If the pressure of favouritism is getting to the Serbian team it wasn’t obvious from their press conference following Thursday’s draw.
When asked why he chose Janko Tipsarevic ahead of Viktor Troicki for the opening day singles rubber against France, Bogdan Obradovic, the Serbian captain, came back, quick as a flash: “He gave me a lot of money.”
It was a shame, though, he didn’t allow his comment to hang in the air for a while in the packed interview room or at least until those scribes present dared to dream of front page lead stories, but instead he quickly scotched the notion, saying: “It’s a joke first.”
The recently-wed Tipsarevic has, inevitably, had to field a few questions here about life after bachelorhood. This time he was asked: “Janko, are you a different man since you are married?”
The fan of the Russian writer Fyodor Dostojevski is rarely short of something to say and nor was he on this occasion, replying: “In what way? Do I look more pretty or how?”
“You are more confident?” asked the inquirer.
But before Tipsarevic could respond, his doubles partner Nenad Zimonjic intercepted with a sharp volley: “He’s undefeated in Davis Cup since he’s married.”
“That’s more pressure for the French,” said Tipsarevic.
Nastase backs Serbia for glory
The French may have taken Ilie Nastase to their hearts, never more so than when he won the 1973 French Open, but the former Romanian great appears to have thrown in his lot with Serbia for this Davis Cup by BNP Paribas Final.
Nastase is going for Serbia’s combination of youth and experience to prevail in the high octane atmosphere of the Belgrade Arena this weekend, even though such qualities, of course, are also prevalent in the France team.
“Serbia do have a big opportunity to get their hands on the Davis Cup trophy,” said Nastase, who while he was in Belgrade turned out on Tuesday in exhibition matches at the nearby Pioneer Sports Hall in aid of Serbian tennis development and victims of the recent earthquake at Kraljevo.
“Serbia team captain Bogdan Obradovic has young, yet experienced players at his disposal, who are unlikely to be shaken by the pressure of the moment. I am certain they will find a way to battle the pressure. Besides, they will have the crowd on their side.
“Belgrade is a beautiful city. I knew I was going to have a great time here. I have a lot of friends here and I had no doubts that Slobodan Zivojinovic [the president of the Serbian Tennis Federation] would be a tremendous host. I hope his efforts will be rewarded and Serbia, spearheaded by Novak Djokovic, lift the trophy on Sunday.”
Some say that the draw isn’t really that crucial in Davis Cup play, but it could prove to be so on this occasion.
When Vladimir Markovic, the vice president of BNP Paribas Serbia, picked out the name of Gael Monfils from the Davis Cup trophy to play first in this Final, against Janko Tipsarevic, he placed a huge pressure on the young France No. 1.
This is a match France must win if they are, realistically, to sustain hopes of winning the trophy for a 10th time. They surely cannot afford to go into day two 2-0 down.
Naturally, Monfils preferred to look on the bright side and felt that if he could win his rubber it would “put more pressure on Novak [Djokovic]”, adding: “Gilles [Simon] can play like a better match if we’re 1-0 up. So I think it’s good for the team.”
Conversely, one could also say it would place a degree of pressure on Simon – who was something of a surprise choice given Michael Llodra’s outstanding Davis Cup form this season – to consolidate the advantage. As ever, the tactical nuances of a Davis Cup tie are fascinating.
Clearly the speed of the court, which is either slow or medium-paced depending on who you are talking to, played a part in Guy Forget’s thinking.
“I think it was for him a nightmare to decide,” said Amelie Mauresmo, the two-time former Grand Slam champion, who is here for French television, French esprit de corps and, not least, Michael Llodra, the nominal France No. 2, who she has helped coach since the summer.
“I was not sure [what Forget would do] because of the surface,” she said. “I was thinking it was definitely an option [to choose Simon] and to keep maybe Michael for the last one – we’ll see.”
The more anticipated “surprise” selection was that Bogdan Obradovic, the Serbia captain, would play Viktor Troicki in the opening singles and keep Tipsarevic – the ideal man for the big occasion – in reserve for the reverse singles.
Instead he chose to lead off with Tipsarevic. He was clearly swayed by Tipsarevic’s heroic deeds in the semifinals, in which he won both his singles rubbers, against Tomas Berdych and Radek Stepanek.