The Golden age
“When we were Yugoslavs, we had one of the best passports in the world, we were welcomed everywhere. Suddenly everything changed and people looked at us as if we were crazy assassins. In such moments you realize that television doesn’t always tell the truth”.
Then Zinonjic, one of the best doubles-specialist in the world, had to take upon himself a six-hour travel by van to Budapest hoping to gain a visa to go and play abroad but with no guarantee to catch it. The practice to obtain the visa to travel outside the national boarders was abolished in Serbia on December 18th 2009. “If really difficulties shape your character” Gencic said, “that period helped us a lot”.
Surely the Federation didn’t help. The then president, Radoman Bozovic, quarreled with the Davis Cup team captain Radmilo Armenulic who resigned with this motivation to the daily paper “Vreme”: “He came from politics, not from sports. I said I’m going to return in the league when the president will be gone out”.
Ivan du Pasquier and Dan Holzmann, two businessmen, helped a lot. The former “discovered” (scouted) Ana Ivanovic when she was 13 at the famous youth event Les Petis As in Tarbes; the latter decided to invest $500,000 on her just a year later.
Future champions’ families helped a lot. Like Pavel Tipsarevic, Janko’s father, who managed a facility with an Olympic pool: the Jedanaesti April (11th April) Center. “But it hadn’t been used since two years” said the director Sead Dervisevic, “warming it was to expensive, so in 1992 we decided to convert it into…tennis courts”. They covered the pavement with a green carpet, a surface no more used in professional tennis, and drew two courts without the tramlines: the outlines are so close to the walls that kick serves outwide were considered a sign of unsportsmanship. Jelena Jankovic still remembers when she trained at -15°C wearing hat, coat and gloves. Now, the 140 boys and girls playing there, guaranteeing the courts are filled 90% of the times, are dreaming to repeat their path towards the glory.
Srdjan and Dijana Djokovic, Novak’s parents, helped a lot as well but their story is the focus of the last part of this reportage.
But, Gencic underlines, for a Djokovic that reaches the top, there are ten other talented players “who hadn’t the chance to emerge because they lacked enough money. Here our system fails”.
The Serbian tennis movement, in fact, seems to lack a bit of long-time scheduling. In years, the project of a new tennis centre for excellence with 5 indoor and 15 outdoor courts was introduced. But the president Zivojinovic postponed it again. Because the facility should cost between 8 and 9 millions while the Federation’s annual budget amounts to no more than 1,5 millions (anyway seven times more than in 2000).
In 2009, in Serbia there were 220 courts and 3.250 practicing, members of a tennis club, three times more than in 2006. 90% of them were teenagers. But Serbia is risking to lose their rendez-vous with the fate. Because, apart from the promising but immature Filip Krajinovic, there aren’t many good reasons to be optimistic for the future.
For whatever reasons Serbian arrived to the top (the hunger, the war, “the uranium in the bombs that make us stronger” as jokingly said Tipsarevic), it remained, as the renowned tennis writer Nebojsa Mandrapa, “a coincidence. So, if we don’t seize the opportunity, we could lose this treasure”.