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Tennis News As The Serbians Lose A Heartbreaker At The New Screwy Davis Cup • The Serbs Leave In Tears In 2019

By Alix Ramsay

For all the criticisms and cock-ups, for all the chaos and mayhem, for all the godawful changes made to the venerable competition, no one can rip the heart out of the Davis Cup.

Yes, there is a new format; yes, they play a full tie on one day over the best of three sets at a venue that is neutral for all but one of the 18 teams, but this is still a national team competition. These are individuals used to playing an individual sport who come together for a couple of weeks to play for each other and for their country. When they win, the praise is spread across the team, from players to physios to stringers to kit man; when they lose, they all shoulder the blame.

And when Serbia lost the deciding doubles to Russia in the quarter-finals, Novak Djokovic and Viktor Troicki missing three match points to go down 6-4, 4-6, 7-6 to Andrey Rublev and Karen Khachanov, the whole team was put on suicide watch. 

The Davis Cup was to be Janko Tipsarevic’s final farewell to tennis after an 18-year career. The team, then, wanted to win it for Janko. But as Filip Krajinovic took a pasting from Rublev (Rublev had been playing like a man possessed all week), the confidence was dented somewhat. No matter – Djokovic would sort it. And he did, beating Khachanov 6-3, 6-3. That was when it all started to unravel in the doubles.

The Russians took the lead, the Serbs fought back. The Serbs took the lead in the third set tiebreak, the Russians fought back. And the longer the tiebreak went on, the tighter Troicki got; he could barely keep the ball in play. It was his final return of serve – into the net – that ended it and he was inconsolable. He hid his head beneath a towel and sobbed as Djokovic hugged and kissed him. Later, in one of the most remarkable press conferences at any tennis event anywhere, the whole team was trying (and sometimes failing) to hold it together.

“I probably feel the worst ever,” Troicki said. “I never experienced such a moment in my career, in my life. And I let my team down, and I apologise to them.

“We were up in the tiebreak. We had chances to finish it. We didn’t do it. I messed up in the crucial moments.

“I don’t know. God gave me once to be the hero, maybe to win the Davis Cup in the deciding rubber. Now he took it away. I’m really disappointed with myself. There was a lot of emotions. A really tough match. At the end there was one point that decided it. And I’m really, really disappointed in myself that I couldn’t hold my focus till the end and finish.”

His captain, Nenad Zimonjic, was not letting Troicki take the blame. He described the team around him – the 32-year-old Djokovic, the 33-year-old Troicki and the 35-year-old Tipsarevic – as the “golden age” of Serbian tennis and now it was coming to an end. Djokovic, Krajinovic and Dusan Lajovic would still be ready for national service, but the old band of brothers had been split up. Their last moment together had been in defeat and it hurt more than Zimonjic knew how to say.

“The way I approached always team competition, playing for the country, is if you decide to do so, you do whatever you can to give your best,” he said. “Whatever a team needs you to do, you do it to your best efforts. And they gave everything today. Sometimes you win together. Sometimes you lose.

“At the end, you win as a team and you lose as a team. It doesn’t matter if somebody wins two matches and you end up losing the match. The main thing is that everybody here did their part, you know, not just now, but during their career. And that’s all you can say, you know. It was very emotional because it’s Janko’s last…”

At that point, Zimonjic had to stop. He was in tears and as soon as he went, Krajinovic dissolved into floods. Djokovic had been sitting grim faced throughout and appeared to wipe away a tear or two.

“The main thing is that everybody knows here how much we care about each other, how much we love each other, and this is what got us here,” Zimonjic went on after pulling himself together. “So I want to thank all of them for being here. I was happy to be part of it as a player, maybe as their friend the most, and now as a captain. That’s all.”

Sitting at the end of this row of misery was Tipsarevic. It was because of him that everyone was so emotional and as his friends and colleagues dabbed their eyes and bit their lips, he wanted to say his piece.

“I remember yesterday after the doubles I was asked what is the one thing that you can pull out from all these 20 years,” he began. “And what did I say? The one thing is not the victories or the losses, what Novak said, is that this beautiful sport makes you f*****g tough.

“This emotion that you want to commit suicide after a day like this, and you go towards and against the wind, these emotions is the one thing that I can draw from all these 20 years that I was playing for the country and individual competition.

“So a few of the guys apologised to me. I don’t accept these apologies because none of them let me down all over these 20 years. I disagree with you, Viktor, that God took away this from you. You will never have this emotion that you had because you brought us this last point.

“As for the team, everybody knows that they are like my brothers and I will be with the team in one or the other capacity and I would like to thank them all for being with me on this journey.”

And that is what Davis Cup is all about. As long as the players play for each other and for their homeland, no amount of “innovations” can ruin it. It may not look like the old Davis Cup, it may not be played like the old Davis Cup, the backroom boys may have made it all but impossible follow via the website or the infernal app (which fabulously had Guido Pella playing for Great Britain and Pablo Carreno Busta playing for Germany as Kyle Edmund and Philipp Kohlschreiber took to the court on Friday evening) and it may be being played out in front of no more than a sprinkling of spectators, but its heart is still beating strong. Thankfully, no one from Kosmos has found a way to ruin that. Not yet, at any rate.

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