CHARLEROI, BELGIUM: It is a sign of the commitment Novak Djokovic has to his country that just five days after winning the Australian Open on the hard courts of Melbourne, he will set foot on the red clay in Charleroi for Serbia’s Davis Cup by BNP Paribas World Group first round tie against Belgium this weekend.
After winning his sixth grand slam title last Sunday, Djokovic had no time to celebrate as he headed straight to the airport to catch a 3am flight back to Europe. Having spent some brief time at home in Monte Carlo, the world No.1 arrived in Belgium on Wednesday and headed straight to the Spiroudome de Charleroi to adjust to the clay which is significantly slower compared to the surface in Melbourne.
With time difference to consider as well, it is perhaps helpful that he is given a few more hours to prepare as he takes part in the second singles rubber of the opening day against Olivier Rochus, following the conclusion of David Goffin against Viktor Troicki.
“It’s been a long few weeks in Melbourne and exhausting but still very successful,” said Djokovic, who returns to the Serbian team for the first time since September 2011. “Right now I am turning my attention to Davis Cup and I am glad I am part of this team again. I have missed that feeling to be honest and hopefully we can have a successful team.”
The adjustment to the clay is, however, proving a bit trickier than expected. The Serbian team have expressed their concerns about surface issues which they are hoping will be resolved by the start of play. Serbian captain Bojan Obradovic said: “It’s a very tough situation. We are trying to help the people and the ITF to get the court better. I’m discussing it with them.”
Belgium made a quick return to the World Group by beating Great Britain and Sweden last year but captain Johan van Herck is well aware that Serbia is one of the toughest draws they could have possibly got. He has understandably chosen clay and opted to pit the experienced 32-year-old Rochus against Djokovic.
“I think Olivier has to go out with his game and give everything he has got,” said van Herck. “You have to go out with a positive attitude, see how far you can go and then during the match we will see what the options are. Olivier has had a good transition from hard courts to the clay and he’s ready to go.”
Some of the statistics make kind reading for the hosts: Rochus has a winning 3-2 head-to-head record over Djokovic and beat him in the two countries’ only Davis Cup meeting in Belgrade in 2005 when Belgium won 3-2, although the Djokovic we know now is a very different prospect to the 17-year-old who lost both his singles rubbers that weekend.
The opening rubber between world No. 50 Goffin and Troicki, ranked 11 places higher, is expected to provide a close and intriguing start to the tie. The 22-year-old Belgian impressed on the clay last year at Roland Garros where he took a set off Roger Federer before bowing out in the fourth round.
It was Troicki, who replaces the injured Janko Tipsarevic, who clinched the crucial deciding point in the 2010 Davis Cup final against France to claim victory for his country and the 26-year-old hopes he can experience similar feelings this year.
“[It was] definitely the best memories for myself on court in my professional career,” said Troicki. Winning that last point was just amazing and I have never felt better in my life. For sure I will try to do that again if it is possible. We would love to win it again.”
The full draw is listed below:
R1: David Goffin (BEL) v Victor Troicki (SRB)
R2: Olivier Rochus (BEL) v Novak Djokovic (SRB)
R3: Ruben Bemelmans/Steve Darcis (BEL) v Nenad Zimonjic/Victor Troicki (SRB)
R4: David Goffin (BEL) v Novak Djokovic (SRB)
R5: Olivier Rochus (BEL) v Victor Troicki (SRB)
Follow this tie as it happens: Live scores or Watch Live
Olivier Rochus (BEL) - 31/01/2013
Captain Johan van Herck (BEL) - 31/01/2013
Viktor Troicki (SRB) - 31/01/2013