There is enough on the other side of the court to worry about for Serbia as they attempt to win their first Davis Cup by BNP Paribas title on Sunday without knowing that history is against them, too.
Only three nations – Australia (1977), Russia (2002) and Spain (2004) – have lost the doubles in a Final but gone on to win the trophy since the Challenge Round was abolished in 1972. But they can take heart from the knowledge that when Russia did so France was the one on the receiving end.
Nicolas Escude and Fabrice Santoro had also come from behind when they beat Yevgeny Kafelnikov and Marat Safin in five sets, so perhaps that’s a good omen for the Serbs.
As it happens, Safin was commentating on Davis Cup Radio on Saturday when, by pure coincidence, Santoro spotted him while working in the next booth for French radio. He couldn’t resist the opportunity to wander over and remind him of that match, but of course it was Russia who had the last laugh.
Novak Djokovic and company can take solace from that. Who knows, perhaps Janko Tipsarevic or Viktor Troicki could be Serbia’s Mikhail Youzhny. For France’s sake, one hopes no one will be their Paul-Henri Mathieu, who infamously lost the fifth rubber from two sets to love up. Nenad Zimonjic and Troicki could sympathise with him on Saturday.
Good things come those who wait
The question Arnaud Clement needed to be asked after the doubles on Saturday was, “Well, was it worth the wait?” His reply would surely have been in the affirmative – particularly should France go on to win this Davis Cup by BNP Paribas Final.
As someone who took part in the longest match in the Open era at 6hrs 33mins, when he lost to fellow countryman Fabrice Santoro at Roland Garros in 2004, until John Isner and Nicolas Mahut smashed it last summer, he is used to waiting around.
The man from Aix-en-Provence, who will be 33 later this month, has been playing Davis Cup for 10 years, but this is the first time he has actually made it to a Final. Judging by his match-winning performance, he must have been saving up his best for this day.
He played through to the semifinal round in both 2001 and 2002, when France went on to reach the Final each time, only for someone else to come in and replace him for the grand denouement. So it was appropriate, if unfortunate for Julien Benneteau, that this time he was the late substitute when the latter injured his wrist last month.
It was also fitting that “Bennet” was the first one he embraced as he came off court at the Belgrade Arena following his and Michael Llodra’s epic 36 67(3) 64 75 64 win against Serbia’s Nenad Zimonjic and Viktor Troicki.
Guy Forget, the France captain, put their monumental effort down to friendship, which is always to the fore in a French Davis Cup team.
“Had they not been friends, have this really strong relationship together, there was no way they could have come back and win that match,” he said.
“I think a doubles team is like a couple. You go through storms together, but eventually you're very proud that your relation[ship] goes for a long time and you're able to achieve wonderful things.”
A little game for little people
The crowd at the Belgrade Arena were given a glimpse of the very near future with a demonstration of Tennis 10s prior to the Davis Cup by BNP Paribas Final.
The ridiculous sight of small children desperately trying to cover a full-sized court and hit full-size balls will, as of 2012 when the rule comes into effect, be a thing of the past, thanks to the International Tennis Federation’s decision to mandate an amendment to the Rules of Tennis at their annual meeting in August.
All member countries – which is most of the world – will now have to adopt this method of coaching the game to under-10s, be it in competition or practice. It falls into line with many other sports, the best known examples being “mini soccer” and “Little League Baseball”.
“As well as providing a more positive and dynamic experience for players, the slower balls and scaled down courts are excellent for developing high performance juniors,” said ITF Executive Director of Development Dave Miley.
“They give players more time and control allowing them to develop and use advanced tactics and technique that would be impossible on a full court with a regular ball.”
Serbian tennis announces grand plans
Ana Ivanovic is much too young to be talking about how things were in her day. But when the Serbian Tennis Federation’s National Tennis Centre is finished in 2012, the former French Open champion is the ideal person to tell the young players how lucky they are and remind them: “In my day I used to train in an abandoned swimming pool while bombs fell all around.”
Serbian tennis has come a long way in a very short space of time. If this young nation can produce players of the calibre of Novak Djokovic, Jelena Jankovic, Janko Tipsarevic, and Ivanovic with those kind of facilities and in that kind of situation, one shudders to think what they can achieve with an all-singing-and-dancing tennis centre in peace time.
Plans for the centre, which were announced at the Belgrade Arena on Saturday, involve the building of six clay courts and four hard courts outdoors and five courts of various surfaces indoors plus a medical department and gymnasium.
Most of the above went to “finishing schools” abroad to fine-tune their tennis education and the hope is that that will no longer be necessary for up and coming young players at the new centre, which is to cost a modest five to seven million euros, according to the president of the federation, Slobodan Zivojinovic.
“This is the moment when the tennis starts to grow and become a big sport in Serbia,” he said.
The Serbian government is helping to finance the project, but Dragan Djilas, the mayor of Belgrade, said that the city, for its part, wanted nothing in return “only that they carry on producing players of the quality of Djokovic, Tipsarevic, Jankovic and Ivanovic.” No pressure then.
No one would argue, though, with Zivojinovic’s estimation that Serbia had teams that were “capable of winning both the Davis Cup and the Fed Cup.”