BELGRADE, Sep 23 (Reuters) Serbia reached the Davis Cup world group for the first time after Novak Djokovic beat Chris Guccione to give them a 3-1 lead in their playoff today.
It is only the second time that Australia, the winners of 28 Davis Cup titles, have been relegated from the world group.
World number three Djokovic, who won 6-3 7-6 7-6, struggled to find his rhythm at times but won most key points to overpower Guccione, a late replacement for Lleyton Hewitt after the former world number one pulled out with a viral infection.
Djokovic raced into a 3-0 lead in the opening set and broke Guccione again in the eighth game after the Australian drew level at 3-3 with some good returns and forehand winners.
Djokovic led 3-1 in the second set but had to work hard to force a tiebreak, which he took comfortably 7-3 after producing his best tennis of the afternoon cheered on by a capacity 20,000 crowd, the biggest for a Davis Cup tie outside the final.
Serbia's raucous fans performed a Mexican wave while a drum band raised the noise level to help Djokovic weather the storm because the flamboyant 20-year-old was not firing on all cylinders after yesterday's absorbing doubles win.
Guccione fired two aces to save two match points in the final set as the game went with serve before Djokovic took a tight tiebreak 7-5.
FANTASTIC SUCCESS ''It has been a great tie and this is a fantastic team success for Serbia,'' an elated Djokovic said after his team mates carried him around the Belgrade arena court on their shoulders.
''I feel absolutely fantastic that we have qualified for the Davis Cup top division and I've never experienced an atmosphere as electrifying as this one here in Belgrade,'' he said.
''There was so much pressure and I am glad we rose to the occasion and lived up to expectations.
''Guccione is a good player and an awkward opponent on any surface and I had to work hard to beat him.'' Boris Pasanki has replaced Janko Tipsarevic for the final singles rubber against Australia's Peter Luczak later today.
REUTERS TB RK2140