Diplomatic Tennis Tourney

Jared and I celebrate our 7-0 victory at the 2014 Diplomatic Community Tennis Tourney

This morning I played in the US Embassy’s Tennis Championship at the Novak Tennis Center on the banks of the Danube River. The US Ambassador to Serbia, Michael Kirby, is  a keen tennis player and he organizes a social tennis outing a couple of times a year. I was invited to play this year as a substitute for a player that backed out. I am not a diplomat, so was grateful for the opportunity to play. The Novak Tennis Center is located underneath the fortress of Kalemegdan in the downtown Belgrade suburb of Dorcol. Serbian superstar Novak Djokovic has a gift shop, a trophy room, and a nice cafe. There are 14 clay courts, and with him playing in the finals of the French Open today, I was pumped up to play. It was a 25-minute round-robin, “speed-dating” doubles tennis format, which was fun, because you got to meet a lot of people and play against and with many different styles and levels. I really enjoyed the rounds with four strong players. I ended the day with a 22 wins – 20 losses record. There was bright sun and temperatures in the 90s (32+ C) so was glad when my final round ended around 1:30 PM.

 

Ambassador Kirby Addresses the Players at the Awards Ceremony

I really love playing tennis and would like to play more often. It is stress relieving, challenging, active, and a great way to interact with people. I would like to work on my game this summer a bit, I need a better second serve, better fundamentals at the net and just overall, work on all my strokes. I didn’t grow up playing the game, and only picked it up in my 30s. I would like to thank Ryan from the US Embassy for asking me to play this year. Hajde Nole!!!!!!

 

Oliver and Owen Star in Indoor Baseball Tournament

The Head of Serbian Little League Baseball, Nikola Vučević invited the International School of Belgrade to form a Team USA and participate in an Indoor Baseball Tourney yesterday. We headed up to the beautiful facilities of the Serbian Institute of Sport located in the Belgrade suburb of Banavo Brdo. There were six teams from Belgrade and Novi Sad participating. I never saw this type of baseball before, the rules are described here in Serbian. The ball is hit off a tee and there field is a triangle, with two bases and a home plate. Runs are scored by the team in the field by recording an out and by the offense by the batter going around the triangle to score. We played with seven people, one catcher and six in the field. All defensive players must be beyond the triangle. All seven batters bat every inning. The games were 25 minutes long and scores were in the high teens or low twenties. It took the team awhile to get going because we haven’t played in such a long time, and these were new rules to us. It seemed like a game we would make up as kids! It was especially exciting when a ball was hit off the wall and came bouncing back towards the bases. Owen played excellent at first base and Oliver played some outfield and some catcher. The team made it out of the group stage and finished fourth out of six teams. They were excited about the medals. Most importantly, the boys really enjoyed themselves.


I would like to thank Nikola for inviting us and my colleague, Brian Lettinga for organizing and coaching the team. It was my first time inside the Institute. Here is a video on Vimeo that describes their mission and it will give you a good idea of how the Serbian language sounds.

Tipsarevic Park – New Belgrade, Serbia

 

Last week on one of my bike rides I noticed the new fitness equipment in Friendship Park in New Belgrade. It was donated by Serbian tennis professional, Janko Tipsarević. He is still injured from last year and not competing in this week’s Australian Open. He missed the Davis Cup final in November, which caused Serbia to lose. Janko is currently ranked number 52 on the tour. There was a nice article about him in the New York Times last year.

Despite Tipsarevic being absent for the first Grand Slam of the year, Serbia is well represented with Novak Djokovic, going for the fifth consecutive title is into the third round already. The heat will not affect him as much as the other players due to his fitness and conditioning. Doubles specialist, Nenad Zimonjic, is through the first round and I see he is playing with Belgrade native, Daniel Nestor. On the women’s side, Ana Ivanovic won her first two matches, and is playing some of her best tennis in years after winning the Australian Open warm up tourney in Brisbane earlier this month. Jelena Jankovic is also through to the third round with two straight sets victories. I’ll post an update here next week on how the Serbs finish in the Open.

European Cross Country Running Championships

Today we went to the European Cross Country Championships which took place in Friendship Park here in Belgrade. I went with my children and fellow running enthusiast, Michael Daws. It was quite exciting running back and forth in the middle of the loop. The course allowed the spectators to follow the action. We only came for the last race of the day, the men’s seniors, and watched the Spanish-Ethiopian runner, Alemayehu Bezabeh, win his second cross country championship in a time of 29 minutes and 11 seconds. He has quite a story, starting as an illegal immigrant, living on the streets, making due with prize money from races. He was granted Spanish citizenship because of his running ability. He recently came back from a blood doping ban. He easily won the race today with no one even close.

Alemayehu Bezabeh pulling away in the Men’s 10 kilometer Cross Country Final

The second place finisher was Kenyan Polat Kemboi Arikan, running for Turkey. The first “European” was the scrappy Brit, Andy Vernon, who came from behind to take the bronze medal, but a full 34 seconds behind the winner.

