Djokovic Returns To Belgrade Final

Serbian to next face qualifier Molcan in 119th tour-level final

A day after achieving an Open Era milestone win at the Belgrade Open, World No. 1 Novak Djokovic marked a more personal milestone on Friday as he reached his first ATP Tour final on home soil since 2011. 

The top seed was made to work against qualifier Andrej Martin, the first player to take a set off Djokovic this week at the Novak Tennis Centre. But Djokovic regrouped and raised his level in the third set to prevail 6-1, 4-6, 6-0 and book a place in the championship match.  

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Djokovic will now face qualifier Alex Molcan as he seeks his 83rd tour-level title – and his third in Belgrade. The Serbian claimed two titles on home soil in 2009 and 2011 during the event’s previous four-year run. 

“I’m super excited to play in front of a Serbian crowd. This is my home town. I’m always excited, but also nervous, coming out on the court and playing in front of my home crowd,” Djokovic said in an on-court interview. “It’s a very unique feeling. You feel a lot of pressure and expectations. But I’m just happy to fight for a trophy tomorrow.”

Djokovic was in full flight as he steamrolled through the opening set, but his opponent was by no means rolling over. Martin, who took down third seed Nikoloz Basilashvili and fifth seed Dusan Lajovic en route to the semi-final, did well to hang with the World No. 1 from the first point. 

The Slovakian qualifier went down a double break as Djokovic powered his way to 5-1, but Martin created five break chances in the final game. Martin wasn’t able to convert, but he took that momentum into the second set to break first for a 2-0 lead. 

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The top seed continued to shut down the points at the net with inch-perfect drop shots and smart volleys, but the qualifier capitalised on a momentary letdown from Djokovic to take control of the set. Up a break at 4-3, Djokovic struck his only double fault of the match, and followed it up with a spate of unforced errors and a short, attackable first serve – giving Martin the opening he needed. The Slovakian reeled off the last three games to take a frustrated Djokovic into his first deciding set of the week.

But Djokovic regrouped emphatically in the final set, unloading on his returns to keep Martin under pressure. The Australian Open champion did not face a break point across the last six games, and broke three more times to reach the 119th final of his career in Belgrade. 

“I thought I started and finished the match really well, so I’ll try to take those positive feelings into tomorrow’s final,” Djokovic said. “I also had some letdowns in concentration towards the end of the second set, and I’ll try to correct those mistakes for tomorrow.”

Djokovic’s opponent, World No. 255 Molcan, started the week by qualifying for the main draw and recording his first ATP Tour match win. But he didn’t stop there, and after taking down eighth seed Federico Delbonis – an opponent ranked 203 places higher in the FedEx ATP Rankings – 4-6, 6-4, 6-4 he will have a shot at his first tour-level title in Belgrade. 

“I’m really happy about today’s win,” said the 23-year-old Slovakian. “This is the biggest win of my career, of course. I will play my first final at ATP level against Djokovic, and I couldn’t be happier. I will try to enjoy tomorrow’s match [as much] as I can. I will try to have fun, and we’ll see what will happen."