By Chris Bowers in Belgrade
Speculation always surrounds who will play in a Davis Cup tie, but the speculation reached fever-pitch in Belgrade prior to Thursday’s draw. Everyone wanted to know whether Novak Djokovic was going to play on Friday in the Serbia v Argentina semifinal, or even whether he was back in Serbia yet taking into consideration he hadn’t posted his US Open triumph until Monday night.
Often such speculation is just for entertainment, but this time around it seemed very significant to strategic planning for the visiting nation. Argentina were desperate to know whether the world No. 1 was going to play on the opening day. If Djokovic played, Argentina would probably throw in Juan Monaco as a sacrificial lamb against the year's standout player, and hope Juan-Martin del Potro can beat either Janko Tipsarevic or Victor Troicki. But if Djokovic didn’t play, Argentina would be tempted to play David Nalbandian on the opening day.
Obviously, Argentina's captain Tito Vazquez has to gamble on what was going on as he had to make his decision before knowing who Serbia's players will be. In the end, either Vazquez took a risk that Djokovic wouldn’t play or the heightened speculation turned out to be proof that rumours often never pan out.
When the draw was announced Djokovic was announced as the lead player for Serbia. He’ll face off in the opening match against none other than Nalbandian. Djokovic is certainly the iron man of 2011, having a 64-2 winning record this year. But Nalbandian has been known to rise to the challenge during Davis Cup. So at the very least, a great match can be anticipated.
Ruling with red
By Rodrigo Valdebenito in Santiago
Maglietta Rossa (Red Shirt) is the name of an Italian film documentary from 2009, which tells the story of how Italy came to play in Chile at the 1976 Davis Cup final. In those days, politics and sport were not always far removed from each other as this film shows.
The movie tells the story of how left wing activists tried to put political pressure on the Italian government in order to not authorize the Italian tennis team to play with Chile, because of the Pinochet military regime that governed the South American country since 1973.
In the end, it was understood that such a move would not benefit anybody and sport prevailed, the final was played and Italy won the Davis Cup for the first time.
The film got its name due to an obscure yet interesting anecdote. Before playing the doubles, Italian star Adriano Panatta (whose political sensibilities were not too close to the Chilean government) proposed to his partner, Paolo Bertolucci, that they play wearing red shirts as a subtle provocation to the Chilean authorities, who would supposedly be watching the match.
Bertolucci was shocked and tried to convince his partner to change his mind. "Adriano", Bertolucci would have allegedly said, "they are going to put us in front of a firing squad or something!".
Panatta was able to convince Bertolucci, however, and they won the doubles and the Davis Cup playing with red shirts. Apparently nobody noticed, but Panatta had his satisfaction anyway.
By Chris Bowers in Belgrade
One person attending the Serbia v Argentina semifinal can be forgiven for having split loyalties.
Janko Tipsarevic's recent run of great form, which has seen him rise to this week's career-high ranking of No. 13, can be credited in a large way to his working with Bernardo Carborel.
Here’s the rub: Carborel is an Argentinean fitness trainer turned coach, who is in Belgrade as a member of the Serbian team to assist Tipsarevic.
At the end of Wednesday night's official dinner, David Nalbandian crossed the floor to the Serbian table, and ruffled Carborel's flowing hair in an affectionate gesture of one Argentinean to another.
So is 'Bernie' secretly hoping for Argentina to win 3-2 with Serbia's two points coming from Tipsarevic? He won't say.
Diamonds are dandy
By Richard Fleming in Antwerp
According to the well-known song, diamonds are a girl’s best friend. If that’s the case, ladies, then here in Antwerp you will not be short of buddies.
Antwerp is the diamond capital of the world. Indeed, around 60% of the world’s diamonds are traded in the Belgian city. Some reports even suggest that as many as 85% of the world’s uncut diamonds pass through here at some stage. It is the centre of the international diamond trade.
My first experience of this was on arriving by train from London. The mightily impressive Antwerp Central train station houses numerous jewellery stores, with diamonds very much at the forefront. I stepped on to the streets outside and saw more of the same. Precious gems glistening at almost every turn.
With such close links to this most popular of stones, a diamond district has even been carved out. The city is also home to a diamond museum (Diamantmuseum) and the Antwerp World Diamond Centre, an industry-established foundation, whose slogan is “Diamonds love Antwerp.”
And so, I suppose it should come as no surprise that the Lotto Arena – venue for this week’s Davis Cup tie between Belgium and Austria – hosted a legendary US singer-songwriter back in June… Neil Diamond.