One of Novak Djokovic’s last big ambitions in tennis may now be beyond him after Serbia suffered a shocking defeat in the Davis Cup Qualifiers.
Djokovic played for Serbia in the Davis Cup Finals in Malaga last November and had three match points in his semi-final clash against Jannik Sinner to knock-out Italy.
Inexplicably, Djokovic blinked when the winning line was in sight and allowed Sinner to creep back into the match and eventually beat him.
Sinner then returned to the court to beat Djokovic and his partner Miomir Kecmanovic before going on to lead Italy to glory in the final.
Serbia may have been just a point away from replacing Italy on the top of the podium at the Davis Cup Finals, but now Djokovic may have to play a relegation match next September to keep his hopes of playing in the Finals in 2025 alive.
Slovakia qualified for the Davis Cup Finals for the first time on Saturday after Lukas Klein and Igor Zelenay clinched the decisive point in their Qualifier against Serbia.
With Slovakia entering day two of the tie holding a 2-0 lead, Klein and Zelenay finished the job, moving past Nikola Cacic and Miomir Kecmanovic 7-6(4) 6-3 to give the visitors an unassailable 3-0 lead against last year’s semi-finalists.
Before this year, Slovakia had suffered four consecutive losses in Qualifier ties, with Zelenay toasting this change of narrative.
“We made it finally,” Zelenay said. “Too many years we didn’t qualify, but finally. I was a little bit nervous because I wanted to win so much. I think we played well and Lukas was playing really well and together we have been playing really well. We made an important point for Slovakia and I am really happy. I want to enjoy it now.”
The mood in the Serbian camp was very different, with their captain Viktor Troicki not mincing his words as he described his side’s defeat in graphic terms.
“All together very bad, it’s a very bad feeling,” said Troicki, after Djokovic decided not to play in this tie.
“To lose 4-0 against Slovakia, it’s a debacle. The bitter taste remains even from a few months ago and the semi-final in Malaga with Italy. We definitely have to restart and start over, that’s the next step. I’m very unhappy with this. We’ll see how to proceed.”
When asked whether Djokovic could be expected to play in a relegation match for Serbia shortly after the US Open in September, Troicki added: “We have until September to talk, to see how everything will turn out.
“We didn’t always have Novak in the national team, the boys played well even without him. It showed in Valencia as well. It’s not Djokovic who is always there, of course, it’s always easier with him.
“These guys have huge quality, they need to feel better as a team, to give their maximum for the team. That’s something that I think can be better.
“It hurts, I’m disappointed, because I know we can do a lot better, especially when we play in Serbia.
“These players are professionals, but we have to be a better team. Whatever the squad is, are we injured, like this, like that, we have to be there until the end. It wasn’t enough this time.
“Let’s move on. It’s bad, catastrophic. Life goes on, we have to recover and get ready for September.”
Djokovic has stated he has a desire to win the Davis Cup once again with Serbia, but that dream has been put on hold until 2025 at least.
As he has already admitted he may not be playing at the highest level for too much longer, this may be one ambition that slips through the fingers of the most successful tennis player of all-time.