Davis Cup destiny on Serbia's side
Players might want to change the Davis Cup format, but we're guessing fans are just fine with it.
Davis Cup continues to produce the kind of atmosphere -- and decibel level -- rarely experienced at tour level, and this week's final between Serbia and France won't be an exception. Tickets sold out within hours of going on sale in tennis-crazed Serbia. The French love their tennis, too.
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Let's hope there's no crowd trouble in Belgrade. Serbian spectators threw flares, fireworks and other objects onto the field as Serbia visited Italy in a European soccer match in October. It was ugly. Three years ago, Serbian and Croatian supporters clashed at the Australian Open.
Serbia's main man, Novak Djokovic, was confident things would go smoothly.
"In Davis Cup in Belgrade, there's a lot of noise, but we've never seen anyone assault or insult someone," Djokovic said in mid-November. "In the semifinals, there were 500 Czech fans and everything went well."
Serbia seeks its first title, and France hopes to end a lengthy nine-year drought.
ESPN.com poses five questions ahead of Friday's opening day at the Belgrade Arena.
How will Djokovic respond?
Djokovic endured a spotty season at tour level -- he can't seem to beat the elite regularly. The world No. 3 disappointed at the ATP World Tour Finals last week, exiting tamely in the semifinals to Roger Federer after vowing that he was focused.
However, Djokovic is unbeaten in his past six Davis Cup singles matches at home and didn't overexert himself in London. He only played one draining set at the year-end championships.
Djokovic will win his so-called live singles matches, be it one or two.
What should France's singles lineup be?
Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Gael Monfils were probably captain Guy Forget's 1-2 punch before Tsonga got hurt yet again. With Tsonga out, Monfils is the No. 1. Michael Llodra and Gilles Simon are competing for the No. 2 slot and a rendezvous with Djokovic on Friday.
Llodra downed Djokovic in Paris earlier in November and prevailed in critical Davis Cup encounters against Argentina and Spain this year. Simon is 1-5 against the 2008 Aussie Open champ. The hard court in Belgrade, though, isn't as slick as the court in Paris, denting the chances of Llodra, a serve-and-volleyer. Llodra can't be less than 100 percent for the doubles.
Simon, with a style that extends rallies, could tire out Djokovic for the ensuing two days, if nothing else.
Who should Serbia's No. 2 be in singles?
Does Serbian captain Bogdan Obradovic choose the hot hand or more seasoned Davis Cup competitor?
Viktor Troicki is the former, going 11-3 in his past 14 matches. Troicki won his maiden title in Moscow and held two match points against world No. 1 Rafael Nadal in Bangkok, ultimately unable to close it out.
Janko Tipsarevic reached a sole quarterfinal since the middle of August, at the tiny St. Petersburg Open in Russia. But at home in the Davis Cup, he's almost a lock at 16-2, showing none of the nerves that often his accompany his game on the ATP circuit. Tipsarevic excelled against the Czechs, unlike Troicki, and has split his four meetings with Monfils. Both captains can, of course, tinker with the lineup in Sunday's reverse singles.
For now, all roads lead to Tipsy.
How vital is the doubles?
France must win the doubles to have a chance.
Llodra and likely partner Arnaud Clement, former Wimbledon champions, are 7-2 in the Davis Cup. They're up against Nenad Zimonjic, who's on a high after winning the year-end doubles crown, and a to-be-determined partner. Zimonjic has won live rubbers with Djokovic, Troicki and Tipsarevic.
Zimonjic is set to partner Llodra in 2011, which will add spice to Saturday's affair.
Is destiny on Serbia's side?
It looks like it.
Andy Roddick's decision to sit out the Davis Cup this year made life a lot easier for Serbia in the first round against the U.S. In a heated quarterfinal with Croatia, the host was without Ivo Karlovic, and Marin Cilic had cooled off considerably.
Now in the final, Tsonga won't be a factor.
Prediction: Serbia 3-2.