Tennis Becoming Serbia's Best Export

Serbian Novak Djokovic circles the court with his Roger's Cup trophy after his win over Roger Federer.<br>Photo: Matthew Stockman

Belgrade (dpa)--Hunger for tennis in Serbia has grown steadily with the meteoric ascent of Serbian players through the ATP and the WTA rankings over the past two years.

The euphoria is visible among the fans, who come to work bleary-eyed after watching tennis at odd hours, expecting not only more wins, but also top rankings.

It can also almost be measured on tennis courts, where fresh batches of little kids are being brought to train by parents, suddenly spurred into ambition by earning reports from Djokovic, Ivanovic, Jankovic, even Tipsarevic and Zimonjic.

A North American title double by tennis stars Novak Djokovic and Ana Ivanovic earlier this month was a success that Serbia "will remember forever," local media rejoiced in Belgrade.??

The triumph of Djokovic in Montreal at the Roger's Cup, and Ivanovic in Los Angeles at the East West Bank Classic eclipsed even the water polo World League title in Berlin and the junior basketball European championships in Spain.

Living under grey politics, in a struggling economy, with low wages and unable to travel either because of poverty or because of imposing visa regimes, the Serbs have more reasons than most to celebrate the success of "their" athletes.

Djokovic's title, via his first-ever win over the world's dominant player, Swiss Roger Federer, as well as after wins over the second and third-ranked players on the ATP list, Rafael Nadal and Andy Roddick, particularly fueled the euphoria.

"Nole topples Federer," "That's the way, Nole," "Novak's championship night" and "Djokovic better than Federer" were some of the headlines screaming from Serbian sports pages.

The comments praising the Serbian tennis prodigy were equally heated: "The young ace played majestically to reach the historic win over the planet's number one racket."

National television RTS scrambled to secure live coverage for the match, as appetites grew following Djokovic's quarter- and semi-final wins over Roddick and Nadal.

All reports point out that Djokovic returned to the third spot on the ATP list after the big title in Montreal, with many predicting that it would be him who would take the crown from the "undisputed champion" and "maybe the greatest player ever," Federer.

Djokovic himself spoke of "the best day of my career" and also received plenty of praise from Federer.

"(Djokovic) definitely played a great tournament. He's been able to back it up now since basically a year now. If he keeps this up he's going to create some chances also at the Grand Slams, because he's been to two semi-finals already," Federer said.

The teen-queen Ivanovic received as much attention after lifting the Los Angeles trophy, defeating on the way compatriot and another national sweetheart, Jelena Jankovic in the semi-final. Russian Nadia Petrovna was the victim in the final.

"Ana, queen of Hollywood," "Velikana (wordplay--Great Ana)," "Princess Ana for a beautiful Sunday," commentators praised her showing.??

"Serbian was the language in Los Angeles this week. With their fantastic semi-final match, Ana and Jelena have sent the message that today, apart from Russia, maybe the best tennis in the world is played in Serbia," said a column in the daily Blic.

Despite losing to Ivanovic, Jankovic remains third in WTA ranking, but now just one spot ahead of her compatriot.

Serbia-born Monika Seles was the world's dominant female player in the late 1980's, but never were two women from Serbia ranked so high at the same time, both with an eye on the top position.

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