France Versus Serbia – Davis Cup Final

Serbia Celebrates Against USA

Belgrade is gearing up for the Davis Cup Tennis finals this weekend. Serbia is hosting France in the finals. I took the  photo above during an earlier round in the Davis Cup, when Serbia defeated the USA here in Belgrade last spring. Since then, they went on to win at Croatia in the quarterfinals this summer, and earlier this fall, came back from behind to beat the Czech Republic.

There is a really good New York Times article this week about the Novak Djokovic family and Serbian tennis. It appears that Serbia is the favorite. They are at home in the friendly hard court confines of the Belgrade Arena. They have the world’s #3 player in Novak Djokovic, who should get 2 wins. It would then take one more win by Serbia to clinch the best of 5 series. If Djokovic falters, then Serbia could be in trouble. Assuming Novak comes through, where will they get the other win? France will be playing with world #12 Gael Monfils, who is one of my favorite players to watch because of his exciting and risky style of play. They are also bringing 30 year old Michael Llodra who is in top form as the world #23 player. He beat Novak last month in Paris at an ATP-100 tourney event. Serbia will counter with either world #30 Victor Troiki, or world #49 Janko Tipsarevic. Janko was the hero against the Czech Republic last round and I hope they use him, despite the lower ranking. The doubles match will be interesting also with Serbian veteran and world double #3 Nenad Zimonjic.

There is a lot of pressure on the Serbs playing at home, but there will also be a lot of support, which could rattle the French. Guy Forget, the Captain of the French team, has been playing up the “we’re going to a hostile scene” and the “Serb fans could get violent” cards in the media. A good strategy to get his players pumped up.

I won’t be able to attend the games this weekend, sadly. Nadia is going on her annual girls shopping and dining trip to Budapest, Hungary and I’ll be alone with the kids. We’ll watch the matches on TV. The Davis Cup web site will also carry live radio broadcast as well as a blog by The London Times reporter, Clive White, who is here in Belgrade to cover the matches. It really inspires me to play more tennis and get my children started in a tennis academy.

I would like to wrap up this post with a prediction. It is tough not knowing what the match ups will be as both teams are keeping their selections private until the day of the games. It would be nice for Serbia to win. The Serbs are much more fanatic and passionate about tennis than the French are and a win for Serbia would mean much to nation. I predict Serbia winning 3 – 2.

USA Stays Alive in Davis Cup Tie

Janko Tipsarevic & Nenad Zimonjic, originally uploaded by bill kralovec.

Update: John Isner lost in five sets last night to Novak Djokovic. He made Novak work hard and we have a new favorite player from the USA. Good on ya’ John. Serbia advances to play Croatia

This weekend Serbia is playing the USA in a Davis Cup Tennis round of 16 “tie.” Tie is Davis Cup speak for team match. Nadia and I attended the “rubber” yesterday, which was the middle doubles match of a 5 match series. A Davis Cup tie consists of 4 singles matches and 1 doubles, and the country that wins three, wins the tie.

We really enjoyed yesterday’s game between the Serbs (shown above) Janko Tipsarevic and Nenad Zimonjic and the USA team of 6’9″ John Isner and Bob Bryan. Nenad is the number one ranked doubles player in the world, but he usually plays with Daniel Nestor, a Serb born in Belgrade but Canadian-raised. Instead of Nestor, who can’t play for Serbia because he represented Canada in Olympic and Davis Cup play, Janko played with him. Tipsarevic is currently ranked #36 in the world and is the third ranked Serbian tennis player behind Novak and Victor Troiki. Isner was playing for the US in place of Bob’s twin brother, who contracted food poisoning. (I wonder where he ate?) Isner looked really good and should be playing more doubles tennis. He is suited for doubles with his powerful serve and quick reactions at the net. His mobility is not a factor in doubles and I hope he takes my advice and plays more doubles.

John's brother Patrick gives instructions to his team.

The US duo were clearly the stronger team and won in four sets. This gave the US their first win after losing the two singles matches American Sam Querry takes on Victor Troiki (#35 in the world) if necessary.

Whoever wins this tie will advance to the quarterfinals to take on Croatia in Croatia. A Serbia – Croatia will be a fascinating match and the first time the two nations have met since the breakup of Yugoslavia in the Davis Cup.

The Davis Cup is great and it has created a buzz in Belgrade. They even made a clay court in the Belgrade Arena to give the hosts an advantage. But what is lacking however, is a world buzz for a world championship event. I propose big changes in the event to make it better.

First, I would play the whole tourney in a two week Grand Slam format instead of stretching it over the year. Currently, they play Davis Cup weekends during lulls in the over crowded ATP schedule. It would be like the World Cup of Tennis and the top 8 teams in the world would be invited. You could have a playoff to determine teams if there are several closely rated countries. It could become the fifth Grand Slam on the ATP Tour.

