Serbian qualifier Filip Krajinovic hailed compatriot Novak Djokovic for helping him battle back from wrist surgery, after stunning American ninth seed John Isner to reach the Paris Masters final on Saturday.
The 25-year-old, who dropped out of the world’s top 200 last year after surgery to remove an extra bone from his right wrist, claimed a thrilling 6-4, 6-7 (2/7), 7-6 (7/5) victory in a deciding-set tie-break and will face Jack Sock in his maiden ATP final on Sunday.
Krajinovic said that the support of 12-time Grand Slam champion and Davis Cup team-mate Djokovic, who ended his 2017 season early due to an elbow injury, was invaluable.
“We are very close friends,” he told a press conference.
“He was helping me right after the injuries... I was next to him all the time, and even now when I’m doing well he’s next to me.
“We are always talking and he’s (a) big support. He’s our hero back in Serbia. It’s an honour to be next to him.”
The current world number 77 will move into the world’s top 40 for the first time on Monday, having won five second-tier Challenger titles this year to work his way back up the rankings after his wrist problems.
“I was starting to play better and better and I broke the top 100 a couple years ago and then all of a sudden they saw that I had an extra bone in my wrist,” right-hander Krajinovic said.
“It was mentally really tough because, you know, getting older and older, all sponsors, they said no to me... Because I was a good junior and then all of a sudden when I needed to do something I didn’t do anything.
“So it was hard for me, but my family stayed with me.”
Krajinovic reached the last four at Bercy after world number one Rafael Nadal pulled out of the tournament before their quarter-final on Friday.
He is bidding to become the first qualifier to win a Masters event since Albert Portas took the 2001 title in Hamburg, having only won one match at this level in his career before arriving at Bercy.
“When I served for the match, my hand was shaking. It was tough to control the emotions, but I knew I had to stay aggressive all the way to the end. I did it, and (it’s the) best day in my life,” said Krajinovic.
“But the tournament is not over yet. I’ll prepare for tomorrow and then we’ll see.
“It’s just a moment in my life that I’ll never forget.”
Isner’s defeat will “sting”
The big-serving Isner saw his hopes of a first World Tour Finals appearance come to an end, as the 32-year-old had to win the title at Bercy to snatch the eighth and final spot from Spaniard Pablo Carreno Busta.
The world number 14 struck 31 aces on Saturday, but saw a stubborn Krajinovic save all five of the break points he faced.
“Very disappointing. I had the chance to do something I’d never done before,” admitted Isner, after missing out on a second straight final in Paris.
“I also had the chance to finish the year in the top 10 in the world.
“I have finished eight consecutive years between 11th and 19th in the world, which is good, it’s consistent, but there’s (been) nothing better than that.
“This one is going to sting because, you know, I knew I was the highest-ranked player in the semi-finals and definitely was a good opportunity for me.”