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Tipsy on the Cusp 12/01/2010 - 2:13 PM

Tipsy

by Pete Bodo

Novak Djokovic put it best in London, while trying not to think too much about this week's Davis Cup final as he played out his regular-season string at the World Tour Finals. He said that the Davis Cup finals were a preoccupation because he didn't honestly know when he, or Serbia, might get to that stage of the competition again.

I suppose most players, Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal excepted, can say the same thing when they compete in a run-of-the-mill major at any of the four corners of the tennis universe. Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Tomas Berdych might back Djokovic up, each of them having reached one major final. But even more than at a Grand Slam, reaching the final round in Davis Cup involves a certain amount of serendipity. The alternating choice-of-ground rule, along with the fact that nobody can win a Davis Cup single-handedly (although some have come pretty danged close) ensure that your Davis Cup fate is never entirely in your own hands.

In any given year, a team may be able to play all of it ties at home; this year, Djokovic's Serbian squad played two of its three ties in the cozy confines of the Belgrade Arena, before a crowd already famous for its wildly patriotic, partisan tendencies. The one tie to which the Serbs had to travel was contested in Croatia—and let's remember that, all politics aside, it wasn't so long ago that the two nations were joined as one, at least in theory and on the world map, as the nation formerly known as Yugoslavia. It's unlikely that the Serbs felt like innocents abroad when they moseyed down the trail to Split in the quarterfinals and laid a beating on Ivan Ljubicic, Marin Cilic and company. Basically, the Serbs reached the final without having to leave home, and that helped their effort immensely.

The other issue—the fact that it takes at least two to secure a Davis Cup title—is a little trickier, and it may be the key to the upcoming final. When you have a towering star—a Federer, Nadal, or Djokovic—somebody else, preferably a singles player, has to find a way to add a win. It isn't as big an assignment as it may appear, because very few nations, at very few times in history, have two world-beater singles players. So even guys like Stan Wawrinka, Fernando Verdasco, Ljubicic, James Blake or Michael Llodra don't have to beat the other team's top player. But it helps the cause tremendously if they can beat the other team's No. 2.

Serbia's No. 2 in singles is going to be either Viktor Troicki or Janko Tipsarevic. On paper, you'd have to go with Troicki, because at No. 30 he's ranked 19 places higher than Tipsarevic. But Tipsarevic is an impressive 32-12 in Davis Cup play (25-10 in singles), and he's won the last four Davis Cup rubbers in which he played (including back-to-back semifinal singles wins over Radek Stepanek and Tomas Berdych). The last three guys to beat Tipsy in Davis Cup singles were Nadal, Lleyton Hewitt and Roger Federer, which takes us all the way back to 2006. Tipsarevic seems to be one of those players who steps up instead of freezes up in Davis Cup, and with the home crowd as a propellant and most eyes and hopes firmly tacked on Djokovic, he's even more likely to craft a hero moment.

Troicki, by contrast, is a tepid 7-6 in Davis Cup, and just 5-5 in singles. He lost the last two singles matches he played, against Cilic and Stepanek. So forget what the rankings suggest, Tipsarevic has built up an impressive head of Davis Cup steam, while Troicki has been pulling slowly on an uphill grade. But Troicki skipped the recent Paris Masters in order to prepare for Davis Cup, and the newlywed Tipsarevic cut short his honeymoon in order to focus on the upcoming tie. You can bet that both of them are staring at Bogdan Obradovic with hungry Labrador retriver puppy eyes as the practice sessions wind down.

Beyond that, Tipsarevic is 2-2 against French No. 1 Gael Monfils, and 1-0 against Michael Llodra, the possible No. 2. Troicki has no H2H stats with either man. Granted, Troicki was the surprise winner at the Kremlin Cup event in late October, on a surface very similar to the one chosen for the final by the Serbs. But it would seem foolhardy to me to put Troicki out there against a pair of players like Monfils and Llodra. And not least because each of them is a stylist, a little different from the typical baseline bangers who prowl the tour these days. Llodra is an aggressive, old school, frequent flyer to the net. Monfils thrives on playing defense and counter-punching with a degree of athleticism rare even on the ATP tour.

