Russia and Serbia leave it all on the court in an unforgettable tie in Madrid
The agony and ecstasy that can result from a sole decisive moment on a tennis court were on full display on Friday after Russia saved three match points on their way to a quarter-final victory over Serbia that was achieved by the slimmest of margins.
Spearheaded by a 23-year-old and a 22-year-old, in Karen Khachanov and Andrey Rublev, Russia shocked a Novak Djokovic-led Serbia, to reach a first Davis Cup semi-final since 2008. The Russians are playing the whole tournament in Madrid with a depleted squad, in the absence of world No.5 Daniil Medvedev, and claimed all their points this week via Khachanov and Rublev alone.
Pulling off some serious heroics during their deciding doubles tie against Djokovic and Viktor Troicki, the Russians announced the advent of a new era for their nation in the competition’s history, just as the Serbians closed a chapter on an era of their own.
"It's an amazing feeling to be part of this team, to play with them, now to be in semi-final with them after such a long time"
Moments after an elated Rublev and Khachanov fielded questions from the press about their huge milestone victory, a tearful Serbian squad bid farewell to the retiring Janko Tipsarevic, whose Davis Cup campaign was the last event of his professional career.
“It's an amazing feeling to be part of this team, to play with them, now to be in semi-final with them after such a long time [since Russia last made this stage],” said Rublev, who is undefeated in singles this week.
“I'm happy I can perform really well, that I won my matches. Even with, I don't know, it looks like with [Roberto] Bautista [Agut of Spain] I was not favourite but still I was able to win the match. And it's amazing feeling that I'm able to compete with good players and win matches.”
With Medvedev, Khachanov and Rublev – all aged 23 and under – flying the flag for Russia on the men’s tour, Khachanov is eyeing a strong 2020 for the trio, who are close friends and could very well all be in the top-10 together next year.
“Obviously we are thinking about it and we hope this is going to happen next year. So we will work for sure to try to get there. I really hope that next year we can do some damage on the ATP Tour, all three,” said Khachanov.
Russia captain Shamil Tarpischev hailed his young squad’s camaraderie and said their friendship “laid the right foundation for the team” and it is why they’ve been able to carry the load among the two of them, through the group and knockout stages.
"I probably feel the worst ever. I never experienced such a moment in my career, in my life. And I let my team down, and I apologise to them"
While Russia’s camaraderie was highlighted in victory, Serbia’s shone in defeat, as Djokovic and his squad were inconsolable during their press conference, where even team captain Nenad Zimonjic teared up while discussing their defeat and Tipsarevic’s swansong.
“At the end, you win as a team and you lose as a team. It doesn't matter if somebody wins two matches and you end up losing the match. The main thing is that everybody here did their part, not just now, but during their career. And that's all you can say. It was very emotional because it's Janko's last...” a choked up Zimonjic said. “Sorry,” he added, as he took a moment to collect himself.
“There's four players sitting here, and together with Filip and Dutzi, I would say they are our golden generation, and it's all of our tennis. And I see it as an end because it was Janko's last match.
“And you dream maybe to go all the way to celebrate with a victory, but sometimes it doesn't happen, what you wanted to happen. But the main thing is that everybody knows here how much we care about each other, how much we love each other, and this is what got us here.”
"At the end, you win as a team and you lose as a team. It doesn't matter if somebody wins two matches and you end up losing the match"
Filip Krajinovic, who lost the opening match to Rublev, was in tears through most of the press conference, Djokovic was visibly emotional, while Troicki was overcome by a sense of guilt, for missing some shots at crucial moments in the doubles match.
“I probably feel the worst ever. I never experienced such a moment in my career, in my life. And I let my team down, and I apologise to them,” said a devastated Troicki, who was the man who won the decisive fifth rubber for Serbia against France in the 2010 Davis Cup final.
“I had... we were up in the tie-break. We had chances to finish it. We didn't do it. I messed up in the crucial moments.
“I don't know. God gave me once to be the hero, maybe to win the Davis Cup in the deciding rubber. Now he took it away. I'm really disappointed with myself. Really... A really tough match. At the end there was one point that decided it. And I'm really, really disappointed in myself that I couldn't hold my focus till the end and finish.”
Tipsarevic, who hangs up his racket after a 17-year professional career that saw him rise to No.8 in the world, made sure to say a few words before the Serbs left the building, attempting to lift his team-mates’ spirits at the end of an emotional day.
“A few of the guys apologised to me. I don't accept these apologies because none of them let me down all over these 20 years,” said Tipsarevic.
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