Nationalism and tennis are poised to intersect as France and Serbia prepare for their Davis Cup final in Belgrade this week.
Sometimes in life things just fall into place -- they call it serendipity. That's what this year's Davis Cup final between Serbia and France is looking like from where I'm sitting.
I want to take a moment before things get rolling this weekend to direct a huge salute in the direction of the host nation. I'll get to France -- whose accomplishments, both individually and collectively, are not to be overlooked -- in future posts, but right now it seems appropriate to take a moment to reflect upon what Serbia means to tennis these days.
Ah, where to start? How is it that this war-torn nation has taken it upon itself to embrace the sport of tennis, and how lucky are we to bear witness to their maturation?
To say that what Serbia has done over the last ten years to emerge as a world tennis power is mindblowing would be a drastic understatement. I'll spare you the history lesson and another "tennis in a swimming pool" anecdote but I will say this: The Serbians are a godsend for tennis -- they are the embodiment of the type of spirit, perseverance, and character that the sport demands of its participants, and we the tennis fans of the world should view this Davis Cup final (Serbia's proud first) not only as a monumental event for tennis but also a testament to the type of mettle that the people of Serbia are made of.
I've always had a theory that the Serbs wear their hearts on their sleeves, and that theory is consistently backed by the way their stars interact with fans, media, other players, and each other. It may not fit the definition of Western European decorum, but that, I believe, is why it is so refreshing to watch the Serbs go about their business.
It takes courage to open yourself up to the public, to put yourself out there, and yet, time and time again, the Djokovic's and the Tipsarevic's of the world have done it with a beautiful and eclectic flair. They've gone out and layed themselves on the line, for better or for worse. The results haven't always been perfect (Spain they are not), but it has always been joyful, emotional, and honest.
In 2010 it has all come to bloom, and here they are united for the cause in Belgrade, ready to rock the rafters and bring the nation the accolades it deserves.
Win or lose, this weekends festivities in Belgrade will give us all a chance to reflect on what Serbia -- both in theory and in practice -- means to tennis. Our sport is far more entertaining and compelling because of the willingness of this proud nation to emerge from the ruins of war as a unique and impassioned contributor to the sporting world at large.
That's something we should all be thankful for. I know I am.