By Zoran Milosavljevic
BELGRADE (Reuters) – Champion Novak Djokovic will be gunning for his eighth Australian Open title in Melbourne under circumstances strikingly similar to those when he lifted his second after being inspired by success with his country.
A 23-year old Djokovic, looking to break the domination of Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal, clinched the 2011 title Down Under after leading Serbia to their maiden Davis Cup victory in December 2010 on home soil.
That triumph in Belgrade, when Serbia were roared on by a fervent home crowd to a 3-2 win over France in the final, catapulted Djokovic’s personal career as he went on to win three grand slam tournaments the following year.
Nine years later, the Serbians, again led by an equally galvanized Djokovic, lifted the inaugural ATP Cup in Sydney after beating favorites and reigning Davis Cup champions Spain 2-1 in Sunday’s dramatic final.
Once again, Djokovic and his team mates thrived on noisy support from a sea of Serb fans in the stands, namely expats who made Team Serbia feel as if they were reliving the memorable 2010 Davis Cup final in the Belgrade Arena.
Djokovic, who has since boosted his tally to 16 major honors while taking a stranglehold on the Australian Open, made it clear he hoped history would repeat itself as he gears up for the Jan 20-Feb 2 tournament in Melbourne.
“After that final against France in 2010, our individual careers rocketed and I hope the ATP success we’ve just achieved will have the same effect,” Djokovic said after engineering Serbia’s comeback win over the Spaniards.
“We all achieved our biggest individual wins after we lifted the Davis Cup.”
Djokovic beat Nadal in straight sets on Sunday to put Serbia on an even keel after Dusan Lajovic had lost to Roberto Bautista-Agut in the opening singles, and then teamed up with Viktor Troicki to win the decisive doubles.
Troicki was another survivor from the 2010 feat, when he clinched the showdown for Serbia after winning the tie-breaking singles rubber against Michael Llodra.
Djokovic also credited the support from the terraces as a galvanizing factor, and will be hoping he gets similar backing when he takes center stage in Melbourne.
“Tennis is an individual sport but when you’re playing a singles rubber for your country with all your team mates roaring you on from the bench, it feels as if you’re not on your own out there,” he said.
“They give you the strength and the courage and I will carry all of that in my heart.
“Fan support was crucial in winning the ATP Cup. The fan support I got in Brisbane and Sydney while representing Serbia was the strongest I’ve ever seen.”
(Writing by Zoran Milosavljevic; Editing by Pritha Sarkar)