Serbian star reveals his toughest opponent – and it’s not Novak Djokovic

Kevin Palmer
Dusan Lajovic in action at The Boodles. (Ben Hoskins for The Boodles)
Dusan Lajovic in action at The Boodles. (Ben Hoskins for The Boodles)

Dusan Lajovic has admitted the challenge of winning matches against the ‘Big 3’ of Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer was a mental battle as much as a physical contest.

Speaking exclusively to Tennis365 at The Boodles pre-Wimbledon warm-up tournament, the Serbian who reached a career-high of No 23 in 2019 claimed the reason why the giants of the game have come back from the brink of defeat time and again is due, in part, to the aura they carry onto the court.

Lajovic beat Djokovic in an ATP Tour match in Bosnia last year and admits that while it is a victory he will never forget, the task of getting the better of the three most successful players in tennis history has been the ultimate test in tennis.

“The challenge when you player these guys is you are playing a legend and you are up against their CV as well,” Lajovic told Tennis365.

“So when you get to near the end of a match against them and you have a chance to win, it is more difficult because you know that you are up against someone very special.

“We have seen that it gets into a player’s mind and they choke at the end. This is why these top guys come back so many times when they seem beaten.

“I’m lucky to have played all the greats. I played Roger at Wimbledon, I played Rafa at the French Open and you are playing the name as well as the player.

“On the day I beat Novak, I was able to stay in the moment and not think about who I was playing and that is the only way you can win a match like that and it worked.

“That’s definitely one of the lifetime experiences and something I will tell my grandchildren I achieved.

Dusan Lajovic speaks exclusively to Tennis365 (Ben Hoskins for The Boodles)
Dusan Lajovic speaks exclusively to Tennis365 (Ben Hoskins for The Boodles)

“When I’m sitting on my porch and smoking a pipe one day, I can say I was one of the guys who got a win against Novak, so that is pretty amazing.”

While Lajovic is naturally a supporter of his compatriot Djokovic in the debate over who is the greatest player of all time, he doesn’t hesitate when asked which player has given him the most trouble in his career.

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“Rafa without a doubt,” he says. “When you have a one-handed backhand, he can give you so much trouble with that topspin. It’s just a nightmare.

“I played against Rafa at the French Open ten years ago and he just destroyed everyone that year, so it was no shame to lose against him.

“I have beaten most of the top guys, so it is a statement that I was able to do it when I had my best day.

“Maybe I didn’t do it as consistently as I would have liked, but I was on the edge of the top 20 before Covid and believe I can get back there.”

Lajovic is on the Players Council that aims to shape the agenda for the ATP Tour in what could be a turbulent time of change in tennis and he is one of many advocating for a longer period of tournaments on grass courts.

“I would like to see a longer grass court season,” he added. “I haven’t always had my best results on this surface, but Wimbledon is such an amazing tournament and I feel like we should have a Masters event on grass before it.

“All the other surfaces have a Masters before the Grand Slams, so that is one of the things we should look at.

“I have been selected to be on the Players Council this year and definitely, we are trying to look ahead to see how we can improve the schedule.

“Clearly the season is too long and it’s taking a lot of toll on the body, so we need to shorten the season, but we need to find a way to also get a longer grass court season. It is definitely something I would like to see.

“I’m 34 now so the decisions I help to make on the Players Council now are for after my time. I know that they are going to come in after I have finished my career.

“I do it for my love of the game of tennis and trying to see how we can improve in the future.

“In three to five years time, these changes will happen and there is a lot of space for us to improve.”

Lajovic faces a tough challenge at Wimbledon as he has been drawn against No.10 seed Grigor Dimitrov on Monday, but his win against Djokovic last year confirmed he is capable of shocking the best in the game when he is on top form.