With world No. 1 Novak Djokovic leading Serbia, captain Viktor Troicki will be confident of a successful stay in Innsbruck.
The moment the best tennis player on the planet, Novak Djokovic, committed to Davis Cup duty to finish his season, Serbia became the obvious choice to finish top of Group F.
With a place in history on the line, there will perhaps always be an air of disappointment when the Djokovic fans analyse their idol’s US Open final defeat to RTF’s Daniil Medvedev. The 34-year-old was playing for history and after winning the Australian Open, Roland-Garros and Wimbledon was one victory from becoming the first man since Rod Laver in 1969 to complete the coveted ‘Calendar’ Grand Slam.
While it was undoubtedly a missed opportunity, 2021 has still been a quite extraordinary year of domination for Djokovic.
Those three major titles bring him alongside Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal on 20 Grand Slam singles titles, he has extended his record-breaking number of weeks as world No. 1 and after almost two months away from the match court following his Flushing Meadows disappointment he will join captain Viktor Troicki’s team relatively fresh.
Djokovic out in front
Ordinarily, a group that features Serbia, Germany and Austria would guarantee blockbuster singles meetings between Djokovic and Germany’s Tokyo 2020 gold medallist Alexander Zverev and Austria’s 2020 US Open champion Dominic Thiem. But with Zverev and Thiem both missing this time around, the world No. 1’s pres- ence could prove decisive for the Serbs.
Djokovic has a stellar Davis Cup record - he’s won 34 of his 41 singles matches since his debut in 2004 - and he will be highly motivated to help deliver a second trophy for his nation after their title-winning run in 2010. That year, Djokovic won every one of his singles matches and that memorable run, one could argue, gave him the extra self-belief and fortitude to start growing his Grand Slam trophy cabinet in the years that followed.
With no Thiem on the Austrian squad - he is hoping to make his comeback to the Tour in January after a lengthy wrist injury - the responsibility of leading the hosts is likely to fall on the shoulders of Dennis Novak. While the two have no previous meetings, Djokovic will be a strong favourite if he does face the ‘other’ Novak when the nations kick off Group F action on Friday November 26. The Austrian has never been higher than No. 85 in the rankings.
With Zverev absent, Djokovic is expected to battle the giant Jan-Lennard Struff when Serbia meet Germany in the Group Stage. This will be another singles Djokovic will be expected to cruise through given he owns a 6-0 head-to-head record against the 6ft 4in 31-year-old. The Serb has won 15 of the 16 sets they have played.
Troicki has the luxury of a choice between two world-class players to fill his second singles spot, either former world No. 26 Filip Krajinovic or Dusan Lajovic, who has been as high as No. 23 in the world rankings. Both have reached an ATP Masters 1000 final in the past, Krajinovic in Paris in 2017 and Lajovic on clay in Monte Carlo more recently back in 2019.
Arguably more comfortable on a hard court, Krajinovic seems the more obvious choice as Serbia’s second singles player and featured in that slot when the squad reached the quarter-finals in 2019.
In one of his most memorable matches of 2021, the 29-year-old stretched Daniil Medvedev to five sets in the third round of the Australian Open in February. He could also be an option for doubles duty and played alongside Djokovic during the final weeks of the season.
Laslo Djere and Miomir Kecmanovic - two players that have both won singles titles - complete the Serbian squad.
A German threat
Even without Zverev, however, the Germans shouldn’t be written off. Struff has many times proved to be a danger on all surfaces. The big German holds himself well on court, has an impressive air of confidence these days and his big game has delivered victories over top-20 players Zverev, Stefanos Tsitsipas, Andrey Rublev, Stan Wawrinka and, recently, world No. 2 Medvedev.
Another German, Dominik Koepfer, has been showing signs of finding form at just the right time too. The left-hander, who developed his game playing college tennis in the US, took a set off Djokovic in Rome during the autumn of 2020, lost a four-set thriller against Federer at Roland-Garros this spring and produced two of his most memorable victories indoors in Paris recently.
The 27-year-old saved seven match points to beat Andy Murray and backed that up with his second-best win by ranking against Canadian world No. 11 at the time, Felix Auger-Aliassime.
After a recent run to the fourth round of the US Open, Peter Gojowczyk is a good option for German captain Michael Kohlmann should he need singles back-up and he also has a couple of doubles specialists on hand with two-time former Roland-Garros champion Kevin Krawietz and Tim Puetz, who at the time of writing has four doubles trophies to his name this season.
Even with passionate home support, the Austrians will find it hard going emerging from the group either as winners or one of the two best second-placed teams. Captain Stefan Koubek has Novak and Jurij Rodionov as his most obvious singles players, with Gerald Melzer and renowned team Oliver Marach and Philipp Oswald waiting in the wings for any deciding doubles matches.