By John Huston
Davis Cup breeds unlikely heroes. And so it was in Boise, Idaho, where No. 1 Novak Djokovic made the headlines and secured the singles points, but a player ranked 334th in the world—Ilija Bozoljac—provided the big serving and clutch play necessary for Serbia to gain a crucial point against the US. Though ranked outside of the top 1000 in doubles, Bozoljac proved himself capable of going toe-to-toe with the world’s top-ranked team, Bob and Mike Bryan, joining doubles vet Nenad Zimonjic in an epic 7-6 (5), 7-6 (1), 5-7, 4-6, 15-13 victory that gave Serbia a 2-1 advantage going into the final day of the tie.
“I knew that I had [the performance] in myself,” said Bozoljac, who took Roger Federer to a fourth-set tiebreaker at Wimbledon in 2010. “Through the years, I struggled with injuries…But I knew that if I give my 100% for one match, I can play on a really high level…I didn’t think that we [were] going to lose, not even once. I was just positive.”
There were more twists to come—specifically, a twisted ankle that added suspense to the early stages of Djokovic’s match against the US’s Sam Querrey. Once Djokovic rebounded from the injury, though, Querrey offered little resistance. The reigning Australian Open champ’s 7-5, 6-7 (4), 6-1, 6-0 win clinched the tie 3-1 for Serbia.
Incredibly, the Serbia-US tie wasn’t the only one to produce a doubles match that ended 15-13 in the final set. Over the border in Canada, Zimonjic’s old doubles partner Daniel Nestor teamed up with Vasek Pospisil to score a 6-3, 6-4, 3-6, 3-6, 15-13 victory over Daniele Bracciali and Fabio Fognini of Italy. Thanks to two singles wins by Milos Raonic, the Canadian team advanced to the semifinals, where they’ll face Serbia. The other semifinal pits defending champs Czech Republic against longtime contenders Argentina, who overcame France in an eventful tie that included Michel Llodra urinating courtside during a doubles changeover and Gilles Simon seeking injury timeouts during a pair of singles
losses that left him in tears.
While the Bryan brothers suffered one of their worst defeats in Idaho, the Williams sisters rode again in South Carolina, where Venus and Serena faced off on clay for the first time since 2002 at the Family Circle Cup. The timing seemed right, with the documentary Venus and Serena just-released on iTunes, and when both sisters won a pair of matches the day before, anticipation was high. The match itself proved anticlimactic, though, as a composed Serena dispatched a fault-prone Venus 6-1, 6-2 in less than an hour. It was the most lopsided score in the history of their familial rivalry.
Still, Serena’s route to a third Family Circle title wasn’t as easy as last year’s, thanks to a resurgent Jelena Jankovic, who took a set from Williams and engaged her in some verbal sparring during the final. Not for the first time, Jankovic’s speedy service routine ran up against Serena’s return habits in a match. The previous instance, at the semifinals in Rome in 2011, ended with a defeated Serena assuring Jankovic that “I’m not Justine” at the handshake, because she’d raised her hand before a crucial point in the third-set tiebreaker.
This time, however, Serena wasn’t budging. The conflict arose in the first game of the second set, after Jankovic had taken the first, 6-3. When Serena raised her hand during a Jankovic serve at 40-15, umpire Kader Nouni agreed to a let, prompting Jankovic to ask “How long do I have to wait?” Serena answered, “Until I’m ready,” finishing the conversation with, “Honestly, you got a problem? I’m not the one.”
The moment proved pivotal, with the match swinging decidedly in Serena’s favor as she rolled to a 3-6, 6-0, 6-2 victory. While there were no hard feelings on display at the handshake, it was only the latest bit of drama for Jankovic, whose fans call her the Empress. Earlier in the tournament, she somersaulted to the ground and was hit by a netted volley en route to a marathon win over nemesis Melanie Oudin in which Oudin hit 61 winners. During her semifinal match against Switzerland’s Stefanie Voegele, Jankovic practically transformed her changeover chair into a bed, slumping to a nearly-prone position in the wake of a brief tantrum between the second and third sets.
In addition to Jankovic’s antics and Venus and Serena’s date, Charleston also brought a new and worrisome chapter to the Sloane Stephens story. A lethargic Stephens was bossed off the court 6-2, 6-0 by Bethanie Mattek-Sands in her first match. The defeat brought Stephens’ post-Australian Open record to an unflattering two wins and five losses, adding fuel to the theory that her semifinal run at the tournament may have been a case of too much, too soon.