By Chris Oddo / Thursday, November 14, 2013
Without Janko Tipsarevic, the Serbs will need a big performance from an unsung doubles team to win the Davis Cup.
Photo Source: Daviscup.com
On Thursday when the Davis Cup draws were released, it was confirmed that Janko Tipsarevic will not be fit enough to compete in the 2013 Davis Cup by BNP Paribas final, taking the Serbs from favorite to something decidedly less in one fell swoop.
World No. 117 Dusan Lajovic (zero career wins in Davis Cup, has not won an ATP-level match since April of 2012) will take the place of Serbia's all-time Davis Cup wins leader, and Tipsy's shoes will indeed be tough to fill. But with red-hot Novak Djokovic toting a 22-match win streak and the home fans ready to turn up the volume for Team Serbia in Belgrade, Serbia should be able to survive without him.
But will they thrive? Read on for a preview of what promises to be a compelling battle for the Davis Cup this weekend in Belgrade:
The Czechs and Serbs have split their last two meetings, and have each won the Davis Cup once in the last four years.
Tomas Berdych and Radek Stepanek are a combined 13-1 in Davis Cup doubles rubbers.
The Czechs are the defending Davis Cup champions and have won their last eight ties.
Serbia has only lost one tie at home, winning nine of ten since becoming an independent nation in 2007.
Novak Djokovic owns a 14-2 career head-to-head mark against Tomas Berdych.
Either Serbia or the Czech Republic will win the Davis Cup for the third time in the last four years—the only question that remains is which side.
The Czechs will bid to improve their country-best Davis Cup winning streak to nine ties, and they boast a true superstar in Berdych and a formidable doubles pairing in Berdych and Stepanek, who have won 13 of 14 Davis Cup ties, losing only in the 2009 Davis Cup final against Spain. The Czechs are bidding to become the first team to repeat as Davis Cup champion since Spain in 2008-2009, and they will benefit from the memory of having blasted the Serbs 4-1 last year in Prague (although Djokovic didn't compete in the tie).
The fate of Serbian tennis, and more particularly Djokovic, changed with Serbia's first Davis Cup title as an independent country in 2010, and in that year the Serbs took out the Czechs in the semifinal, thanks very much to the heroics of Tipsarevic, who took out Stepanek in the decisive fifth rubber.
Serbia has lost only one tie at home since becoming an independent nation in 2007, winning nine of 10 with seven of those ties being played at the Belgrade Arena. But the Czechs have performed admirably on the road this season, defeating the Swiss in Geneva and their old nemesis Kazakhstan in Astana, before taking out Argentina at home in the semis.
The Doubles Point:
Many believe that the doubles point will decide this tie, and that is a prospect that puts a smile on Czech faces. The Czechs boast one of the most formidable doubles team in Davis Cup, as Berdych and Stepanek play like they are Siamese twins. They've won 13 of 14 doubles rubbers, including the longest match in Davis Cup history earlier this season against the Swiss, when they took out Stan Wawrinka and Marco Chiudinelli 24-22 in the fifth set of a marathon that lasted 7:01.
“That’s definitely the most important point,” Berdych said of the doubles rubber. “It’s been one of the most important points that we’ve earned in many ties in the past and there will be no exception this time.”
Berdych and Stepanek have notched victories against the Serbs in each of their last two battles. They defeated Djokovic and Nenad Zimonjic in 2010 to give their side the lead before Serbia rallied on Sunday to win, and they defeated Zimonjic and Bozoljac last year in straight sets.
There are no questions about Djokovic's form heading into the year's final tie, but even though he'll be heavily favored to go 2-0 in singles this weekend, he is very aware of the threat that Tomas Berdych poses. "Tomas is one of the best tennis players in the world for many years already," he said. "He's an established Top 10 player, he loves playing on hard court and even though I never lost to him [on a hard court] we have had a couple of very long and close matches."
Could Berdych actually take down Djokovic in Belgrade? Well, he's won only two of sixteen career matches against the Serb, and never defeated him on a hard court. Meanwhile, Djokovic is unbeaten in 15 hard court encounters this season.
Assuming that Djokovic takes care of business against both Berdych and Stepanek, it will be up to the Czechs to make use of the fact that Tipsarevic will be replaced by the unproven commodity known as Dusan Lajovic. Can the kid possibly pull off the win against one of the Czechs? Don't bet on it.
“From one side, Tomas will be the toughest player I have ever played,” Lajovic told Daviscup.com. “From the other side, maybe the good thing could be that he doesn’t know me so I might have some advantage in the opening games of the match. I just hope that I can give my best and try to surprise him.”
In addition to Tipsarevic's absence, the Serbs will also be without Viktor Troicki, who is serving a drug-related suspension. The Czechs will miss their captain, Jaroslav Navratil, who is at home resting after being treated in the hospital for a pulmonary embolism earlier in the week. He will be replaced by Vladimir Safarik, who also served as the Czech Fed Cup Captain in 1992.
Barring a significant upset coming from Berdych against Djokovic (possible, but unlikely given the pair's history and Djokovic's form) or a significant upset by Lajovic (we're going to say not possible, but really who knows?) the tie should, as advertised come down to the doubles point.
The question: Will Serbia elect to use Djokovic in doubles to counter the Berdych-Stepanek tandem, or will they ride the tandem of Zimonjic-Bozoljac, who have been a pleasant surprise in 2013, beating the Bryan brothers on the road in a five-setter and following that with a gritty five-set loss to Daniel Nestor and Vasek Pospisil in the semis against Canada.
Our guess is that Serbia rolls the dice with Zimonjic-Bozoljac, but either way, the Czechs will be the favorite on Saturday, and because of that fact, they will be the favorite in this tie, too.
Pick: Serbia, 3-2