Thursday, May 31, 2007

Yanks go home as Serbs defy superpowers

From thisislondon.co.uk

The United Kingdom and the United States yesterday shared the ignominy of failing to get a single representative through to the second round of the men's singles of the French Open.


This came about after all nine of the Americans were eliminated, following the exit the previous day of Tim Henman.

When Robbie Ginepri perished it was the first time in the modern era that nobody from the U.S. has won a men's match in a Grand Slam featuring a 128-man draw.

Symbolising the decay was the first-round defeat in the doubles of Jamie Murray and his American partner Eric Butorac, who were beaten 7-6, 6-3 by the unknown Australian-Czech combination of Jordan Kerr and Tomas Cibulec.

Jamie, who afterwards described his sidelined brother Andy as still being not up to anything' this week as he recovers from a wrist injury, will head back to the grass after a learning experience on clay.

He will benefit from his stint in Europe, but will wish to forget the double fault he served up at 8-7 in the tiebreak that turned the match.

The older Murray will now join the best of his compatriots in practising at the Lawn Tennis Association's new, state-of-the-art training centre at Roehampton in preparation for the grass season.

It is the sort of facility that is unimaginable for the playing contingent from Serbia who, despite coming from perhaps the least fashionable nation imaginable, are fast becoming the talk of tennis and Roland Garros.

They have two women in the top 10, Jelena Jankovic and Ana Ivanovic, and one man, Novak Djokovic. His No 2, Janko Tipsarevic, caused the upset of the day.
All four won, with 80thranked Tipsarevic defeating Marat Safin, twice a Grand Slam winner, in straight sets.

They are a further reminder that pristine facilities at home, the type that most elite British and American youngsters take for granted, are not necessarily the key to producing champions.

The question of hunger is one that will receive a full airing over the coming weeks when Wimbledon brings with it the annual blow-torch of scrutiny on home failings.

Tipsarevic said: "People have to understand that what we have in tennis came from mud, from nothing. There was no big tennis academy and no big tennis federation behind the success. Nobody invested one dollar or one euro except our parents."

Now, it is fair to say that Serbia suffers from something of an image problem in the wider world, the names of the country's prominent individuals normally associated more with tribunals in The Hague than the tennis cathedrals of the world.

What is attracting attention about the quartet — in addition to their tennis skills — is how attractive and engaging the individuals are, having emerged from this troubled part of the former Yugoslavia.

World No 7 Ivanovic is a particular delight while Djokovic, a great friend and rival of his contemporary Andy Murray, is not only the biggest threat to the Roger Federer-Rafael Nadal axis but also something of a character.

Anyone who has seen his highly amusing rendition of Gloria Gaynor's I Will Survive on YouTube would testify to that.

Like the two women, he managed to learn his tennis largely outside the country once he had been spotted as an unusual talent, but Tipsarevic has spent more time at home

"Maybe I would be a better player now if I had been practising more in Spain or Florida," he said. "We had really bad political issues. We had Milosevic in power who not only destroyed our country but completely destroyed our sport.

"But tennis is the No 1 sport in Serbia right now," he said. "We are going to play our Davis Cup tie against Australia in September in a 20,000-seat arena, nobody could have dreamed of that."

Ivanovic described the group as ambassadors' for Serbia and they might do a better job than any international public relations firm could manage.

Tipsarevic found himself one of the few men through to the third round as rain once again caused disruptions.

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