World No. 1 Novak Djokovic captured the 83rd title of his career on Saturday with victory on home soil at the Belgrade Open.
The Serbian superstar lost his serve three times in the first set before changing his game to defeat Slovakian qualifier and first-time ATP Tour finalist Alex Molcan 6-4, 6-3 in 88 minutes at the Novak Tennis Center.
Open Era (Since April 1968) Singles Title Leaders
“It’s been a while since I last played here in front of a crowd,” said Djokovic. “We played here one month ago [at the Serbia Open], without a crowd. To hold a trophy here after 10 years is really special and it couldn’t be better ahead of Roland Garros. I am playing well, feeling good and I have spent quality time with my family.”
Djokovic, who captured a record ninth Australian Open crown in February, has now won three titles in Belgrade, including two at the Serbian Open in 2009 and 2011. The 34-year-old improves to a 20-3 record on the season and will next travel to Paris, where he will play American Tennys Sandgren in the Roland Garros first round.
Molcan, currently No. 255 in the FedEx ATP Rankings, won six of the first seven points and broke Djokovic’s serve, forcing the home favourite to fight. In a 45-minute opening set of cat-and-mouse, featuring seven breaks of serve, Djokovic was forced to change his game, but it was his greater weight of strokes and experience that counted.
After a frenetic start, the second set went with serve until the sixth game, when Djokovic stepped up to break for a 4-2 lead after Molcan hit a backhand wide. But Molcan responded immediately with a backhand winner, only to drop his serve for a sixth time in the match after hitting a backhand volley wide.
The 23-year-old Molcan, who had been attempting to become the fifth first-time ATP Tour titlist of the season, came into the week at the ATP 250 event with an 0-2 tour-level match record.
“I’m feeling good and tired,” said Molcan. “I made my first ATP Tour final from qualification. I played good tennis here and I was fighting. Today, I tried as well, but it wasn’t enough. I didn’t play badly, but I was playing against Djokovic and you have to play unbelievably well. Hopefully, I can continue to have opportunities to play at this level. It was a big lesson today to play against Novak.”