NOVI SAD, SERBIA: Davis Cup by BNP Paribas holders Serbia are looking at a knife-edged first round tie against rank outsiders India in the 2011 World Group, after the two teams were level 1-1 following the opening singles rubbers on Friday. Viktor Troicki, the hero of a memorable 3-2 win over France in last season’s final, put Serbia in the driving seat with a hard-earned 63 63 57 36 63 win over Rohan Bopanna before Somdev Devvarman stunned Janko Tipsarevic 75 75 76(3) to redress the balance in Novi Sad’s SPENS sports centre.
It was Devvarman’s first win in his third encounter with Tipsarevic, who looked a pale shadow of the player that reached the Delray Beach final in Florida last weekend, while Troicki too showed only rare glimpses of his recent good form.
With their top player Novak Djokovic absent, after the world No. 3 decided to skip the tie in order to prepare for upcoming ATP tournaments in the United States, the Serbs could now be staring at a seemingly unthinkable early exit and will need all the experience of their doubles specialist Nenad Zimonjic, who will team up with Ilija Bozoljac against Devvarman and Bopanna on Saturday.
Troicki appeared to be cruising for a comfortable win after taking the opening two sets against Bopanna, ranked 611 places below him on the ATP tour, but then gave the impression of a player still suffering from a hangover after his impressive win over Frenchman Michael Llodra in last December’s final sparked a late-night party in one of Belgrade’s popular night clubs.
Clearly rattled by the Indian’s serve-and volley game, world No. 18 Troicki could find no rhythm in the third and fourth set before he discovered some of the magic that steered Serbia to their first Davis Cup title.
“I am not happy with the way I played and I really didn’t expect such a tough match,” a visibly tired Troicki told reporters after closing out the match in three hours 18 minutes. “He is a doubles specialist and as such, he played a lot better than anyone might have expected him to, so I am glad I was able to prevent an upset and give my team the start we wanted,” Troicki added. “He kept breaking up my rhythm and I found it really difficult to get going, hopefully we can win the tie after Saturday’s doubles to make Sunday’s reverse singles dead rubbers.”
Birthday boy Bopanna, who turned 31 on Friday, had many Serbian fans applauding his impressive winners but having clawed his way back into the match after falling two sets behind, he appeared to run out of steam in the fifth. Roared on by the passionate home crowd, Troicki raced into a 4-0 lead and although Bopanna recovered one break, the Serb was able to breathe a sigh of relief after he sealed the hard-earned win with his 21st ace.
If Troicki looked wobbly, Tipsarevic appeared to be completely bamboozled by Devvarman’s combination of accurate groundstrokes and lightning speed. Having wasted three-game leads in the opening two sets while he also squandered the opportunity to get back into the match when he was 5-3 up in the third, the Serb showed nerves and allowed his opponent to dictate play whenever he had the chance to swing the match his way.
Tipsarevic, who won both his singles against the Czech Republic in last season’s semifinal, lost a rollercoaster first set against Devvarman after he squandered a 4-1 lead amidst a flurry of breaks. The flamboyant Serb managed three but his rival did one better and nosed ahead after 59 minutes, having seen the home crowd favourite make 27 unforced errors.
The highly entertaining baseline slugfest carried on in the second set, when world No. 93 Devvarman complained bitterly about a line call which presented Tipsarevic with a break point he gratefully took to open up a 3-1 lead. With the noisy home fans in full swing while an ancient Serbian battlesong blared from the sound system during game breaks, Tipsarevic appeared to be heading for a speedy recovery but he soon lost his momentum. He blew a 5-2 lead as Devvarman recovered patiently and when presented with an opportunity to go two sets up, he needed no second invitation as he rifled in a service winner.
The flamboyant but inconsistent Tipsarevic, who also boasts of dj-ing skills and tattoos with Dostoevsky’s citations, continued to struggle with his serve in the third set. He built a 5-3 advantage but let it slip from his grasp before he finally succumbed in a one-sided tie-break, as Devvarman silenced the dwindling home crowd with a ferocious cross-court winner.
“We definitely believe now we can win this tie and we will go out there to give it our best shot,” an elated Devvarman told reporters. “I feel for Janko because he probably didn’t have enough time to adjust from Delray Beach, where it was a lot warmer and that much easier to serve,” he added. “I served well, kept fighting and always believed I could win the match.”
Somdev Devvarman (IND) - 04/03/2011
Captain Shiv Prakash Misra (IND) - 04/03/2011
Captain Bogdan Obradovic (SRB) - 04/03/2011
Viktor Troicki (SRB) - 04/03/2011