Serbian tennis has come a long, long way in the past couple of decades. A country with a short history of tennis and no tennis system ended up producing two of the WTAs leading players in the late 00s and arguably one of the greatest male players of all time. If tennis needed a refresher lesson in how important it is to have role models at the top of the sport to grow the game, Serbia has been only too happy to teach it.
Serbia was hit hard by civil wars in the 1990s and both Ana Ivanovic and Novak Djokovic have told stories of training in swimming pools because they could not access actual tennis courts.
With limited financial resources from the government to progress Djokovic’s tennis career, the Serbian’s family had to borrow money at high interest and rely on foreign coaching from Niki Pilic.
The impact a single player can have on the growth of a sport in a country is perfectly illustrated by Novak Djokovic. His rise to the top of the sport has brought with it great interest in tennis and inspired youngsters to pick up a racquet. Djokovic was not alone in popularising the sport- Ana Ivanovic and Jelena Jankovic have also been role models.
Before Ivanovic, Jankovic and Djokovic, tennis was a sport for the wealthy. Serbia’s tennis hub was the Teniski Klub Partizan, founded in 1952. The club held well attended tennis tournaments and a thriving tennis culture for the region and had a formative role in helping Serbian tennis get off the ground.
That club produced Novak Djokovic’s childhood tennis coach Jelena Gencic who coached many former Yugoslavian players.
The club has now expanded across the country. Tennis is, in general, now a more accessible and popular sport.
Did you know?
In 2020, Serbia still did not have a grass court. Something we think will be fixed fairly soon considering Djokovic won Wimbledon five times between 2011 and 2019.
Novak Djokovic is considered one of the greatest players of all times and is hugely popular in his home country. He is the only man apart from Rod Laver to have held all four grand slams at the same time in the Open era, from Wimbledon ‘15 to Roland Garros ‘16.
Janko Tipsarevic reached a career high ranking of 8 in 2012 and competed in the end of year ATP finals. He also played a five set match versus Roger Federer at the 2008 Australian Open that is regarded as a classic.
From 2006 to 2015, the WTA had two highly successful Serbian players- Ana Ivanovic and Jelena Jankovic. Both reached No.1 and Ivanovic won the French Open in 2008, the same year that Jankovic contested the US Open final versus Serena Williams.
Nenad Zimonjic is a highly successful doubles player. He won three majors, and was ranked No.1 in late 2008.
Monica Seles was born and raised in Serbia and Novak Djokovic, Jelena Jankovic and Ana Ivanovic have all cited her as an inspiration. She also acted as a mentor to Jankovic at the start of Jankovic’s career.
Serbia won the Davis cup in 2010. They fought back from 1-2 versus France to win 3-2. Victor Troicki won the decisive fifth tie when he beat Michael Llodra in straight sets. Serbia were also runner up to the Czech Republic in the 2013 final, losing 2-3.
The Davis Cup 2010 victory inspired Novak Djokovic to fulfill the promise he had shown when he won the 2008 Australian Open title as a twenty year old. In 2011, he went on the longest winning streak of his career, winning 43 matches as he won tournaments such as the Australian Open, Indian Wells, Miami, Madrid and Rome. It was the longest winning streak since Lendl’s 44 consecutive wins in 1981-1982.
Serbia won the inaugural ATP Cup in 2020. Novak Djokovic won the decisive match versus Rafa Nadal.
Djokovic won the 2008 Olympic silver medal in Beijing, losing to Rafa Nadal in the semifinals before beating James Blake in the Bronze Medal Match.
In 2012, Serbia were runners-up in the Fed Cup, losing to the Czech Republic.
Serbia has only recently started to have an actual tennis system. The success of their recent players has been a result of family investment, the dedication of experienced coaches, and the player’s drive to succeed in economically and mentally challenging circumstances.
For young players coming up now, the infrastructure is much improved. There are tennis academies with international coaches and modern training systems in place with good clay and hard courts and fitness and recovery facilities.
Jelena Genčić is probably the most influential Serbian tennis coach. Players she helped to succeed include Monica Seles, Goran Ivanisevic and Novak Djokovic, and her former proteges have won 30 Grand slams between them.
Tennis academies are springing up all over Serbia. Former pro Janko Tipsarevic opened the Tipsarevic Tennis Academy. The academy is the training center of ATP players Laslo Djere, Yuichi Sugita and Dušan Lajović among others.
There is also the Tennis Academy Zivkovic. This academy has its own US Open court.