SYDNEY, Australia
Novak Djokovic dropped his first set of the ATP Cup Friday in a titanic
struggle with Canada’s Denis Shapovalov, surviving a scare before rallying to
guide Serbia into a semi-final against Russia.

The world number two was made to work hard in a hot and
humid Sydney by the 14th-ranked young gun before prevailing 4-6, 6-1, 7-6
(7/4).

His impressive teammate Dusan Lajovic, buoyed by a huge
contingent of Serbian fans at Ken Rosewall Arena, earlier crushed world number
21 Felix Auger-Aliassime 6-4, 6-2.

“This was the closest match I have ever played against
Denis. It was so close it could have gone a different way easily,” said
Djokovic.

“He was playing some terrific tennis and I want to give
a huge round of applause and credit to him. Well done.”

The win sets up a semi-final against Russia, whose two
singles players — world number five Daniil Medvedev and the 17th ranked Karen
Khachanov — are unbeaten this season.

The other last four clash will see the Nick Kyrgios-led
Australia play either Belgium or Rafael Nadal’s Davis Cup-winning Spain, who
are on court later Friday.  

Djokovic faced Shapovalov four times last year and won each
match comfortably.

But the 20-year-old is fast-improving and had already picked
up a pair of top 10 wins against Stefanos Tsitsipas and Alexander Zverev at the
tournament.

He came out with guns blazing, stunning Djokovic and his
fans by winning the first set.

Rattled, the Serbian superstar steamrolled the Canadian in
the second set, winning five games in a row as the boisterous crowd got to
Shapovalov, who allowed errors to creep in.

But after a pep talk from team captain Adriano Fuorivia he
returned rejuvenated.

The high-stakes third set went with serve until the ninth
game when the Canadian lost his footing going for a shot to hand Djokovic a
break point, then sent a forehand long to go 5-4 down.

But the drama wasn’t over.

Djokovic was serving for the match and 30-0 in front when a
woman was taken ill in the stands and the action was briefly halted.

The Serb threw her a bottle of cold water as medics escorted
her out, but it seemed to affect his concentration and he lost the next four
points as Shapovalov broke back.

They both held serve to take it to a tiebreaker and
Djokovic, as he has so often done before, rose to the occasion when it mattered
most.

– Lajovic in the zone –

World number 34 Lajovic, who has been steadily moving
through the rankings and captured his first ATP title last year at Umag, was in
the zone against Auger-Aliassime.

He executed his game plan clinically and was tactically spot
on, successfully targeting the wayward forehand of the Canadian, who made 32
unforced errors.

“There were so many Serbian people here today they
helped me relax and get that energy that I need to play like this,” he
said.

“Today, everything was working fine and I was feeling
really myself on the court, I feel like everything is going the way it
should.”

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