Novak Djokovic overcame a wrist injury as Serbia secured a dream United Cup quarter-final showdown against Australia on a day of drama and confusion in Perth.
The world number 1 had problems with his right wrist during training on Tuesday morning, the injury requiring intensive treatment from his physiotherapist. Djokovic was cleared to play his singles match against Jiri Lehecka later in the day. Things went just as well for Serbia after Wimbledon champion Marketa Vondrousova beat Olga Danilovic 6-1, 3-6, 6-3 to give the Czech Republic a 1-0 lead.
The 24-time Grand Slam winner appeared to be on his way to an easy win against Lehecka after winning the first set and taking a 3-1 lead in the second set. But as his wrist problems increased as the match progressed, Djokovic began making a series of uncharacteristic unforced errors. He took a medical timeout after losing the second set tiebreak and managed a double break in the third set to seal the 6-1, 6-7 (7-3), 6-1 victory.
“I managed to play through it,” Djokovic said. “It is neither the first nor the last time these things will happen. You just have to do it. You have to find a solution and luckily I managed to finish the game.”
After the game there was confusion as to whether Serbia had already done enough to qualify for the quarter-finals. The officials’ original explanation was that even if Serbia lost the mixed doubles and thus the tie, they would qualify for the quarter-finals as the best second-placed team in Perth. But that proved wrong as organizers later clarified that Serbia would be eliminated if it lost the mixed doubles in straight sets.
Djokovic skipped the mixed doubles – probably assuming that Serbia had already qualified for the quarter-finals. Things looked bleak for Serbia after Danilovic and Hamad Medjedovic lost the first set to Miriam Kolodziejova and Petr Nouza. But Serbia’s passage was assured as they won the second set in a tiebreak, and Djokovic was visibly pleased and relieved as he watched from the sidelines. Serbia won the game in the match tiebreak 4:6, 7:6 (7:2), 10:8.
This put Serbia at the top of Group E and will face the winners of Group C, Australia, in the quarter-finals at the RAC Arena on Wednesday evening. Djokovic will face world No. 12 Alex de Minaur, who showed his potential with a crushing 6-4, 6-2 win over world No. 10 Taylor Fritz on Monday. Poland will face China in the other quarter-final in Perth.
Djokovic’s wrist didn’t seem to be bothering him early in his singles match. He beat Lehecka in the fourth and sixth games and finished the first set in 34 minutes. The game seemed a foregone conclusion when Djokovic took a 3-1 lead in the second set.
Lehecka came to life to beat Djokovic twice en route to a 5-3 lead. Djokovic broke back and sent the tiebreak, but a series of unforced errors handed Lehecka the set. The medical timeout following the tiebreak seemed to have its effect as Djokovic raced through the third set in 35 minutes and ended the game.