We are just hours from the start of the all-unseeded Davis Cup final between host Serbia and France, and it’s a good one. The Serbs are led by their ace Novak Djokovic while France will have the services of the flamboyant Gael Monfils.
With the No. 1 singles positions easily set for both countries, the coaches made some curious picks for No. 2. Serbia bypassed the big-serving and recent Moscow winner Viktor Troicki in favor of the feisty Janko Tipsarevic. Even more mystifying was Guy Forget’s choice to go with Gilles Simon over Michael Llodra who played so well last month in Paris where he beat Djokovic.
Said Forget, “It’s always a tough choice to choose someone because you let someone down. I expect Gilles to play a great match against Novak. I expect Michael to play great doubles with Arnaud. They’ve done so many times in the past.
“In my opinion, that was the best choice for the French team. The Sunday matches probably will count. That leaves me probably some more options doing it this way.”
Had I been the coach, I would have taken Troicki over Tipsy and Llodra over Simon. Indoors and in tense Davis Cup matches I’d lean on guys with big serves like Troicki and Llodra because they are so hard to break. It’s a pressure cooker and guys with the bigger serves tend to weather the storm just a little better.
However, Tipsy did win two matches in the semifinals and Simon is a former Top 10 player so I do see the angle. And if the court is slow and Llodra needs the rest for doubles maybe it turns out to be the difference.
The coaching selections dictate an opening Friday schedule in Belgrade that has Tipsarevic hooking up with Monfils followed by Djokovic against Simon.
The Saturday doubles looks like Nenad Zimonjic/Vicktor Troicki v. Arnuad Clement/Michael Llodra.
And if necessary, the Sunday reverse singles schedule has Djokovic against Monfils then – subject to change – Tipsarevic v. Simon in the finale.
As for the tie itself, I like the home team of Serbia to get through. I think Janko will get a win, maybe even tomorrow, and then Djokovic should sweep his singles despite his formidable opposition. Simon’s been a tough player and Monfils has really come on the last half of the season. But Simon doesn’t have the firepower to hang with Novak and I still question Monfils’ ability in best-of-5 set matches.
“We’re all very excited and can’t wait for the first point to start,” Djokovic said Thursday. “Hopefully [the home support] will be an advantage for us over our opponents. We are all in good shape, physically and mentally fresh to perform our best tennis. Simon is always a tricky opponent to play against. You cannot underestimate any opponent in the final; you have to be on top of your game to win.”
The good news for Novak is that he’s never lost a Davis Cup match in the Belgrade Arena (5-0). Bad news for France is that Monfils has never won an away tie!
Said Monfils, “I think the pressure I have on my back will for sure help me to forget the crowd is against me. I will see how I will react, but I will be natural so if I have to let my emotions out I will.”
I’m not sure how smart Monfils would be to rile up the 12,000 plus fired-up fans in the Serbian capital, but it should be entertaining.
“I know Janko,” said Monfils. “He will be very nervous because he plans to come out first on the court in front of the Serbian crowd. It will be tough for him. I will try to be very relaxed and just play my game.”
Janko fired back, “If Gael thinks I’m going to be more nervous than him in front of 18,000 Serbs he better think again.”
Another edge for the home team is that the four Serbs have been teammates in all four ties this year which should make for some strong team unity.
That said, in the doubles I still give the edge to France. Llodra and Clement have been tough through the years and they have the experience.
And incredibly, France has yet to lose a live rubber on the year. The talented team blew out Germany 4-1, Spain 5-0 and Argentina 5-0 to reach their 16th final with a shot at 10th overall win.
Of course Serbia had never been to a Davis Cup final before this year, but I think come Monday they’ll be celebrating their first title.
“It’s the first time that we are playing Davis Cup final at home in the history of this sport in our country,” said Djokovic. “You can feel the excitement and the interest of the people to come and cheer, you know, their tennis players. It’s going to be, well, crucial for us to have big support because it’s very unpredictable what’s going to happen in the matches because I think they have a very strong team. But the support of the crowd can actually play a key role in this match.”
The tie is on live Friday morning on the Tennis Channel at 8am ET.
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