 5 of the most elegant one-handed backhands in men’s tennis.
I know, but what can I say? I have a soft spot for the shot that used to be the norm four or five decades ago (and has since fallen out of fashion) and made Roger Federer, Richard Gasquet, Stan Wawrinka, Stefanos Tsitsipas, Denis Shapovalov, Dominic Thiem, Grigor Dimitrov and Dusan Lajovic the players I never get tired of watching, win or lose.
Is there anything more routine than the coin toss and flash photo op with the players and tournament VIPs before a match?
On 27 April in Madrid, before Rublev vs. Wawrinka, chair umpire Mohamed Lahyani found himself in an odd situation that quickly turned surreal.
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I’ve never seen two competitors have so much fun when they’re usually so hyper-focused and itching for the pleasantries to end so they can start warming up.
A misunderstanding by Lahyani about the faces of the virtual coin opened an amusing debate between Stan and Andrey that was settled with a friendly round of rock, paper, scissors.
A comic first in pro tennis history.
At the end of what turned out to be a very serious and very tight match, Rublev prevailed 7-5, 6-4 and tied their head-to-head since 2016 at 2–2.
AN ODD DUCK
We’ve seen it happen time and time again on football, baseball and soccer fields. There have been dogs, cats, squirrels, pigeons and even iguanas.
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On April 27 in Madrid, the bird that landed on the court definitely wasn’t a pigeon. It was actually a plump duck that decided to take a stroll on the clay during the match between Adrian Mannarino of France and Tomas Martin Etcheverry of Brazil.
The Frenchman didn’t do much about the intrusion, weakly directing a ball at the bird before a ball/bird kid was called in to deal with it.
A few minutes later, it was Etcheverry who chased Mannarino off the court, 6-0, 6-4.
It wasn’t the first time an animal found its way to a tennis match. I even wrote about it on March 1.
All in all, our feathered friend didn’t seem too disturbed by the turn of events.
Like water off a duck’s back.
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