Kukushkin Shows No Fear in First Set
The rubber opened with Serbia needing a win to stay in the tie. Novak Djokovic opened with a simple hold to edge out to a 1-0 lead. Mikhail Kukushkin would follow suit to push the set to 1-1. Both players would hold through the first five games. The sixth presented the first break chance and it came off Kukushkin's serve. The Kazakh was up to the task however as he held to 3-3. The set would continue with swapped service holds to the 11th game. That is where Kukushkin saw his first chance off the Djokovic serve. The Serb to was up to the task as he saved the break chance and the set wound up in a tiebreak.
Djokovic would secure the first mini-break at 2-1, but Kukushkin bit right back to even the breaker at 2-2. Djokovic looked in deep trouble when Kukushkin took another point off his serve to push out to a 5-3 advantage. The Kazakh would see his first set point at 6-5, but Djokovic fought it off to knot the breaker at 6-6. Kukushkin was not to be denied though as he took yet another point off the Serb's serve and then closed out the tiebreak 8-6. Djokovic was undone by errors in the opener with 27 unforced to go along with ten forced.
Tense Second Set Goes to Djokovic
As one would expect from the top ranked player in the world, Djokovic came out with some extra fire to start the second set. The Serb was locked in on the Kukushkin serve as he broke the open the set. Djokovic delighted the crowd with a love service hold to consolidate the break for a 2-0 lead. After Kukushkin matched with a love hold, the Serb struggled. The Kazakh would see a break chance and cash it in as Kukushkin pushed the set back on serve at 2-2. That lasted all of a game as Djokovic struck right back with his second break of the set. Kukushkin would make it three straight service breaks as Djokovic was left scratching his head, with the set tied 3-3.
The Kazakh nearly stumbled in the 9th game, forced to five deuces and two break points, before ultimately holding serve. The players would finish swapping service holds as the set went to another tiebreak. This time, Djokovic avoided the errors that plagued him in the opener as he won all five of his service points and cruised to a 7-3 finish in the breaker. The set still saw too many errors from the Serb with 25 unforced, but he hit 17 winners to off-set that total. That was more than double the number of winners the Serb had in the opening set.
Djokovic Drops His Level, Kukushkin Takes Third
Most expected Djokovic to begin eating up Kukushkin after the finish of the second set, but the Serb came out flat and was broken to open the third set. Djokovic scuffled on serve for the entire set as he would be broken three times. That helped Kukushkin push out to a 4-1 lead, before Djokovic got one of the breaks back. It was never enough in this set though as the Kazakh stunned the crowd by taking the set 6-4, for a two sets to one lead. The Serb was definitely out of sorts this set as he received a rub down from the trainer after the 8th game and looked to be in some discomfort. It seemed to effect his serve the most as Djokovic won just 17 of 32 service points in the set and committed four double faults.
Serb Raises His Game, Pressures Kukushkin in Set Four
Perhaps it was the magic treatment from the trainer, perhaps it was simply the Serb responding to the situation. Whatever it was, Djokovic came out and was on top of Kukushkin all set long. After holding to open, Djokovic found himself with triple break point on the Kazakh's serve Kukushkin somehow managed to save all three to stay on serve at 1-1. After three straight holds put the Serb ahead at 3-2, Kukushkin again was under fire on his serve. Djokovic would craft two break points in the game and convert when the Kazakh mishit an attempted drop shot to give the Serb a 4-2 lead. Djokovic still struggled for consistency with his service games as he labored through his next service game, nearly blowing a 40-0 lead before he would hold. Djokovic would not have that issue in the 9th game as he held firmly to close out the set at 6-3 to even the match.
Champion's Swagger Shows in Fifth Set
With the crowd now at a fever pitch, Djokovic appeared to be re-energized. He would go to work on Kukushkin's serve immediately as he broke to open the set. The Serb would back that up with a love service hold to push to a 2-0 lead. The set had a much different feel as Djokovic was holding comfortably with a wicked first serve than won him 14 of 17 points. Kukushkin was wearing down and it showed on serve as he won less than half the 25 points that were played. Djokovic would secure a bonus break late to go up 5-2 and closed out the match on serve for the five set win 6-7 (6), 7-6 (3), 4-6, 6-3, 6-2. The match finished in just under five hours.
Following the match, a clearly tired Djokovic thanked the crowd for helping to push him to the win, “You made the difference and gave me the energy to come out on top and I have to thank you for that."
The win evened the tie between Serbia and Kazakhstan at 2-2. That sets up Viktor Troicki and Aleksandr Nedovyesov to decide the tie. They are currently in action in the fifth rubber.