As the tennis season draws to a close, all eyes turn to Belgrade this weekend for what should be a thrilling Davis Cup by BNP Paribas Final between Serbia and France.
On paper, this year’s Final should be one of the closest in recent memory. First-time finalist Serbia boasts the highest-ranked singles player in the shape of world No. 3 Novak Djokovic, who looked in good form at the ATP World Tour Finals last week, reaching the semifinals before losing to eventual champion Roger Federer on Saturday.
But French captain Guy Forget has an enviable strength in depth from which to pick his team. France has no fewer than seven players in the Top 50 and is not lacking in experience with players like Arnaud Clement and Michael Llodra among the ranks.
With so little to choose between the two sides, it may well come down to the all-important doubles rubber on Saturday and Nenad Zimonjic’s timely win at the end of year finals at the O2 will do wonders for Serbia's confidence.
Zimonjic won his second end of year doubles title alongside Canadian partner Daniel Nestor with a 76(6) 64 victory over Mahesh Bhupathi and Max Mirnyi in the final.
A likely doubles partnership for the French would see the two most experienced players, Clement and Llodra, on the team named alongside one another. Llodra is expected to play both singles and doubles this weekend given he has yet to lose a rubber in 2010.
Third time lucky for Clement
Joining him in the doubles could be Clement, who has been given a rare opportunity to feature in his first Davis Cup Final at the age of 32. What better way to give himself an early birthday present (he turns 33 on 17 December) than to finally play a rubber in the final having been cruelly denied on two previous occasions?
Clement was nominated in the French team to play in the Davis Cup Finals in both 2001 and 2002, but on both occasions he was replaced at the last minute by Cedric Pioline and Paul-Henri Mathieu respectively.
France will be looking to Gael Monfils to continue his fine run of form that saw him finish the season strongly, so much so that he is now the away team’s top-ranked player having overtaken his compatriot Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, who is unavailable due to a lingering knee injury.
The hardest decision for Serbian captain Bogdan Obradovic is who he picks to support Djokovic in the singles – Janko Tipsarevic or Viktor Troicki? The latter has the better ranking and won his first ATP singles title at Moscow in October, but the former was instrumental in earning Serbia’s spot in this year’s final and has an appetite for the big occasion.
No matter the teams, the final has something for everyone. Home fans will be looking to lift their side in its bid to win its first Davis Cup title; French supporters will be full of optimism having seen their team despatch of worthy opponents en route to the last two without losing a live rubber; while the neutral observer can be assured of a gruelling encounter between two passionate nations desperate to see their name take pride of place on the famous old trophy.