A confident Serbia clearly prevailed against Great Britain in the quarter-finals of the Davis Cup in Málaga and reached the Final Four with a 2-0 win on Thursday evening.
In the important opening game between the two second-seeded singles players, Miomir Kecmanovic showed a spectacular performance, defeating Jack Draper in a high-class duel 7:6 (2), 7:6 (6) and getting the first point for Serbia. Novak Djokovic, the best player in the world, ended the duel by comfortably defeating Cameron Norrie 6-4, 6-4 and securing victory for Serbia.
Despite the ease with which Djokovic ended the duel, it was not without controversy as he repeatedly dueled with the fans. After blowing a kiss to a British fan after the first set, Djokovic criticized a group of British fans who continued drumming and drowning out his voice during his post-match interview: “Learn to respect players, learn to respect people, yourself .” “Shut up, be quiet,” he said.
The opening encounter represented one of the greatest moments of Draper’s young career – a significant test of his ability to handle the nerves, pressure and an extremely tough opponent at a major event with Djokovic looming in the second game. With the Serbian team lacking a strong doubles player, the opening match was also a monumental event for Kecmanovic, and the Serb played inspired tennis, barely making a mistake for almost two hours.
“I prepared extremely well,” said Draper. “My training has been great every day. Today I just fell short. I think I gave everything I had mentally. I didn’t do a few things as well as I wanted but he played a great game and I think that was Leon’s (Smith – the GB coach) message. It was positive. “Look, you gave it your all.” These things happen. That’s the sport. I just have to keep working. It really is.”
With the advantage of being able to choose between three players ranked in and around the top 50, namely Laslo Djere, Dusan Lajovic and Kecmanovic, Viktor Troicki, the Serbian captain, chose the lowest ranked player of all. A former junior No. 1 and still only 24 years old, Kecmanovic has a higher ceiling than his more experienced compatriots and has had to prove just as much under pressure as Draper.
As they entered the sold-out Palacio de los Deportes, a 9,000-strong crowd with an overwhelming British presence, Draper was less than impressed by the event, knocking down three aces on his first three serves.
But Kecmanovic was sharper. A versatile, consistent baseline player and solid athlete, the Serbian soaked up Draper’s pace and spin, changing direction with ease on both sides and complementing his dominance from the baseline with precise serves. His consistent return immediately put Draper under pressure on his serve.
The Brit fought through numerous tough, close service games to reach the tiebreak. Once there, however, Draper collapsed. Two nervy double faults proved extremely costly as Kecmanovic remained extremely solid and diligent to close out the set.
Despite the poor climax in the opening set, Draper shook off his disappointment and responded well. He held far more comfortably throughout the set and then fought hard to extend the tiebreak. However, Kecmanovic maintained his level and composure until the end.
“There were definitely some ups and downs in my physical condition because that’s what nerves do,” Draper said. “Sometimes they just take control. Once again I gave myself the best chance to stay in the game. I gave myself chances. To be honest, I think I was beaten by a better player today.”
A week after Djokovic concluded his singles season with a fourth straight tournament win at the ATP Finals, he calmly picked up where he left off and predictably finished the tie.
In both sets, Djokovic broke Norrie’s serve early and had minimal trouble holding his own serves until the end of each set. With his precise serve, return, defense and the way he controlled the baseline, the No. 1 overwhelmed Norrie, who fought hard and performed well but lacked the weapons to make Djokovic consistently uncomfortable .
“I think overall I enjoyed the year,” said Smith, the Great Britain Davis Cup captain.
“I think Cameron reminded me last night: ‘Let’s think about where we were, to Bogota, through there and then to Manchester.’ Look, we lost in the quarterfinals here, but this year we won four and lost one. It’s a good record. It’s a good year.”
Serbia faces Italy in the semi-finals on Saturday, with ATP Finals finalists Djokovic and Jannik Sinner meeting for the third time in 11 days.
Earlier on Thursday, Sinner continued his brilliant form as he led Italy into the semi-finals with a 2-1 win over the Netherlands.