Djokovic to face Stepanek in Davis Cup opener
BELGRADE, Serbia (AP) - With Serbia hit by injuries and suspensions, Novak Djokovic will carry the burden for his country when it plays defending champion Czech Republic in the Davis Cup final.
The second-ranked Djokovic is on a 22-match unbeaten run, and now must do what he has done numerous times before - win both singles matches to give the Serbs a chance in the best-of-five series starting Friday.
On Thursday, Serbia's Janko Tipsarevic was ruled out of the final with a heel injury. Countryman Viktor Troicki, the star of the 2010 Davis Cup home victory over France, is out because of a 12-month suspension for skipping a blood test in April.
Thursday's draw pitted Djokovic against Radek Stepanek. Also, Tipsarevic's replacement, Dusan Lajovic, will play Tomas Berdych in Friday's opening singles. The doubles are Saturday and reverse singles are Sunday.
''It's a real drawback for our team that we don't have both Janko and Viktor,'' Djokovic said. ''I hope that I can win the first match, the first point is very important as it could release pressure on Lajovic.''
The 117th-ranked Lajovic has played only once in the Davis Cup, and has no major victories against top players on the ATP Tour.
''I'm very excited that I'll play on Friday,'' the 23-year-old Lajovic said. ''With the support of the crowd, I could maybe surprise Berdych.''
Berdych said he has never watched Lajovic play and will try to adjust to his game.
''I will do some scouting before the match,'' Berdych said. ''It is good that this is a best-of-five match and I'll have time to adjust.''
Berdych, who has a 13-1 record in Davis Cup doubles with Stepanek, predicted the doubles will decide the winner. Djokovic said that although he has not played many doubles matches in recent years, he would be ready on Saturday if needed.
First, though, he has to focus on the match against Stepanek before deciding whether he would play all three matches in the final.
''Stepanek is a very tricky player,'' Djokovic said. ''He likes to rush to the net and change rhythm of the match.''
Stepanek said the fact that he's not favored to win against Djokovic may help him.
''I'm looking forward to it,'' Stepanek said. ''My advantage is that no one expects me to beat Novak.''
Djokovic has won his last four tournaments, including the ATP Finals in London, where he beat top-ranked Rafael Nadal 6-3, 6-4 in the final Monday.
The Czechs are in the final for the third time in five years.
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