NOVI SAD, SERBIA: Three months after becoming the 13th nation to win the Davis Cup, with a dramatic 3-2 win over France in a memorable final at the Belgrade Arena, defending champions Serbia will launch their title defence against India in Novi Sad’s SPENS sports complex.
Although the Serbs will miss their top player, world No. 3 Novak Djokovic, they should still be too strong for a young Indian team which pulled off a major shock last year when they beat the more fancied Brazilians to clinch a berth in the World Group.
Three-times runners-up India have arrived without veteran doubles specialists Leander Paes and Mahesh Bhupathi, but the absence of big names on both sides is only likely to galvanise their replacements to shine in front of what should be a capacity 6,500 crowd throughout the eagerly-awaited contest.
“It’s definitely a great opportunity for all of us to show that we are a strong team even if Djokovic is not here,” said Serbia’s Janko Tipsarevic, the architect of one of the most eccentric celebrations the 111-year old competition has ever seen.
Following their win over France, the Serbian team shaved their heads on court before they even lifted the trophy, as Tipsarevic promised they would if they beat the French.
“We would certainly love to repeat the feat and retain the silverware, but it’s too early to even think about some new silly form of celebrating, like doing a collective tattoo or something. It has to be a team decision anyway,” he said.
Serbia’s No. 1 singles player for the tie, Viktor Troicki, takes on Rohan Bopanna in Friday’s opening rubber, followed by Tipsarevic’s match with India’s leading performer Somdev Devvarman, whom he beat twice in straight sets on the ATP tour.
“Neither match was a walk in the park and I expect a tough encounter once again,” Tipsarevic said, while his team captain Bogdan Obradovic acknowledged that underestimating a success-hungry Indian team would be an ill-judged approach.
“We are taking this tie very seriously because there is little room for error in a competition like the Davis Cup,” Obradovic said. “We are the favourites but sometimes it can be very difficult to beat rivals who have nothing to lose. We are not going to underestimate India because that could be a costly mistake, they are a nation with a tennis history much longer than ours.”
Nenad Zimonjic and Ilija Bozoljac take on Devvarman and Bopanna in Saturday’s doubles, while Troicki faces Devvarman and Tipsarevic meets Bopanna in Sunday’s reverse singles.
Although he fancied another battle with his old friends Paes and Bhupathi, who pulled out of the tie to recover from injuries, Zimonjic said he still expected their replacements to give the Serbian duo a good run for their money.
“I really admire Paes and Bhupathi because they can boast of an exceptionally proud Davis Cup record which I hope to emulate some day. But rest assured that Devvarman and Bopanna will make us work for what many people expect to be an easy win. I think we will have to earn every point and the last thing we should do is take victory for granted," he said.
Troicki, the hero of Serbia’s win over France in last season’s final after he beat Michael Llodra in the decisive fifth rubber, said he was looking forward to carrying on where he left off in the Belgrade Arena.
“Novi sad is my father’s hometown, it’s a great city with so much sporting talent and I am glad that tennis fans in Novi Sad will get a chance to see a winning team in action. I am confident that we will go through to the next round, but we have to stay focused throughout the weekend and keep in mind that there is no such thing as a free ride,” he said.
Having praised the Serbian team as a unit abundant with natural talent and quality, India’s team captain Shiv Prakash Misra said Djokovic’s absence could give his players a window of opportunity to pull off an otherwise improbable upset.
“With Djokovic here we would have no chance because he is too good a player, but his absence could be a big loss for them. Either way, the tie is going to be a massive challenge and a great learning experience for my team,” he said.
The full draw is listed below.
R1: Viktor Troicki (SRB) v Rohan Bopanna (IND)
R2: Janko Tipsarevic (SRB) v Somdev Devvarman (IND)
R3: Ilija Bozoljac / Nenad Zimonjic (SRB) v Rohan Bopanna / Somdev Devvarman (IND)
R4: Viktor Troicki (SRB) v Somdev Devvarman (IND)
R5: Janko Tipsarevic (SRB) v Rohan Bopanna (IND)
Watch this tie live on: DavisCup.tv
Viktor Troicki (SRB) - 03/03/11
Janko Tipsarevic (SRB) - 03/03/11
Nenad Zimonjic (SRB) - 03/03/11
Captain Bogdan Obradovic (SRB) - 03/03/11
Somdev Devvarman (IND) - 03/03/11
Captain Shiv Prakash Misra (IND) - 03/03/11