It appears tennis is in a good place right now. There is plenty of young talent going around this French Open. Watching these young men strut their stuff around the vast acreage of Roland Garros suggests that they are an eager, confident bunch of young men. They are willing to take their chances to upend the established order and carve their own spaces. Of all these men who indulged us in their skirmishes around the tournament, one man has stood out. Not only for reaching the farthest, but also for his resilience under pressure and the willingness to mix it up with the big men.
Here are the ten things that might interest you about this young man from Serbia.
- Lajovic ain’t no new kid on the block – the man is going to turn 24 later this month, so he isn't exactly a spring chicken. Since 2012, Lajovic has been pushing his case on the Challenger circuit – winning three titles and finishing runner-up on two other occasions.
- Lajovic represented Serbia in the Davis Cup last year – the 23 year old was part of the Serbian team that finished runner-up to the Czech Republic team. Lajovic played the second singles for his team in Belgrade. Lajovic lost both his rubbers – the first to Tomas Berdych and the decisive match to Radek Stepanek.
- Climbing up the rankings – Lajovic is making his way up the ranking ladder. After starting the year at 116th, the Serbian has made steady progress to gain a career high 76th ranking earlier this season. But his rank has since slipped to 83rd in the world.
- Long battle to gain grand slam access – The 23 year old has been working the futures and challenger circuits, even as he tried to qualify for the big events on the calendar. After failing to qualify for two straight years, Lajovic finally made his debut at the Australian Open. He won four matches – three in qualifying and one in the main round, before losing to Kei Nishikori in the second round.
- Never won two in a row on the Tour – Dusan had come into the French Open without ever winning two matches in a row on the main Tour. And here we are – Lajovic playing on Phillippe Chatrier against the greatest clay court exponent of all time. Such is sport, we will soon know how the lad dealt with that one.
- Duci is his calling card – The young man has the whole hearted and lung filled support of a small army of loyal Serbian fans who sing and chant their souls off for each of their compatriots. They were all there on the intimate court 7 when he took out another future hope, Jack Sock. Riding on their chats of “Duci, Duci, Duci….” reverberated through the air.
- Lajovic is yet to lose a set in this tournament – The Serbian has risen to the occasion at this French Open. He defeated Federico Delbonis 6-3 6-2 6-3, Jurgen Zopp 6-2 6-4 6-4 and Jack Sock 6-4 7-5 6-3 in his first three matches here.
- Expect to see him in India soon – If you missed catching a bit of him during the Aircel Chennai Open earlier this season, do not blame yourself. He did not qualify after all – losing to Slovak Norbert Gombos is the second round of the qualifiers. But Serbia is scheduled to play India in the World Group play-offs later this September. Since he has overtaken a slipping Janko Tipsarevic in the rankings, there is a good chance he is picked to play the second singles. He is certain to play, should Novak Djokovic opt out of the tie as well.
- His team – Lajovic is coached by Jan Velthuis, who was earlier connected with Jürgen Melzer and Andrej Pavel who rose to 10 and 13 in the rankings respectively. His physical trainer is Strahinja Tomovic.
- And yes, Djokovic did offer him some guidance – In the presser yesterday after giving Jo-Wilfried Tsonga a thorough pasting, Djokovic was asked if he had a chance to speak with his younger compatriot. The world No.2 admitted that he has already spoken to him, that he was happy for his success and has offered him his two cents ahead of Lajovic’s battle with Nadal. “Of course we talk,” said Djokovic during the presser. “He is [the same] generation of my younger brother. I know he's very talented and he's showing his full potential right now. I'm really glad that Serbia has a new up-and-coming tennis star that obviously is performing now at his best on the Grand Slam [level], which is great to see." But he was also quick to remind that it takes a lot of doing to topple Nadal – “In the end of the day, one thing is to talk and the other is to do it on the court. We all know how Rafa is dominant on these courts and on this surface. It's going to be a new experience for him. I wish him all the best. I wish for him to enjoy it first, to really go out and enjoy the moment and try to do his best.”