You don't really want to have a lot of on-the-job training in a Davis Cup final; by the time you get a feel for how the other guy hits the ball, and what he does or doesn't like, it could be over.

Pete Sampras once told me that one reason he never came back to take a wild card at Wimbledon after he retired was because he knew he'd have to play a number of pros against with whom he had no previous history. He hated that, and I imagine most other players do as well. Besides, who needs that kind of pressure when playing in your first Davis Cup final?  While the Serbs insist they haven't made a final decision, I think Obradovic is just trying to keep the French guessing. The only way I can see Obradovic selecting Troicki is if he's really beating up on Tipsarevic in the practice sessions. Those episodes, which have been going on all week, often have a much greater impact on final nominations that all the collected data.

In any event, Obradovic also needs a good doubles partner for Nenad Zimonjic, who got a little tight in his last Davis Cup appearance. He was partnered with Djokovic in the doubles against the Czech Republic, facing Berdych and Stepanek, and seemed overwhelmed by the occasion. He may be better off playing with a Troicki or Tipsarevic (with whom he beat the team of Cilic and Ivan Dodig in the quarterfinal round, his penultimate appearance). Zimonjic is a doubles specialist, and he's likely to be most comfortable and confident playing in yoke with either one of his own breed, or a singles player of no great reputation. So I expect to see Djokovic and Tiparevic playing singles, and Zimonjic and Troicki playing doubles.

But beyond the nuances of nomination—and one of the beauties of Davis Cup is that despite the small squads and streamlined order of play, the selection process is pretty complex—the overall theme of this Davis Cup is that it's all about Djokovic.

Federer and Nadal have turned Grand Slam events into a table for two, but the Davis Cup invites players to become national heroes—a call to which Djokovic is very receptive. The big question regarding Djokovic, the most accomplished player in the tie, is how he'll react to the intense amount of pressure he'll be under. For everyone not French is operating on the assumption that Djokovic is good for two Ws.

You know what they say: From him to whom much is given, much is expected. Djokovic is a whopping 5-0 against Monfils, but just 1-1 against Llodra, who beat Djokovic in Paris just a few weeks ago. The other day, Djokovic said, "This is the biggest occasion of our lives."

He's likely to find out just how big the moment is when he steps out onto the floor of the Belgrade Arena to hit those first balls.


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Posted by Carol 12/02/2010 at 04:50 PM

Aube, if you're a Venus fan I'm not sure if you'd like what is going on with Venus romantic life. Me personality I'dont like too much but you never know the circumstances.
I lived in Palm Beac before, I have many spies friends there.......

Sherlock, I'm Wade fan for long time and I hope Heat wins, LOL

Posted by TMFunk 12/02/2010 at 04:52 PM

wow, great story Kwaku. Thanks! Maybe his parents won't annoy me as much next time I see them on tv...

Posted by CL 12/02/2010 at 04:52 PM

TMFunk - well, you could weigh in on Becker's face lift. Much 'safer.'

Posted by Annie (Vamos Heavenly Creature) 12/02/2010 at 04:52 PM

TMFunk: fascinating stuff. thanks for the link.

Posted by TMFunk 12/02/2010 at 04:55 PM

CL - he he, I could but it would have a lower probability of ticking Sherlock off :)

Annie - Yeah, and you're welcome

Anyhoo, got to head out, see ya all later. May the best team win the Davis Cup!

Posted by CL 12/02/2010 at 04:58 PM

Colette - yes, that is entirely possible..swollen from surgery and ego.

