Sunday, September 28, 2014

Serbian tennis is back on the rise

The last 12 months have not been great for tennis in Serbia as world No. 1 Novak Djokovic became the country's lone representative in the top 100 that was playing events for several months.

With Viktor Troicki banned from playing events on the ATP and Janko Tipsarevic injured, Serbia went from one of the few countries with three top 50 players last June to a country whose only face was Djokovic.

While many countries would have loved to be where Serbia was at eight or nine months ago, having the world No. 2, that wasn't enough for fans of Serbian tennis. Serbia didn't want to be another one of those small tennis countries that got lucky to produce just one star - it had gotten used to the idea of having multiple players reaching the second week at slams.

This spring, Serbia got back to that momentarily, when Dusan Lajovic joined Djokovic in the second week at Roland Garros, allowing the 24-year old to reach a career-high ranking of 58 just a month later.

Lajovic isn't the only rising star in Serbian tennis. There are a whole group of young stars from Serbia that are surging up the rankings that could make Serbia one of the most well-represented countries in the top 100 in a few years. Here's a list of the top Serbian players right now.

Novak Djokovic (1) - The current world No. 1 has been the country's most successful player ever. He's in a bit of a slump right now by his standards, but right now there are no major threats to his status as the world No. 1 until March.

Dusan Lajovic (69) - It has been a breakthrough year for the No. 2 Serb, who won five of his nine grand slam matches and has claimed impressive wins over Guillermo Garcia-Lopez, Carlos Berlocq, Jack Sock, Frederico Delbonis, and Jerzy Janowicz. He has a lot of points to defend in the coming months, so it may be a while before
he reaches the top 50, but he will get there eventually.

Filip Krajinovic (101) - Injuries have prevented the No. 3 Serb from climbing the rankings faster, but after a long stretch of health, Krajinovic came one spot away from cracking the top 100 this week after beating Taro Daniel in Kuala Lumpur. He is only 22 years old, so the results are going to continue to come. He has two challenger titles and two futures titles this year to go along with a win over Fabio Fognini in Hamburg.

Viktor Troicki (152) - Before the season, I said the former world No. 12 would get back into the top 100 this year using just the three and a half months of play left in the season after his ban. In just over two of those months, Troicki has already gotten himself up to No. 174 in the world using a packed schedule. The Serbian No. 4 has reached the quarterfinal of all seven events and won two in a ten-week span that included having two qualify at two challenger events (talk about a rough draw for his opponent). He is now making use of some wild cards to get into events with more ranking points at stake. Troicki has figured out how to make the year off into a positive. It's not hard to imagine him being back near his career-high ranking 12 months from now at 29-years old.

Ilija Bozoljac (201) - The Davis Cup hero isn't the focus of Serbia's future as a 29-year old that has never cracked the top 100, but he is certainly a central figure in tennis for the country.

Pedja Krstin (264) - Krstin just turned 20 years old earlier this month, which was around the same time that his rapid climb up the rankings stalled. Almost exactly two years ago, Krstin regained his ranking and has climbed from just inside the top 2000 to No. 234 in the world. In the last 12 months, Krstin has dominated the futures events, but those results haven't translated on the Challenger Tour yet. Krstin got his professional start late, so there is no reason to think he won't continue to develop his game to be able to compete with the next tier.

Nikola Cacic (291) - At 23-years old already, Cacic may never be a mainstay on the world tour, but he still has the game to be ranked even higher than he is now. The best is still to come from Cacic, but it's hard to know right now what that will be.

Nikola Milojevic (352) - This is where the hope for the future of Serbian tennis lies. The 19-year old was the junior No. 1 and he has the support of the senior No. 1 on his side. The expectations are high for Milojevic who has claimed impressive wins over some of the other top teenagers in futures events this year. Milojevic also got his first tour-level win this year. He is still far behind some of the other teenagers, six of whom cracked the top 200 for the first time this year. However, it's always harder for players from countries without big events to build their ranking, since they don't get as many wild cards. Milojevic is playing catch-up for now, but he will be in the top 200 himself soon enough.

Laslo Djere (363) - Another teenage star that had a lot of success on the junior tour, Djere has boosted over 100 spots this year. He has won three futures events this year, but hasn't played any challenger main draws yet. When he makes the switch to the Challenger Tour, we will have a better idea just how good he can be.

Miki Jankovic (426) - The Serbian No. 11 just turned 20 two days ago. He completes the quartet with Djere, Milojevic, and Krstin (all of whom were 19 years old last month) of guys who represent the future of Serbian tennis. After winning two futures titles, Jankovic has been more aggressive in trying to enter challenger events. He is currently trying to fight his way through the qualifying at those events, where there isn't many ranking points or much money. However, he has his eyes set on the top 100 some day and this is part of that process.

At this point, it wouldn't be hard to imagine six or seven of these guys in the top 100 a few years from now. Right now, only four countries have six players in the top 100, Spain, France, United States, and Argentina. To be in that kind of company in just a few years is exactly what Serbian tennis fans should be excited about.

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