Serbian spectators in Belgrade’s Historical Kombank Arena yesterday were shockingly disappointed to see their star tennis players losing in the Davis Cup final to the visiting Czechs. Since Spain retained the Davis Cup in 2009, it was the second instance in the tournament’s history that reigning champions recorded back-to-back victories in Tennis’s most coveted world event.
The tie was level at 2-2 after the Serbian superstar Novak Djokovic defeated Tomas Berdych 6-4, 7-6, 6-2 in the first reverse singles match. This meant that tournament final went to the wire and hinged on the remaining game. Under similar circumstances, Serbia had recorded an epic win, 3 years ago against France. But this time round, Serbia ran out of options and had to field Dusan Lajovic in the decisive reverse singles match. The 117th-ranked Lajovic was too inexperienced to face the 34 year old Radek Stepanek. Once upon a time, Stepanek was within world’s 10 top ranked players but today he is better recognized as Leander Paes’s doubles partner. But even so, the 44th ranked Stepanek proved too good for Lajovic, whose match support did not come from his tennis skills but from 17,000 noisy Serbians present in the stadium. Though Lajovic broke Stepanek once in the opening game, he played pathetic tennis all through the three sets. In the end, he was completely outplayed and lost 3-6, 1-6, 1-6. A few hundred Czech fans present in Kombank wildly celebrated Czech Republic’s Davis Cup victory for the second year in a row.
Over the last few years, presence of Novak Djokovic has made Serbia a strong Davis Cup Nation but their other star players could not play in this year’s final. While Janko Tipsarevic was declared unfit due to a heel injury, Viktor Troicki has been out of reckoning since April, when his blood test results showed traces of a banned substance.
While Djokovic won both his singles, he could not play the doubles. The guy has been playing too much tennis of late and he admitted to being totally exhausted. He arrived for the Davis Cup after winning 4 tournaments and 22 matches and was rested for the doubles. The Serbian captain Bogdan Obradovic told reporters that playing Djokovic in the doubles was like asking too much from a dead-tired man. Many observers believe that a relaxed Djokovic would have tilted the balance in Serbia’s favour. So for Serbia, the doubles featured Nenad Zimonjic and Ilija Bozoljac, who faced Tomas Berdych and Radek Stepanek in the crucial doubles. These two have served the Czech Republic admirably in the past and in winning the match 6-2, 6-4, 7-6, they improved their Davis Cup doubles record to 14-1 as the national pair. They were loudly cheered by a handful of colourful Czechs present at the match venue. The doubles victory placed the Czechs on the right path with a 2-1 advantage before the reverse singles. As expected, Djokovic won his match but the decider went to the Czechs.
In the final analysis it was a clear case of unavailability of top Serbian players and excessive dependence on Djokovic. It became difficult as the team missed two of their most eligible players for different reasons and it was manifest in the undoing of the Serbians in the end.