Djokovic stalls in quarters in Banja Luka, beaten by Lajovic

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Borrowed Novak Djokovic was knocked out on Friday by world No. 70 Dusan Lajovic in the quarter-finals of the Banja Luka ATP 250 tournament 6-4, 7-6 (8/6), raising further concerns five weeks out from Roland -Garros.

Djokovic, who had lost just four games to his fellow Serbian in their previous two encounters, was punished for failing to convert three points in the second set tie-break.

The world No.1, winner of 22 Grand Slam tournaments, seemed borrowed, unable to convert the many break points obtained against his opponent. “Djoko” only converted one out of sixteen, or 6% success, an anomaly for a player of his level.

Djokovic, 35, got off to a tricky start trailing 4-2 before finally capitalizing on his only break point in the eighth game to equalise.

But the experienced Lajovic (32) took advantage of his difficulties to resume his service again before serving to win the set 6-4.

Both players held their serves throughout the second set despite constant pressure from both sides. Djokovic, seeded N.1 of this tournament which this year replaces the one usually organized in Belgrade, seemed to be able to force a third round by leading 6/3 in the tie-break, but he was lost in particular with an unforced error in the net to offer Lajovic a match point that the latter did not miss.

– “Below the level” –

“I’m in shock,” Lajovic said. “It’s the biggest win of my career. Beating him is something I didn’t even think was possible, but it happened.”

The Belgrade native will face his compatriot Miomir Kecmanovic, who beat Czech Jirí Lehecka 7-5, 6-0.

Leaving the court marked by his defeat, Djokovic nevertheless showed fair play towards his winner. “He played well, he was solid. I was there, below the level I want to reach,” he commented.

“It’s just the sport. I was trying but it wasn’t going. I didn’t feel very good physically on the court. My legs were slow (…) I was playing well at times, but generally very subpar. level,” he added.

“Nole”, who at the start of the week complained of a sore elbow, had already been pushed around on Wednesday and needed three sets 6-7 (4/7), 6-3, 6-2 to get rid of the youngster Frenchman Luca Van Assche (87th).

Five weeks before the start of Roland-Garros, which he won twice (2016, 2021), the form of the world No.1 worries. He arrived in Banja Luka a few days after suffering a cruel elimination in the round of 16 at the Masters 1000 in Monte-Carlo against the Italian Lorenzo Musetti (21st), 4-6, 7-5, 6-4.

– Time before Roland –

“By playing like that, I cannot win against opponents who are so solid on this surface”, analyzed Djokovic before projecting himself towards the Parisian Grand Slam.

“For Roland-Garros. It’s no secret. It’s the tournament where I want to play my best tennis and I’m working on it. The conditions there are completely different compared to Monte-Carlo and Banja. Luka. We’ll see. There are still quite a few weeks to play and train,” he said.

In the other part of the table, the Russian Andrey Rublev, 6th player in the world, also had to fight to overcome the Bosnian Damir Dzumhur 7-5, 6-3.

After saving a set point at 5-2 against him, the No.2 seed then garnered the next five games to pocket the first set.

Then, he enforced the hierarchy in the second to finally win 6-3 and win the match in 1:51.

Rublev will face in the semi-final the Slovak Alex Molcan (N.73) who dismissed the Serbian Laslo Djere in three sets 6-2, 4-6, 7-5.

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