Novak Djokovic was always likely to be the central figure in this weekend's Davis Cup final in Belgrade and Serbia's key man proved last night that his game is in perfect shape. After Gaël Monfils had given France a winning start with a 6-1, 7-6, 6-0 victory over Janko Tipsarevic, Djokovic levelled the tie at the end of the first day with an even more convincing win, beating Gilles Simon 6-3, 6-1, 7-5.
The world No 3, who is the highest-ranked singles player in the tie, may find himself in action on all three days at the Belgrade Arena. Viktor Troicki was the original nomination to partner Nenad Zimonjic against Michael Llodra and Arnaud Clément in this afternoon's doubles, but the captains can change their line-ups.
Given that Djokovic won his opening rubber without expending too much energy, Serbia's Bogdan Obradovic may be tempted to ask his leading man to play today alongside Zimonjic, though he will be needed again for tomorrow's first reverse singles against Monfils. Simon or Llodra are set to take on Tipsarevic or Troicki in the final rubber.
Tipsarevic fears that his part in the final may be over after his disappointing display against Monfils. The world No 49, who had been the key figure in Serbia's semi-final victory over the Czech Republic in September, looked nervous from the moment he opened with two double-faults. Monfils had never won a Davis Cup rubber on foreign soil but was rarely in trouble. The world No 12, whose natural talent and athleticism have never been in doubt, has added more subtlety to his play in the last year and won with a deadly combination of power and finesse.
Djokovic might have feared he would be in for a long evening when the score against Simon stood at 3-3 in the first set after a series of lengthy rallies. However, the match turned in the next game when the Frenchman, attempting to save break point for a third time, put an easy forehand into the net after being pulled forward by Djokovic's astute drop shot.
Thereafter Djokovic took control. The Serb, serving superbly, attacked at every opportunity, while Simon's limitations were quickly exposed. Djokovic needed two attempts at serving out for the match after being broken for the only time at 5-4 in the third set. He did not make the same mistake second time around.