Novak Djokovic and Viktor Troicki watched the Serbian soccer team play Estonia on the Internet on Tuesday during a rain delay at the Sony Ericsson Open.
Not such a remarkable thing, watching a soccer game with a pal, except that Djokovic and Troicki then went out and tried to bash each other off the court in a tennis match.
Over on Stadium Court, Andrea Petkovic upset her friend and fellow chataholic Jelena Jankovic. Then she was ready to hustle to her doubles match with Ana Ivanovic, who had just squandered five match points to defending champion Kim Clijsters, but with both exhausted, they decided to forfeit.
Nearby, Janko Tipsarevic was starting his night match against Gilles Simon while Nenad Zimonjic was playing doubles on Court One.
The tournament known as the “Fifth Grand Slam” could have been renamed the Serbian Open on a frantic day for the players from the little country making big strides in tennis.
The schedule included six Serbs and one of Serbian descent — six names ending in the letters “ic,” which is pronounced “ich.”
“We were joking in the locker room this morning — everywhere it’s ic, ic, ic,” said Ivanovic, No. 19 in the world. “It’s nice to see so many Serbians.”
It’s nice for Serbia, the Balkan nation of 7.4 million where tennis rivals soccer and basketball in popularity. And it’s really nice for tennis, which can revel in Serb style — a combination of dynamic tennis and magnetic character. The “ich” factor is refreshing.
The uninhibited, humorous personalities of the Serbs are vital to a sport — any sport — that must constantly counter the drag effect of athletes who are dull, predictable and protective of polished images that reflect whatever benign traits the marketing machine demands.
Not everyone can be a charmer off the field of play. It’s not quite fair to expect athletes, who are in the 99.9th percentile in physical skill, to be multi-dimensional, not when they’ve spent countless hours in the gym to hone that skill. Athletes are measured by their accuracy, not their oratory. Power wins, not pithiness. Elizabeth Taylor could command a room but she couldn’t dunk.
Yet we wouldn’t mind another Billie Jean King, Martina Navratilova or John McEnroe on the set that is a tennis court.
Djokovic is captivating. The guy is smart and hilarious. He’s also ascended to No.2 in the world. He beat Troicki, his buddy from Belgrade, 6-3, 6-2, in another display of the attacking form that has won him 21 consecutive matches and the Australian Open and Indian Wells titles this year.
Djokovic used to do spot-on impressions of his fellow players, mimicking their mannerisms to howls of laughter until some of those peers got a little offended. He stopped. But he hasn’t totally repressed his satiric side. He — wearing a white wig and tennis-ball breasts — and Troicki filmed a homemade spoof of a suggestive Shakira with Rafael Nadal. Djokovic also goes all out in a Head commercial in which he rips off his shirt to show his skill with stripper’s tassels.
Tipsarevic, also from Belgrade, is the thoughtful Serb. He enjoys reading Nietzsche. He has a tattoo of a Doestoevski quote: “Beauty will save the world.” During his stay here he has been waxing poetic on his love for Miami on Twitter with photos of beaches, sunsets and his rental convertible.
Andrea Petkovic did the “Petko dance” — a little shimmy — after upending Jankovic, 2-6, 6-2, 6-4. She has made a breakthrough here and women’s tennis can use more like her. She was born in Bosnia to Serbian parents and grew up in Germany. She’s friends with the Serbs, who would like her to play for their country.
“We are like chameleons,” she said. “When we hang around and Novak is making his jokes you start to try to be funny. And it’s just a very good energy between all of us.”
She’s made “Petkorazzi” videos of her travels. She and doubles partner Ivanovic make bets during their matches: If one hits an ace, the other owes $5.
“You have to pay in the changeovers, otherwise you can sneak out and then it’s gone, the money,” Petkovic said.
7, insists she is the shy Serb, confining her karaoke to the bathroom mirror. She said it’s no accident the Serbs have a distinctive energy. It comes with their moxie. They weren’t country club kids. They had to fight and scrape for their success in a place with a tumultuous history. That’s why Djokovic considers Serbia’s Davis Cup title from December the greatest achievement of his career, past or future – bigger than his two Grand Slams.
The iches – they can make you laugh, marvel and think. Among athletes of today, that’s a winning
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