Living in Belgrade presented me with the possibility of not only righting this wrong but of doing so by watching Novak Djokovic, world number one, on home clay, surely lifting his third Serbia Open trophy, perhaps even by beating David Nalbandian, a player who I can’t stand. I don’t know why but inexplicably he irritates me enormously – his hair, his attitude, even his occasional belly which should endear him to me just annoys me.
So with some anticipation I bought my finals tickets at around 30 Euros - not cheap in this part of the world incidentally - and then a week later, Djokovic pulled out of the tournament citing emotional reasons, namely the death of his grandfather and the strain of playing at home a week after this sad news.
FFS! At this point I was lacking empathy. I had forked out a decent sum to watch what? A shirtless David Nalbandian flipping me the bird as he waves the trophy in front of me taunting me with his talent and his physique. “Don’t underestimate a fat man”, as a truly legendary fat man once said. Anyway I can't get my money back and I want to see some tennis so...
...jump forward to today and its finals day. First up was the doubles final which was fairly uninteresting. A giant Swede (A. Siljestrom) and a comparatively small German (M. Emmrich) looked as if they would win and then basically started choking early in the second set and the pair from Israel won (J. Erlich and S. Ram).
Now for the main event. Sadly no Nalbandian, who was beaten in the semifinals!
Benoit Paire of France, first time ATP finalist, was up against Andreas Seppi of Italy. The modest crowd was generally behind the Frenchman who got off to the better start, amid some utterly idiotic and insulting chants from a small group of Seppi fans who assumed their use of Italian allowed them to hurl abuse quite out of place in this setting. The tennis itself was actually pretty good; the rallies lengthened as the match went on, although Seppi's experience began to tell against a guy who became increasingly frustrated with a series of unforced errors (4 consecutive netted forehands having clambered back to deuce on his own serve). A few drop shots from Paire after long rallies got the relatively sedate crowd involved a few times but the Italian finally wrapped up the match in straight sets. It wasn't vintage tennis but as a first live tennis experience I enjoyed it (check out eGaming Consulting Flickr for more photos).
Goran Djokovic's (uncle) presentation speech was mercifully short - I was informed by my neighbour, @BelgradeVIP, that he talked for nearly 10 minutes last year, emotionally thanking everyone under the sun.
|Andreas Seppi goes up to collect the serbia Open Trophy|
The Serbia Open is very much a Djokovic affair. It takes place in the Novak Tennis Centar, we drank beers in the Novak bar, in the Novak Spa complex, with leaflets advertising the Novak Travel Agency on each table. His family bought the ATP Tour date from the organizers of the Dutch Open, paid also for the land upon which the venue has been built and no doubt helped bring in sponsors and Government support. His younger brother has played here and his uncle, Goran, is the tournament director.
And herein lies the problem with it. Without Djokovic this tournament is rather a damp squib. I caught a glimpse of some earlier rounds on TV, with barely a person in the stands. The appetite for Tennis here in Serbia is undoubtedly huge but the crowd is also very partisan and without a notable Serb involved and a highest ranked player of only 38 in the world, it was always going to struggle to have any notable atmosphere. I am no longer a tennis virgin, for which I am grateful to Belgrade and the Serbia Open, but I am planning a day at the US Open later in the year and I expect fireworks.