Novak Djokovic’s ground breaking success has put Serbian tennis on the map. The World No. 1 led his nation to a historic Davis Cup success in 2010 and his triumphs, not to mention those of Janko Tipsarevic and Nenad Zimonjic, have inspired the next wave of Serbian talent.
Step up Dusan Lajovic. The just-turned 24 year old achieved one of his early career goals on 10 February when he joined Djokovic in the Top 100 of the Emirates ATP Rankings. Today, he finds himself at a career-high No. 58, following back-to-back quarter-final showings in Bastad and Hamburg.
The right-hander’s major breakthrough came last month on the clay of Roland Garros, where he reached the fourth round without dropping a set. Despite sound advice from Djokovic going into a clash with Rafael Nadal, Lajovic claimed just four games in a straight-sets defeat to the eventual champion. The experience left him keen for more, though.
“It is something that you wish for and you’re working towards,” Lajovic told ATPWorldTour.com. “Being in the second week of a Slam is one of the best things you can have in tennis. I think the more you get used to these conditions, the more you bring your game much higher and the quality of your game gets bigger.
“Being around the top guys all the time keeps you improving and then you just need to stay humble. At this point you just go up.”
Spending time with Serbia’s finest is a privilege Lajovic has been afforded on Davis Cup duty and it is an experience that has served him well as he looks to establish himself on the ATP World Tour. Lajovic made his live rubber debut in the 2013 World Group final, ultimately losing his two matches to stalwarts Tomas Berdych and Radek Stepanek as the Czech Republic beat Serbia. He also contested the 2014 first round, stretching Australian Open champion Stan Wawrinka to four sets.
Davis Cup”The most important thing for us younger players from Serbia is that we can be around all these great players,” said Lajovic. “Watch what they do, copy that and it will help us a lot in our own careers. Plus, on the other side, they always give us advice and they open the way for us because they’ve broken into the Top 100 and done all these incredible things in tennis.
“We see that they can do it, so why can’t we?”
Lajovic has benefitted from countless pieces of advice from the 27-year-old Djokovic, who returned to No. 1 in the Emirates ATP Rankings after winning his seventh Grand Slam championship at Wimbledon (d. Federer). The best advice he’s been given? “Stay humble and work as much as you can.” It’s a philosophy that has certainly served the likes of Djokovic and Tipsarevic well.
“When I first finished the [Davis Cup] match, I didn’t realise how much the experience was going to help me,” explained Lajovic. “But now I realise that fighting for every point is the most important thing. It doesn’t matter if you’re winning or losing the match, you need to feel like it’s the last point of the match and to play your best.
“This season I’ve had a few ups and downs in matches. This is normal, but to keep this high level of energy is what brought me the most improvement this year.”
Lajovic started playing tennis at the age of seven, for no reason other than it was the only sport available for his age group. It was “love at first sight,” he remembered. His idols growing up were Pete Sampras – “even though my game is not similar to his!” – and Gaston Gaudio, for “his one-handed backhand”.
In 2009, Lajovic went to train for one month at the Catalan Tennis Federation in Barcelona and found it to be the perfect base from which to develop his professional game. Now, under the guidance of Dutch coach, Jan Velthuis, he trains mostly in Belgrade and has matured into what he describes as “an all-court player, mostly aggressive from the baseline and with a lot of spin in my shots”.
LajovicWhen he isn’t playing tennis, you are most likely to find Lajovic with his head in a book. He has just finished up ‘The Hunger Games’ trilogy and, before that, had worked his way through five volumes of ‘The Game Of Thrones’ series – his favourite characters are Arya Stark, Tyrion Lannister and the Mother of Dragons (Daenerys Targaryen).
Now writing his own story on the tennis court, Lajovic isn’t setting himself any specific targets, rather let his improvements take him where they will. “My goal is just to become a better tennis player and improve. With this, the ranking will come,” said the right-hander.
“That’s what I’ve done differently this year. Last year I had my goal to break into the Top 100. It put a bit of pressure on me and I didn’t do it. So I said this year I’ll just improve as a tennis player and hopefully the Top 100 will come. It came and now I have a different way of thinking.”