Tennis: Troicki repays captain's faith to seal Serbia's historic triumph
Serbia has a population one-ninth the size of France's and its national tennis federation operates on one-hundredth of the resources of its Parisian counterpart but it was the Balkan nation that triumphed in an extraordinary Davis Cup final in Belgrade yesterday.
A day after Michael Llodra and Arnaud Clement beat Viktor Troicki and Nenad Zimonjic in a five-set marathon to give France a 2-1 lead going into the last day, Serbia won both of the reverse singles without losing a set to claim the 110-year-old trophy for the first time. Novak Djokovic enjoyed his second win of the weekend, beating Gael Monfils 6-2 6-2 6-4 before Troicki completed his team's historic triumph by turning the tables on Llodra, winning 6-2 6-2 6-3.
Serbia had never even won a tie in the elite World Group before this year but followed up their victories over the United States, Croatia and the Czech Republic by denying France their 10th victory in the tournament. Serbia are the 13th country to lift the trophy and the second-smallest after Croatia. Serbs used to represent Yugoslavia but the country has competed independently since 2007, when they split with Montenegro.
Djokovic has been the most successful male player to emerge from Serbia and was magnificent against Monfils. The world No 3 was on top from the moment he broke serve in the fourth game, losing his composure only when he smashed his racket in anger after dropping serve to trail 4-3 in the third set. He broke back immediately and Monfils capitulated two games later to give Djokovic victory.
Serbia had been expected to play Janko Tipsarevic in the deciding rubber but captain Bogdan Obradovic instead put his faith in 24-year-old Troicki, whose loss of form in the latter stages of the previous day's doubles cost the home pair victory after they had won the first two sets.
Troicki responded by playing the match of his life. The world No 30 is an uncomplicated player who relies on his ground strokes and big serve but he showed he also has a cool head. Llodra, preferred to Gilles Simon, attacked the net but Troicki kept driving balls to his feet or down the lines.
Llodra, whose serve is usually one of his biggest weapons, was broken three times in the first set. The world No 23 responded with a break of his own at the start of the second but from 0-2 down Troicki won eight games in a row to take control of the match. He secured victory with a cross-court backhand return winner, delighting the 16,200-strong crowd in the Belgrade Arena, which included Boris Tadic, president of this country of just 7.3 million people.
While the French squad attempted to console Llodra, who was in floods of tears at the end, the Serbs celebrated by having their heads shaved. Troicki described the victory as "the most unbelievable moment of my life," while Djokovic added: "It's historic. This is our biggest success as individuals, as a team, as a country." (© Independent News Service)