Monday, December 6, 2010

It's Serbia's Cup

[Also posted at:]

Every now and then, sport provides the most compelling mixture of elation and agony. Yesterday was one such occasion. In one corner, Michael Llodra, surrounded by his French teammates and captain, Guy Forget, was forlorn and almost inconsolable in grief. In another was Serbia’s Viktor Troicki, ecstatic with joy and basking in the glory of a wonderful triumph. Troicki, ranked twenty-eighth in the world had just defeated Llodra, ranked twenty-third, in straight sets – 6-2, 6-2, 6-3 – in the deciding rubber of the Davis Cup Final, played before an intensely partisan crowd in Belgrade. Serbia, ravaged by war and rife with endless hostility had won the Davis Cup for the first time and it deserved to celebrate in as extravagant a manner as it pleased. Yet, one couldn’t but feel for Llodra – an old-school serve and volleyer – who had come on by leaps and bounds as a singles player this season only to succumb to nerves and to let greatness slip from within his grasp.

Just a day earlier, Llodra together with Arnaud Clement had come back from two sets to love down to overcome Troicki and Nenad Zimonjic in the doubles rubber to give France a crucial 2-1 lead. And then to have to yield to the demands of a decider and play a form of tennis that was a far-cry from the exquisiteness that he has exhibited in the past was indeed a pity. Some may argue that the Davis Cup is a tournament of progressively diminishing significance and to say that Llodra had greatness within his grasp is to overstate the matter. But a glimpse of the scenes in Belgrade which greeted Serbia’s feat would have done enough to negate any such thoughts. This was indeed a battle for greatness, and Troicki in leading his country to a victory against the mighty French achieved sporting immortality, at least within the confines of his Balkan state. Serbia has a population, one-ninth the size of France, and its tennis federation operates on a shoestring budget that is a mere one-hundredth of the French tennis federation’s resources, so this victory is certainly one of enormous proportions.

Earlier, World Number 3 Novak Djokovic, looking visibly inspired by the atmosphere, produced some dazzling tennis to thump Gael Monfils, 6-2, 6-2, 6-4, to keep Serbia in the tie. Monfils, a player of astounding athleticism continues to struggle for consistency, utterly brilliant one moment and miserably mediocre, another. Djokovic who has maintained throughout the year that the Davis Cup remains his primary target, said after the victory: “It is historic. This is our biggest success as individuals, as a team, as a country.”

Growing up in a country wrecked by war, and practicing in conditions scarcely suitable for any level of tennis competition – Janko Tipsarevic, the star of Serbia’s earlier tie against Czech Republic, and Ana Ivanovic, formerly Women’s World Number 1, for instance, had both practiced in a court converted form a swimming pool – the success that the Serbians have achieved in tennis is quite astonishing. The importance of the Davis Cup must not be discounted merely because of the struggles of some of the traditional powerhouses. This is a remarkable triumph by a small, beleaguered nation that deserves the highest of accolades.

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