Whatever happened to that “unruly” Serbian crowd, the one that was supposed to make France quake in their tennis shoes?
The 16,200 crowd at the Belgrade Arena, many of whom had played their part in unhinging the players of United States and Czech Republic in earlier rounds with their ecstatic support for the home team, seemed to be doing a passable imitation of Wimbledon’s Centre Court, at least during the first rubber on Friday.
The reason for that may have been because Gael Monfils, the France No. 1, took the wind out of their sails from the off – or rather Janko Tipsarevic did.
“This never happened to me [before] in my life,” said the Serbian No. 2 of his double double-fault start in an opening game break of serve.
Monfils had predicted that the occasion was more likely to get to Tipsarevic than himself and he was right, but he was grateful for the Serbs’ sporting behaviour, which was in stark contrast to that which the Serb team themselves had to endure in Split in July in their quarterfinal against Croatia.
“I think the Serbian crowd is like a normal crowd,” said Monfils. “I think is more like French press try to build something like crazy. I think the Serbian are very fair. They were cheering, for like, each player like a Davis Cup match.”
The 1,400 French fans who were supposed to be present may not have seemed quite as many as that in number but they certainly sounded like that many and more, often making far more noise than the home fans.
Novak's face fits
It was only when Novak Djokovic squared the match against Gilles Simon that the home crowd found its voice and even then the Serbian No. 1 found it necessary to urge them on to greater decibels with much waving of arms in the third set.
It’s hard to escape the face of Novak Djokovic, nor that of his fellow Serbian players in Belgrade right now, but then it’s always difficult to get away from Serbia’s No. 1 here – not that many of his fellow countrymen want to, leastways not while they still have a chance of winning this Davis Cup by BNP Paribas Final.
It may not be quite in the league of David Beckham – not yet, anyway – but the Djokovic brand is fairly prevalent all the same. His team-mates aren’t complaining and seem more than happy to eat each night this week just around the corner from their hotel at a rather trendy restaurant by the name of “Novak”, which is owned by you know who.
Mind you, they have to put up with re-runs of Djokovic’s finest matches on television screens around the restaurant and shots of his tennis club, which also has a rather fancy restaurant. The plan is to open five restaurants each named after one of the world’s five leading players (shouldn’t the first one then have been named “Rafa”?).
The Djokovic family have come a long way since flirting with the idea of moving to Britain a few years ago in order to get the kind of financial support enjoyed by Andy Murray for Novak and his two younger brothers, Marko and Djordje.
Russia and Croatia may have left the Davis Cup at the quarterfinal stage but it doesn’t mean they have lost all interest in this year’s competition, as the presence of their captains, Shamil Tarpischev and Goran Prpic, respectively, in the VIP area here on the opening day will testify.
Of course, with regards Prpic, whose team lost 4-1 at home to Serbia in July, there remains a strong affinity with the Final’s host nation, having played for the old country – Yugoslavia – before winning a bronze medal in the doubles alongside Goran Ivanisevic at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics for the newly independent nation of Croatia.
Among the dignitaries present were Boris Tadic, the Serbian president, who in recent months has developed a strong, cordial relationship with his opposite number in Croatia, Ivo Josipovic. His public apology to Croatian victims after a recent visit to Vukovar, one of the cities most devastated by the war of the 1990s, has met with a positive reception in Croatia.