LONDON (Reuters) - If Novak Djokovic needed a quick fix for any post U.S. Open blues, this week’s Davis Cup semi-final against Canada in Belgrade could not have been better timed.
The world No.1 saw his hopes of a second title at Flushing Meadows crushed by a rampant Rafael Nadal on Monday and looked crestfallen as he slumped in his chair following the defeat.
However, national pride will be at stake on Friday when Serbia take on the Canadians in the same Belgrade arena in which Serbia won the title in 2010 against France - a victory that inspired Djokovic towards world domination in 2011.
Fiercely proud of his country, Djokovic points that Davis Cup final as a turning point in his career and with another final at stake if they beat Canada, it is highly unlikely he would let aching limbs or a tired mind keep him off court.
“Djokovic’s always made it clear that he is honoured to play for Serbia,” team captain Bogdan Obradovic said this week.
“We will see how he feels when he gets here from the United States. He chose to play for Serbia and knows what the requirements are but nonetheless he will get well-deserved time off to recuperate.”
Obradovic will do all in his power to get Djokovic out on court for Friday’s opening singles against Canada who, with big-server world No.11 Milos Raonic in their ranks, will be confident of reaching the final for the first time.
Waiting for the winners will be either last year’s champions the Czech Republic or Argentina, who will be underdogs in Prague without the powerful presence of Juan Martin del Potro.
With the United States men suffering a worrying decline, Canada have emerged as the unlikely flagbearers for north America since defeating a below-strength Spain in round one.
Raonic, who was born in Montenegro, has won all four of his singles rubbers during Canada’s run to the semis and he is not the only member of Canada’s team with Balkan roots.
Frank Dancevic’s father was born in Serbia and Dancevic’s wife Nikolina Bojic is a former Miss Serbia.
He said he was relishing the partisan atmosphere that will be cooked up in the 18,000-seat arena.
“We’ve been in the World Group a few times in the past but this is a special occasion just being here in the semi-finals,” he said on the Davis Cup website.
“A lot of our guys history goes back to Serbian roots. It’s really fun to be there playing against a great team in Belgrade and I‘m looking forward to a lot of intense fans from Serbia.”
The atmosphere in Prague will be no less electric where the Czechs will be banking on world No.5 Tomas Berdych and the mercurial Radek Stepanek to see off Argentina.
”It means a lot,“ said Berdych of the chance to play in front of home fans again. ”This year we’ve played in Switzerland, then Kazakhstan, and we were very close to playing the semi-final in France if they had won.
“The fans made the atmosphere really incredible for last year’s final. They were like a fifth member of our team.”
Argentina will be hoping for better fortune than last year when they lost to the Czechs in the semi-final.
Like Djokovic, Nadal is expected to delay resting his weary legs back in Mallorca by trying to guarantee Spain’s place amongst the elite with a home playoff against Ukraine in Madrid.
Nadal has not played Davis Cup since the 2011 final but is expected to play some part, although with Tommy Robredo and Fernando Verdasco also in the team captain Alex Corretja has plenty of options available.
Switzerland will not be able to call on Roger Federer although Stanislas Wawrinka, fresh from reaching the U.S. Open semi-finals, will lead them against Ecuador in one of the other seven playoff ties which will decide next year’s World Group.
World No.3 Andy Murray, who Wawrinka beat in the quarter-finals in New York, is in action for Britain in Croatia, hoping to steer them back among the elite for the first time in five years.
Poland are hoping big-serving Jerzy Janowicz will have recovered from a back injury as they take on Australia in Warsaw looking to reach the World Group for the first time.
Reporting by Martyn Herman, editing by Pritha Sarkar