Owen Does His Usain Bolt Impression

It was a fantastic event and we were all inspired to run! The pace these guys run at is amazing and with a 29:11 time in a 10 kilometer is really fast. I usually run them around 42 – 45 minutes.

Red Star Basketball Game

On Thursday evening I attended the Red Star Belgrade versus Tel Aviv Maccabi Elektra Euroleague Basketball game. The first round game was held in the famous Pionir Hall, in my opinion, the best venue to watch a basketball game anywhere. My Israeli friends invited me to attend the game in the Maccabi fan section and as you can see by the security in front of the section, we were well protected from the rabid Red Star fans.

Red Star, after being behind the entire game by 10-15 points, came back in the fourth quarter and had a couple of opportunities to win the game in the final moments, but lost. The crowd was so loud and the game very back and forth with both teams making great plays, it was a thoroughly entertaining evening. It was interesting being in the “enemy” section. I did not feel threatened and there was much good natured back and forth between the Maccabi fans and Red Star fans. We had to wait about 30 minutes after the game finished to walk out, and I got to my car and home without incident.

Serbia loves basketball and I highly recommend the Pionir Hall basketball experience! You will not forget it.

Serbia Is the Tennis Capital of the World

We really had a fabulous time at the Davis Cup Semifinals this weekend here in Belgrade. The Serbs defeated the Canadians, 3-2 with two thrilling singles victories on Sunday. Serbia now hosts the Czech Republic in November for the championship, going for their second Davis Cup title. They last won in 2011.

The amount of great tennis players this small nation of Serbia produces is extraordinary. Besides having arguably the best player in the world, Novak Djokovic (photo above) they also have on the men’s side, Janko Tipsarevic, ranked number 18 in the world and Viktor Troiki, before he was suspended for missing a drug test, was ranked as high as #12. Serbia also has a top doubles, player, Nenad Zimojnic, who is a former number 1. Playing for Canada was Milos Raonic, who was born in Montenegro and Daniel Nestor, born in Belgrade.

On the women’s side, they have two former number ones, Ana Ivanovic (#15) and Jelena Jankovic (#10) and Bojana Jovanowski, coming up the rankings at #39. Another ethnic Serb, Tuzla native Andrea Petkovic was #9 playing for Germany before her injury.

Why so successful? First the Serbian people have many tall, strong, and athletic genes flowing through the population. The Serbians are good at all sports and despite a poor infrastructure for sport compared to richer nations, they do extremely well on the world stage in most ball sports, especially water polo, basketball and volleyball.

Friday night’s match between Raonic (foreground) and Tipsarevic (background)

The atmosphere in the Belgrade Combank Arena was thrilling and it is a different experience watching live as opposed to on television. The crowd was totally into it and I am excited for the finals. The Serbs should win if Nole (Djokovic’s nickname) wins his two matches and Tipsarevic can beat the number 51 ranked Radek Stepanek or 46th ranked Lukas Rosol. With the home crowd behind them, Serbia should defeat the defending champions. It may come down to Berdych versus Nole if all goes according to plan. It will be a fantastic match.

A special thank you to Kevin and Lara from the Canadian Embassy for inviting us to the final day. It was fun to be a part of the Canadian fan delegation. They were almost more enthusiastic than the Serbian fans.

Owen and Me at the ISB Tennis Courts

Probably the best tennis of the weekend came from the ISB Tennis Courts however, with Dad (me) playing against Owen, Ollie, and Nadia. It is great to have nice courts at the school that we can use anytime.

A Serbian Sporting Legend

A couple of days ago I met Igor Milanović, who many experts consider the greatest water polo player ever. We were looking for a new apartment and our real estate agent showed us an apartment for rent owned by Igor.

Water polo is huge in Serbia a and the region, and Serbia is usually one of the best teams in the world. They won bronze at London 2012. The two greatest water polo nations are Serbia and neighbor Hungary.

Milanović’s career achievements are amazing! He won 2 Olympic Gold Medals (LA 1984 and Seoul 1988) and 2 World Championships (1986, 1991). He would have probably won more, but Yugoslavia was banned from international competition during the war.

Igor played 340 games for Yugoslavia, scoring over 500 goals. The 6 foot 4, 240 pounder, was a powerful player whose coach said could play any position. He was relentless in the pool and inducted into the International Swimming Hall of Fame in 1996.

He was a really nice guy. He coached Partizan last year and they won the European Club Championship. I asked him how water polo players compare physically to the swimmers, and he said they are two totally different sports. I thought perhaps water polo players would make great swimmers as well.

When I mentioned to my friends that I met him, everyone knew who he was. The Belgrade native is very famous in Serbia. It was an honor to get to speak with him.

I’ve only been to one water polo match in my life and that was for the 2000 Sydney Olympics. I’ll try to take the family to see a match this spring.