BRATISLAVA, Slovakia // Third-ranked Novak Djokovic, coming off a semi-final loss at the recent US Open tournament, will play Dominik Hrbaty tomorrow in the opening singles match of Serbia's Davis Cup playoff against Slovakia. Today's draw also paired Slovakia's Lukas Lacko against Serbia's Janko Tipsarevic in the second singles match up on the indoor hardcourt at Sibamac Arena. In Saturday's doubles, Michal Mertinak will team up with Filip Polasek to face Djokovic and Nenad Zimonjic.
Lacko and Djokovic will play each other in reverse singles on Sunday, followed by Hrbaty taking on Tipsarevic. "I did recover since the US Open and the tough summer season," said Djokovic, the Australian Open champion who lost to Roger Federer at Flushing Meadows. "I had a week off and I had this week of preparation and I'm happy with the way things are going." Djokovic and Hrbaty have faced each other only once in their careers. It was four years ago at a challenger tournament in Bratislava, with the Slovak winning 6-4, 7-5.
"Then, I was in the top 20 and he was around 200," Hrbaty said. "Today, Novak is No 3 and I am almost 400th." Hrbaty has dropped to 399th in the world following elbow and shoulder surgery. Serbia were relegated to the playoffs after losing 3-2 to Russia. Slovakia, the 2005 Davis Cup runners-up, reached the playoff stage after beating Georgia 4-1 in the Europe/Africa Group One. This weekend's winner qualifies for next year's World Group.
"We have a lot of respect for the Slovakian team even though now they're really low ranked, but you never know," Djokovic said. "Home advantage is very important and Dominik loves to play here, loves to play for his country, so we expect a really tough match and hopefully we can get a victory." *AP