June 28, 2017

Fed Cup Canada vs Serbia: Remembering Novi Sad

Jelena Jankovic

Jelena Jankovic

Fed Cup Canada vs Serbia: Remembering Novi Sad

By Charles David Mathieu-Poulin | @earthstroke

(February 7, 2014) MONTREAL – Three years ago almost to the day, I was getting off an overcrowded plane, with a backpack full of red and white memorabilia, eager to explore the country of Novak, Ana and Jelena. For the first time in over four years, Canada had managed to reach the Fed Cup World Group II after a 5-0 win against Argentina in Montreal, and were about to face Serbia in the first round. Being already in Europe, with an opportunity to cover the event for my hometown sports radio station, I couldn’t stop myself from hopping in a plane and making my way to Eastern Europe for the first time.

I will always remember my first moments in Belgrade: while in the most expensive taxi ride of my life (which I later learned was due to my taxi being wild and thus not under any regulations), I witnessed first-hand the passion the Serbians had for tennis. Between huge signs congratulating Novak Djokovic on his Australian Open win and multiple ads featuring Ana Ivanovic and Jelena Jankovic spread across the city, you could feel that the country lived and breathed tennis.

This energy was also strongly felt during the tie played in Novi Sad, a quaint and beautiful city on the side of the Danube River, just over an hour away from Belgrade. Even without their two marquee players, the Serbian team led by Jovanovski and Krunic was just elevated by the rowdy crowd. They ended up winning the deciding doubles match, making the unbeaten Jovanovski the national hero for a weekend. One year and three victorious ties later, Serbia reached its first and only Fed Cup final, losing to the Czech Republic.

Here we are three years later, and once again, Canada and Serbia have been drawn to face in the first round of World Group II. Once again, Serbia will come in without its biggest weapons (Jankovic, Ivanovic and Jovanovski). Once again, Canada hasn’t played a World Group match in a few years. And once again, Aleksandra Wozniak will play despite just coming back from a serious injury.

But this time, we too have passion.

It is tough to describe the wave of tennis fandom that has struck Canada over the past few months. It all started with Milos Raonic, who has been solidly in the top 20 for two years and started then to become a household name. Then came the Davis Cup team, who reached the semi-finals last year after upsetting Italy and Spain. Add an all-Canadian semi-final at the Rogers Cup to the mix, and the plot starts thickening. But it all was taken to a whole new level with Eugenie ‘Genie’ Bouchard.

In 2013, she won the WTA Newcomer of the Year award, as well as being voted the Female Athlete of the Year by the Canadian Press. Just a few weeks ago, her semi-final loss to Na Li in the Australian Open was the top news story of the week in the country.  And, the morning after her quarterfinal win against Ana Ivanovic in Melbourne, most of the coffee machine small talks revolved around her victory.

This Fed Cup tie marks her triumphant return to her hometown and will be the first time she plays in Montreal since the summer of 2012. Tennis Canada was smart in using every chance they had to use Genie to promote the event and we can assume that a large part of the crowd will be in Centre Claude-Robillard to catch a glimpse of a future tennis phenomenon. A full house is expected, and it should be red, white and loud. And now, Canadians don’t only expect to perform well, they expect to win and are largely favored to do so.

Tomorrow, I’ll be heading out of an overcrowded subway ride, with the same red backpack on my shoulders: as I’ll look out at the colorful mix of tennis fans,  I’m pretty sure I’ll realize that Canada is now just as passionate about tennis as Serbia was three years ago. And I’ll be remembering Novi Sad.

Charles David Mathieu-Poulin is covering the Canada – Serbia Fed Cup tie in Montreal for Tennis Panorama News.