Dusan Lajovic has spent time in two special places this year: Middle Earth and Planet Alcaraz. On Sunday, the Serbian will try to invoke the spirit of the former to conquer the latter when he faces World No. 1 Carlos Alcaraz in the third round of the Miami Open presented by Itau.
Lord of the Rings fan Lajovic has lost all three of his previous ATP Head2Head meetings with Alcaraz, but he is excited to give it another shot against the defending champion inside Hard Rock Stadium.
“I think the unique thing is how much he loves the pressure points. He’s got a great forehand, great backhand, great drop shot. He feels the game really good. He’s got really good instincts,” Lajovic told ATPTour.com. “But this is what I feel like is separating him from the rest of the other guys that are up and coming.
“I can’t compare him to Novak, Rafa and Roger obviously. But from the rest of the guys, he just plays his best tennis when it’s most needed.”
Lajovic has learned that through firsthand experience. At this year’s Rio Open presented by Claro, the Serbian led the 19-year-old in the first and second sets. He even earned a set point in the second set, but Alcaraz ultimately prevailed 6-4, 7-6(0).
“Obviously he loves these kind of matches, he loves to play under the pressure and I think that’s when he thrives the most,” Lajovic said. “I think he enjoys the atmosphere when he needs to produce his best tennis in these kind of situations.”
On Alcaraz’s maturity, Lajovic added: “You just don’t see it on his face. I think that he’s 19 in age only. How mature he is, it’s way more than 19.”
Two of Lajovic’s five tour-level losses this season have come to Alcaraz. The 32-year-old has enjoyed a quick start to the year, with three consecutive quarter-final appearances on South American clay.
The year got off to a good start off court, too. During his trip to New Zealand for the ASB Classic, Lajovic visited Hobbiton, a famous movie set used for The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit.
“That was an incredible experience. I’m a big fan. I’m a huge fan of epic fantasy, of science fiction, of anything literally that is out of this world. I felt like I was in heaven there,” Lajovic said. “I read some of Tolkien’s books, I read The Hobbit. I’ve seen the TV show, even if it didn’t have great reviews. I’ve seen all the movies. I just enjoyed that day so much.
“I’m also a big Harry Potter fan. I read all the books like five times each book. That’s pretty geeky!”
Lajovic recalled reading the Harry Potter series in his late teens, but he began Tolkien’s stories more recently, within the past decade. He watches The Lord of the Rings movies once a year.
“These kind of books, they have an arc that generally can have a parallel with life. The main guy is sort of in trouble and then he finds a way. They always have people who are close to him who helps him when he’s in need. Eventually everything works out,” Lajovic said. “In life, you can’t really hope that everything works out, you’ve got to work for it. But I like that kind of story that develops over the period of five, six books.
“You can relate to so many things even if it’s something that’s not real. But the feelings, the emotions are real and the situations that they provide are similar to what we experience in life without the magic.”
Lajovic, who visited Hobbiton with Croatians Nikola Mektic and Mate Pavic, is also a video game fan.
“I’m following the CounterStrike E-sports scene a lot. A good friend of mine is one of the best players in the world, so it’s something that is my hobby. Especially this trip to Hobbiton, to Middle Earth, was unreal,” Lajovic said. “What Peter Jackson did, how he took care of every detail, is just fascinating. I spent like four hours I think. The tour is a little bit less with spending some time at the restaurant. But I can spend days there if they allowed me to.”
Although Miami is more than 13,000 kilometres from New Zealand, he will bring the spirit of Tolkien’s world with him to the court inside Hard Rock Stadium when he tries to upset Alcaraz.
“I’ve had some tough draws because I’ve played him in South America and again here,” Lajovic said. “So I’m just looking forward to that match, trying to enjoy and seeing if I can change some things from the past two matches.”