Kecmanovic emerges from Djokovic's shadow

The Serbian world No.31 knows he has to be his own man if he's to fulfil his potential on court

Miomir Kecmanovic, Roland Garros 2022, second round© Julien Crosnier/FFT
 - Simon Cambers

The incredible achievements of Novak Djokovic throughout his career have inspired a generation of Serbian youngsters to hope and believe that they too can have the kind of success he has enjoyed.

But for Miomir Kecmanovic, it was only when he realised that trying to emulate the 20-time Grand Slam champion on the court was a thankless task, that he started to come into his own on the ATP tour.

Since the start of 2022, he's risen from No.69 to No.31 in the rankings and in the third round at Roland-Garros on Saturday, he will play world No.2 Daniil Medvedev, a big stage for the 22-year-old to show off the improvements he has made in his game since he decided to let things go.

“He is a big inspiration to a lot of people back home,” Kecmanovic told recently when asked about Djokovic.

“He made tennis popular and a lot of kids started playing because of him. It is amazing to have one of the best ever be from your country.

“(But) I have come to terms that it is going to be very difficult if not impossible to repeat what he has done, so when you let that go, you start to focus on yourself. You do the best you can and go the furthest you can go.”

Miomir Kecmanovic, Roland Garros 2022, doubles© Andre Ferreira/FFT

That realisation also coincided with his decision in February 2021 to hire David Nalbandian, the Argentinian who reached No.3 in the world at his peak, as his coach.

“Pretty much everything (has improved),” he told reporters after his second-round win over Alexander Bublik in Paris. “Everything that last year didn't (happen), this year is starting to show. So I'm happy that I'm able to do better results this year, play better tennis, go deeper in these bigger tournaments.”

Nalbandian’s influence has been clear to see in Kecmanovic’s game, even if the Argentinian was not a big lover of clay himself. The Serb says he's practising better, practising smarter, and the results are showing.

“We've been working a lot of different patterns on clay and just to have a lot more patience on the court,” he said.

“But he understands my feeling very well because he also is not very happy on clay, so we're quite similar there. So we have a good understanding when we're on this surface.”

Kecmanovic reached five straight quarter-finals in early 2022, before making the semi-finals on clay in Munich. He’s ranked 31 in the world and he’ll get the chance to test himself against another of the world's best when he plays Medvedev.

“It's definitely not going to be easy,” said Kecmanovic ahead of his first meeting with the world No.2. “He's playing good, but of course it's not his favourite surface, he doesn't feel the most comfortable here.

"So if I want to play him I think it's definitely better to play him on clay than somewhere else, so I'll try to play the best that I can and we'll see what happens.”

Kecmanovic said his experience of pushing Carlos Alcaraz close in Miami and playing a good match against Rafael Nadal in Madrid was helping his confidence heading into such a big encounter.

“I had some close ones with Rafa on clay, with Carlos, with Diego (Schwartzman) in Rome, so all those matches, Novak (Djokovic), of course, in Belgrade, there's a lot of matches against top guys that I'm a lot more closer than before, so that's a good sign,” he said.