The current Davis Cup is to determined by surface and host. Usually, the home nation wins because it has the crowd behind them and they choose the surface that best suits their players. In my Davis World Cup, I would have the surface selected randomly for each rubber, then the teams would have to find their best on a variety of surfaces. To make it even more interesting, lets select the surface AFTER the players have been selected to play. The four surfaces would be clay, grass, two hard court surfaces, perhaps one indoor and one outdoor.

It think if they select a good time, it would really take off and be a big event. I think the best players would play and there would be more worldwide fan interest.

We had great seats in the US Section

Russia Defeats Serbia in Federation Cup Tennis


Ana Ivanovic vs Svetlana Kuznetsova, originally uploaded by bill kralovec.

Saturday we went to the Belgrade Arena to watch the first singles matches of the Federation Cup Tennis Tournament. The Fed Cup is the women’s version of the Davis Cup. Serbia is playing this weekend in the quarterfinals against Russia. We also watched the reverse singles and doubles matches on RTV (Radio Television Serbia) on Sunday. With four singles matches and one doubles match, whichever team wins three, wins the “tie” as they say in tennis jargon. 

Russia defeated Serbia 3 matches to 2. Ana Ivanovic was awful and lost her two singles matches and was the “weak link” in the doubles match she played with Jelena. 

Serbia as you may know, is a power in world tennis because of the big three, Novak Djokovic (#2 ATP ranking), Jelena Jankovic (#8 WTA ranking), and Ana Ivanovic (#23 WTA ranking). Jelena and Ana make a duo that can match up with any pair of women in the world. Russia, is currently in my opinion, the top women’s tennis nation with 6 players in the top 20 and 15 in the top 100. The number two ranked player in the world, Marat Safin’s sister Dinara, was not playing, but we saw world number 4, Svetlana Kuznetova play.

In the first match, Ana Ivanovic (above) lost in straight sets to Kuznetova. She looked horrible in the first set, rallied in the second set to lead 4-2, before collapsing. I thought she looked rushed and off balance most of the match. Both Nadia and I remember watching her a couple of years ago defeating Venus Williams. She showed flashes of that, but mostly showed a very inconsistent effort and lack of intensity. In the second match, Jelena Jankovic played much more aggressively and defeated world #31, Alisa Kleybanova in three sets. Jelena came back on Sunday and won again in three sets, defeating Kuznetova. She never gave up, played with great intensity, and I have a newfound respect for her. I hope she wins a Grand Slam this year and makes a push for #1. Ana looks like she has a long way to go to be back in the top 10. It would be nice to see her dedicate herself to training and the tour this year and get back into the elite of the women. 

Jelena serves in the first set


One of the most noticeable things about yesterday’s matches for any male, was the beauty of the Serbian girls. I enjoyed the tennis and respect the athletic ability of the women, but it is natural to notice things like that. Both Ana and Jelena are slender and carried themselves with a more feminine air than their Russian counterparts. They both play up the “babe” factor on their web sites (Jelena’s web site and Ana’s web site)and when they promote themselves.  I felt they were at a disadvantage against the bigger, stronger, Russian girls yesterday. I think both of them would benefit from strength training. The Russians looked like linemen (North American football reference – these are the players that push against each other to create clear lanes for the faster and smaller running backs) and not what I think of as tennis players. Both girls are listed at over 150 pounds on the tour web site. 

We enjoyed our first indoor tennis tourney


I also think Serbia should develop their women’s sports program significantly. Walking around Belgrade, I see a lot of tall (6 feet and over) women. With the history of success of the men’s basketball, I am surprised that women also haven’t done more. It might be that women don’t regard themselves like American women athletes do. They are more likely to stop competing in sports as adults and girls are not really encouraged and clubs and schools do not have female sports programs. I would like to start a women’s club program like Partizan, to develop women basketball players. Many would earn US university scholarships and they would be a force on the world basketball scene. In the US, law dictates that schools must have equal male and female sports programs. This has definitely helped women in the USA.

(A side note – In the photo of Ana Ivanovic, the gentleman in the background with the white shirt and light blue tie, is former Yugoslavian tennis great, Slobodan Živojinović. He was the first Serbian to be ranked number one in doubles and won the US Open doubles title in 1986.)

Novak Wins His Tourney


As expected, Novak Djokovic won the inaugural Serbia Open in a straight sets victory over Lucasz Kubot. It wasn’t as easy as I thought, as Novak had a flair for the dramatic, going down 2-5 in the second set, only to come back to win, 7-6 (7-0) in a tiebreaker. Djokovic won the first set, 6-3.


