Novak Djokovic‘s hopes of collecting a third ATP Tour title in his home city were ended in dramatic fashion on Saturday evening when he fell to Aslan Karatsev in the longest ATP Tour match of the 2021 season at the Serbia Open. The World No. 1 managed to create 28 break points throughout his three-hour, 25-minute battle with the Dubai champion, but he was consistently denied by the Russian, who saved 23 of those chances in a 7-5, 4-6, 6-4 win. “You never like losing at home, that is for sure. It is disappointing. I don’t feel so great now but, at the same time, I have to congratulate Karatsev who played very bravely," said Djokovic. “Whenever he needed to come up with the best shots, he did. Congratulations to him. (It was an) awesome performance from his side."
Djokovic was full of praise for Karatsev in his post-match press conference, and he also took time to thank fans who came to support him at the Novak Tennis Center. But the 33-year-old, who lifted trophies in Belgrade in 2009 and 2011, gave a mixed review of his own performance on Center Court.
“From my side, I played on quite a low level, in my opinion," said Djokovic. “(I had) some flashes of good quality tennis. I was fighting. That is a positive. I was really trying all the way (and) the crowd was great. They carried me and tried to lift me up, all the way to the end. Because of them, I think I won the second set. Unfortunately in the third, he was just the better player in the decisive moments. I had my chances, but that is sport."
At the conclusion of his second ATP Head2Head encounter against Karatsev (tied at 1-1), Djokovic approached the net with his thumb up to show his approval of his opponent’s performance. When asked how he has so often been able to quickly put a loss behind him and show graciousness in defeat, Djokovic quickly shared his thought process in the moments immediately following a disappointing result.
“Karatsev showed a lot of courage and that is why I gave him the thumbs up," said Djokovic. “I felt like he deserved to win… Once the final point is done, there is never bad blood. We are rivals on the court, but I don’t hate anybody. I can’t be upset with him if he beat me. I have to be upset with myself and question why I lost the match. Whoever beats me deserves the credit and I gave him that."