The Los Angeles Times, June 05, 2008
Serbia is bursting out all over at French Open
PARIS -- Every so often, tennis conducts an unofficial Serbia day, a day of Serbian ubiquity, Serbian excellence, Serbian panache, maybe even a few Serbian flags in the crowd.
The French Open had a Serbia day Tuesday, and it wound up promising two juicy semifinals that will be -- as if it weren't obvious -- Serbia-heavy.
"At least we have one Serbian for sure in the final," Ana Ivanovic said.
"I think we're going to be dominating this tennis world soon," Jelena Jankovic said.
She might have erred there, for you can make the case they're dominating it already. Of the 40 semifinal slots at the last five Grand Slam tournaments, a single, small, landlocked country slightly smaller than South Carolina and with the population of Michigan (about 10 million) has managed to earn 12.
On a Serbia day, like Tuesday, you might see Ivanovic and Jankovic, Nos. 2 and 3 in the world, win quarterfinal matches to set up a semifinal between them, their first in a Grand Slam tournament after two previous meetings in L.A. (split) and one in Indian Wells (Ivanovic), plus three others overall (Ivanovic leads, 5-1).
As if that weren't novelty enough, you might see Djokovic, consistently marvelous and marvelously consistent, reach a French semifinal set for Friday against three-times-defending champion Rafael Nadal, the official machinery of the 2008 French Open, putting away perfectly excellent opponents such as No. 20 Nicolas Almagro, 6-1, 6-1, 6-1.
"What happened?" somebody asked Almagro.
"Didn't you see?" Almagro said. "Well, I think there was a guy called Nadal on the center court, and he played much better than me all the time, a bit like a flash."
It's a testament, then, to No. 3 Djokovic's indispensable conceit, and to Serbia day itself, that Djokovic can see a match with Nadal -- who is 26-0 here lifetime and has lost zero sets this tournament -- and then start talking about various things he must do and say, "And then I have a good chance."
So that's Ivanovic, Jankovic and Djokovic, in the semifinals, just as at the 2008 Australian Open and the 2007 French. Remind Djokovic of this, and he corrects, "Plus doubles. You didn't mention doubles. We have like five or six guys in doubles. Four, whatever. Seven. I don't know, seven altogether?"
The doubles draw does show that two Serbian men will play the doubles semifinals, though not on the same team.
So on a Serbia day, in the Roland Garros players' lounge you might see some Ivanovic people sitting and unwinding at an outdoor table after Ivanovic has just won, while through the window at an indoor table Jankovic's mother Snezana has taken out a black magic marker and drawn a heart on Jankovic's bandaged right forearm, then added letters to make an "I ? Paris."
At this moment, while Jankovic smiles and seems, as ever, the center of happy hubbub, she awaits the quarterfinal that will put her through to the semifinals, and she does so just below a TV that shows Djokovic playing the fearsome rising Latvian star Ernests Gulbis in a quarterfinal that will put him through to a semifinal.
So it's logical that Jankovic would say, "You know, one of us will reach No. 1," and it could be herself or Ivanovic by the end of this tournament, what with No. 1 Maria Sharapova gone.
Sharapova exited in the fourth round, a fate that has happened to the three top Serbians only a collective five times in their last 18 Grand Slam appearances since the beginning of 2007, pointing up consistency as a national trait.
"I think the country has only positive thoughts about tennis now," Djokovic said. "It's the No. 1 sport. I'm feeling happy when I see the guys of my country, country-fellows, you know, girls and men, doing so well. . . . For such a small country, it's a big success. We represent our country. Yeah, we support each other."