Jan/20

7

ATP Cup: Passion Ignites As Serbia Stuns France

Serbia downs France to reach the ATP Cup quarterfinals

by Louise Belcourt

There were various players, commentators and voices out there that were sceptical of the ATP Cup and believed it was just another team event the already full men’s tennis calendar didn’t need. But on Monday night in Brisbane, team Serbia and team France threw that notion out of the park, as every breath of passion and energy was left on Pat Rafter Arena.

Team Serbia won its first tie 3-0 against South Africa. Team France won its first tie 2-1 against Chile. Serbia would advance to the quarterfinals if they beat France, and France needed a win to have a chance of qualifying to the knockout stage in Sydney.

France took the lead over Serbia when Benoit Paire came from behind to beat Dusan Lajovic 2-6 7-6(6) 6-4. Even though Gael Monfils was due to play Novak Djokovic in the upcoming match, in the last set he returned to the arena knowing that his countryman needed his support and energy. Paire said “if I’m alone on court I can break more than the racket, I can destroy all my racket and leave the court.” He continued “it was very important for me to stay focused for the team. So when Gael came and told me, Yeah, you have to fight, you have to fight for the team.”

World number 2 Novak Djokovic then leveled the tie with a straight sets 6-3 6-2 victory over world number 9 Gael Monfils. In an extremely humid night where both players struggled, Djokovic said in the on court interview that this was probably the most uncomfortable conditions he has ever played in. Nevertheless, as exhausted as he was, Djokovic wanted the win for Serbia so much he had half an hour break before playing the deciding doubles tie where he teamed up with friend Viktor Troicki.

The crowd was electric. 90% of the crowd were pro-Serbian, so it felt like a Serbian home Davis Cup match. The French players would not be deterred and Monfils and Paire were giving it to the loud Serbian crowd every time France won a point. But it was not to be for France with the Serbian’s outlasting them 6-3 6-7(5) 10-3. Surprisingly, Aussie Nick Kyrgios was a vocal “French” fan in the crowd staying up to cheer every Serbian mistake or French winner in the enthralling doubles match until after 12:30am.

After the match Djokovic spoke of how much the win meant to him, “I really show my emotion because I really care about playing for Serbia, but I also care about being on the team with my friends these guys are some of my best friends in my life and I grew up with Viktor. We played so many doubles matches together in junior days. And the last one that we played was really tough one for us because we had match points against Russia in quarters of Davis Cup and didn’t capitalize on that one. And then coming in today it was kind of a similar scenario a little bit. So we managed together to kind of lift the energy and get out of the, out of that crisis, the mini crisis we had at the end of the second and beginning of the super tiebreak. But you saw the atmosphere. It was phenomenal. Serbian people, I mean, I didn’t expect, to be honest, so many of them staying all the way through and basically being on a Christmas Day with us post-midnight, which is amazing.”

With 16 grand slam titles to his name the Serbian still showed what magnitude this ATP Cup win meant for him and the Serbian crowd, “when they (the Australian Serbian’s) get to have an opportunity to support their athletes from their countries, it’s obviously big thing, and for us, I mean, we cannot ask for more. I mean, this is exactly what we want and what we need in this kind of competition.”

As the ATP Cup has gone on, I can see how much more vested each player and team is in this competition. Sure, there is ATP points and prizemoney, but everyone wants to win for their country, or even more precisely they don’t want to lose. Australia’s John Millman summed up the bitter taste of defeat for your country, after his emotional win over Felix Auger-Aliassime of Canada on Sunday, “I’m really glad I could get the win over Felix today. And I did step up because it was really tough in Davis Cup when I got that loss (against Canada in the quarter final in November 2019). I took that loss pretty hard and it ate at me throughout the preseason. I thought about that a lot and I was on holiday and I didn’t enjoy my holiday too much because I was probably thinking about that.”

So it seems a loss for your country could be worse than a loss for yourself.

(Djokovic art by Andres Bella.)

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102 comments

  • catherine · January 14, 2020 at 1:10 am

    Andrew – there’s good reporting in tennis, in newspapers mostly, but you have to pay for it. No one’s going to give their pearls of wisdom away free. That’s the problem with the internet. Everyone thought it was going to be sharing all these great thoughts and no one would have to pay. There’s a lot of sharing going on but very little immortal prose.

  • catherine · January 14, 2020 at 1:23 am

    Jeff- maybe it’s a bit like ballet. I’m not a ballet fan, I know very little about it but I do watch the Royal Ballet on Youtube because I find some of it relaxing, particularly the classes, and I can see the real fans admire some dancers because of their purity of style etc but feel more affection for others who don’t do such technically perfect arabesques but have more engaging personalities.

    The fans can be just as frenzied as tennis fans 🙂

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