National tennis idol Novak Djokovic struggled at the end but emerged with a win to leave 17,000 fans with weekend victory hopes intact as he pulled host Serbia level 1-1 with France to end opening day play at the Davis Cup final Friday.
World number 3-ranked Djokovic constructed a 6-3, 6-1, 7-5 defeat of Gilles Simon to counter-balance a knockout 6-1, 7-6 (7-4), 6-0 victory for France's Gael Monfils over Janko Tipsarevic to give the visitors the early lead.
Djokovic did it tough in the closing stages, with Simon saving a pair of match points to break the Serb for 5-all in the third set. Djokovic responded with a break-back and finally secured the win after two and a quarter hours on his fourth chance.
"It is one-all and I think it is a realistic result after the first day. We are confident we can still pull off the win," Djokovic said after the match.
Nine-times champion France are looking for a first title in the worldwide team competition since defeating Australia in 2001 in Melbourne. First-time finalist Serbia have never lost in the Belgrade arena.
Djokovic highlighted that France already won titles, while for Serbia, which broke into the top tennis echelon over the past three years, "this is a chance of a lifetime, maybe a unique opportunity to win this trophy in front of the home crowd".
Earlier, Tipsarevic struck 38 unforced errors in his losing effort to Monfils at the Belgrade arena.
"I did not lose because I was tense, but because Gael was a better player," said the number 49 playing his first match since Basle on Nov 3. "It was, honestly, a disappointing performance."