Kosovo Serb Djokovic Serves
Kosovo Serb Djokovic Serves



Kubot did not have history on his side. He was a Lucky Loser from Poland and ranked #179 in the world. Kubot did win the doubles tourney however, his second career ATP title. This was Novak’s 13th ATP tour title.

It was a celebration for Serbia. The hero brought the ATP tour to this tennis mad country. It was a beautiful day, with the Kalmegdan Fortress on one side of the stadium, and the confluence of the Sava and Danube rivers on the the other. The President, Prime Minister, and Serbian military representatives were all there as well as a packed, enthusaistic stadium.

Owen, Nadia and I really enjoyed the game. We got to see Tito’s Blue Train (a future post) and some world class tennis.


Serbian President Tadic & PM Cvetkovic Watched the Game Too
Serbian President Tadic & PM Cvetkovic Watched the Game Too (blue shirts)

Kralovec Family To Attend Serbia Open

Nadia, Owen and I are excited for our first ATP Finals tomorrow. We will be attending the Novak Djokovic, err, excuse me, Serbia Open. I joke that it should be called the Novak Open as he bought the rights to the Dutch Open tourney and moved it to his hometown of Belgrade. Thankfully, he didn’t disappoint his family and the home crowd and made it to the finals. Unfortunately, all the Serb players ended up in the same side of the draw and Djokovic cruised through defeating two Serbs, including the second highest ranked Serb, Victor Trocki (#40 in the world). It was almost like a Davis Cup practice. Tonight he got by the Italian, Andreas Seppi, but lost one set. 

He will be taking on a “Lucky Loser” named Lukasz Kubot, from Poland. He is the first Polish player in an ATP final in 27 years. The term lucky loser means that Kubot lost in the qualifying rounds to get into the tourney, but due to an injury, was the alternate and got to enter the main singles draw. Only 5 lucky losers have won ATP events in the last 30 years. Lukasz is a decent doubles player, with one ATP doubles title, and he is currently ranked #22 in doubles, but #179 on the singles tour. After catching a lucky break to get into the tourney, he got another one when #25 ranked Russian Igor Andreev, withdrew in the first set of their second round match. This afternoon he defeated world #24, Ivo Karlovic, the 6 foot 10 inch big server from Croatia. For Kubot, with a career singles record of 15-16, this was the biggest win of his career. The 26 year old will have the biggest match of his career tomorrow.


Kubot from todays win in the semifinals. (photo courtesy of the Serbia Open)
Kubot from today's win in the semifinals. (photo courtesy of the Serbia Open)



Does Kubot have a chance tomorrow? His only hope is that Djokovic played late tonight and played three sets, and he might be tired tomorrow afternoon. Will Novak be over confident? Kubot has to be happy already with getting this far and the guaranteed 40,000 Euros. Will his luck continue? 

I predict a straight sets victory for Djokovic, and if Kubot wins 6 games in the two sets, he should still consider himself lucky. 

With our finals tickets, we also have access to the doubles final. I see that tonight, Kubot won again and he will be playing in the doubles final as well with partner Oliver Marach.

The ATP Tour Comes to Belgrade: Let’s Get Pumped!

Web Banner for Serbia Open
Web Banner for Serbia Open

As you can tell by the title of this post, I am very excited for the first ever Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP) tour event being held in Serbia! The Serbia Open will begin tomorrow, Saturday May 2 with the qualifying rounds. There will be 32 men competing in the singles and 16 doubles teams competing for the title. This is a new ATP tour event.

It is certainly not Wimbledon or the US Open, as it is classified as a “250 series” which means that it is in the lowest tier of tourneys on the ATP tour. The 250 means the winner will get 250 points. The winner will also win 73, 000 Euros, which is almost $100,000. Not bad for a week’s work. Second place earns half of that. Even though it is not a high profile tour event, I am still looking forward to it because it is here. Nadia and I purchased tickets for the finals and are arranging for a babysitter.

It might as well be called the Novak Djokovic Open as he was the driving force behind getting the tourney here in Belgrade. He is also by far, the highest rank player in the tourney. There are two other events the same week, both 250 series, in Munich, Germany and Estoril, Portugal. Novak is currently ranked #3 in the world and the next highest ranked player competing in the open is Radek Stepanek who is ranked #19. Djokovic is 3- 1 against Stepanek in his career .

“Nole” as they call Djokovic here in Serbia is defending his title this week at the Masters Series tourney in Rome. He is a better player on hard courts, but has won three ATP titles on clay. This week he is defending his clay court title at the Rome Open, which is a Masters Series event. He is having a good run lately, destroying Tommy Robredo yesterday, 6-1, 6-1 to move to the quarterfinals in Rome. Things are looking up for him to win his Serbia Open. We shall see.

There are two other ranked Serbians in the singles draw, #40 Victor Troicki and #65 Janko Tipsarevic. I will be posting updates all week as the tourney gets underway.