TMFunk - I saw that story too but became immediately distracted ***shiny/scary/shiny thing!!*** by the story about the four swimmers who were attacked by a shark in the water off Egypt. Near death, so much more exciting that new life. ;-))

Posted by CL 12/02/2010 at 05:02 PM

TMFunk - I saw that about LeBron too,...via your post, but it seems to me that it is a hard slog to 'make' yourself laugh. I suppose they could all carry vids of the 3 Stooges, or Marx Bros. or comics of choice on their smart phones to help them along. Booing comes so much more naturally. ;-)

And not that you are not doing a fine job...you are...but if we are discussing micro-biology, we really need Hart.

"Heart...you gotta have heart...miles and miles and miles of heart..."

There ya go Sherlock - a substitute ear worm. ;-)

Posted by Nordic Light 12/02/2010 at 05:11 PM

Sherlock,
There is nothing wrong with Mcgrogan's first statement and yet it is completely ridiculous. When he thinks of 2010, it's advantage Federer?? That's true for November 2010, but the narrative of the whole year was Nadal's great resurgence after he was down and out at the end of 2009 and after AO '10, as the '09 storyline was the rebound Fed and his first RG. Both seasons went completely different than predicted, which is simply great for tennis. That should have been the first point.
Do we really want to recycle and recycle and recycle fedal wars until the new season starts? How boring!
By the way for those who fear withdrawel symptoms there are other cyber wars, which are older and fiercer than fedal wars:
For opera lovers: Who is better, Domingo or Pavarotti; or is it "Laver" Caruso after all?
Was Tim Buckley better than his son Jeff and did they share a gene for ending their lives under even for rock history strange and utterly preventable circumstances?
If you want to take on a mythical beast other than the GOAT, try this:
Do balrogs have wings, can they fly and do they possibly wear fluffy bedroom slippers as some live footage of Ralph Bakshi strongly suggest?
The last one comes with a warning: No net war has destroyed more friendships and families and might be even responsible for a few unsolved murders.
Then come back for fedal wars, which might then seem benign and almost friedly after all.

Posted by Alexis 12/02/2010 at 05:18 PM

I almost didn't post the McGrogan Top Ten for 2010 article because of the #1 comparison about Nadal's 2010 and Fed's 2006. The bottom line is whatever these two do, it will be compared to what the other did (and usually not for a positive reaction). Was Nadal's 2010 great? Of course. Anytime you win three majors in a year, it was a great year. But because Fed's 3-slam years were so recent, I think it's hard to stop the comparisons. I mean, it's not like Fed's 3-slam years happened 10-20 years ago and the 'you can't compare eras' argument applies.

I guess the press should stick to using the word 'historic' to when it really is the first time. Like Nadal winning all three clay TMS and RG. Or when Roger got 15 slams, etc.

Posted by Simon 12/02/2010 at 05:26 PM

Nordic light, *five*
Fedal war is pretty boring, I understand that each one has his or her own favorite player but I don't why day by day they are talking about who is better, who made better year, who wins or who loses, who will win or who will lose
Folks, enjoy this great sport waching not just Nadal or Federer but Murray, Djokovic, Soderling, Llodra and all the good players of this ERA

Posted by Grant 12/02/2010 at 06:16 PM

"Was Tim Buckley better than his son Jeff"

everything is better than Jeff Buckley

Posted by Nordic Light 12/02/2010 at 06:25 PM

Grant,
Lol, I'm with you there, but his dad did some great stuff; and yes, balrogs have wings - now take pod shots at me everybody, but stop fedal wars, at least for the hollyday season!

Posted by CL 12/02/2010 at 08:16 PM

"There is nothing wrong with Mcgrogan's first statement and yet it is completely ridiculous."

I find this happens to me a LOT!

Posted by Aube,I feel for Lebron tonight plus I'm not sure about their dream team no more!!! 12/02/2010 at 11:08 PM

Carol,thanks for answering, but you still did not tell me who she's dating...
And indeed I'll be sad if she doesn't know what she's worth or any woman's worth for that matter,she should get with Alicia Keys who will surely tell her...

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