Novak Djokovic will carry the hopes of Serbia in the Balkan nation’s first ever Davis Cup final against nine-time former winners France at the 16,000 capacity Belgrade Arena this weekend.
The world No. 3 is seen as a solid bet to win both his singles rubbers, leaving his teammates free to add the clinching point in one of the three remaining ties.
However, with both captains in two minds about their choice of a second singles player and the doubles scenario too close to call, it could go all the way on Sunday.
Djokovic has been the driving force behind Serbia’s rise as a Davis Cup power and this year he has a perfect five wins out of five played as the Serbs stormed past the US, Croatia and the Czech Republic.
In so doing, he has forged rock-solid ties with the rest of the Serb team — Janko Tipsarevic, Viktor Troicki, who will contest the second singles slot, and doubles specialist Nenad Zimonjic.
The 2008 Australian Open champion has been in fine form of late after a stuttering start to the year and his semi-final loss to Roger Federer at the ATP Tour finals in London last week means that he will reach Belgrade relatively refreshed.
The hugely patriotic Djokovic has left it in no doubt that his top priority this year is leading his country to what would be a historic Davis Cup triumph.
“We all know that the Davis Cup is a very special competition,” he said. “Playing in a Davis Cup final is the biggest success that my country ever had. Maybe it’s a unique opportunity to have the Davis Cup finals played at home. Maybe we’ll never have this opportunity again.”
The chances of France bagging a 10th Davis Cup title to draw level with Britain as third most-successful nation in the 110-year history of the competition received a body blow at the start of last month when top player Jo-Wilfried Tsonga put an end to his season because of a knee injury.
However, stepping into the breach has been flamboyant Gael Monfils, who won the ATP tournament in Montpellier and then reached the final of the Paris Masters to rise to world No. 12, one place ahead of Tsonga.
Monfils, known for his showmanship but also for his inconsistency, will lead the way for the French with Gilles Simon and Michael Llodra in competition for the second singles spot and Llodra linking up with Arnaud Clement in the doubles.
Experienced France captain Guy Forget, a Davis Cup winner both as a player and as skipper, will be hoping that his team can reproduce the kind of form they showed in July when, despite the absence of Tsonga, they pulled off a stunning 5-0 win over holders Spain.
Forget knows the atmosphere in Belgrade will be hostile, but he has attempted to turn this around to his team’s advantage by saying it could rebound on the home team.
“If we have pressure the Serbia players might have even more,” he said. “We have been talking about the crowd and we know it can get very loud at times. The only way to deal with it is to be quiet and forget about it. If the match gets close any Serbian player will feel the pressure. He is not just playing for himself, he is playing for his friend, he is playing for the whole country and if things don’t go well he will have the feeling to deceive a whole nation and that’s not easy to deal with as well.”
The opening two singles take place today, followed by the doubles tomorrow and the reverse singles on Sunday.