Serbian Team: Novak Djokovic, Viktor Troicki, Janko Tipsarevic and Nenad Zimonjic
French Team: Gael Monfils, Michael Llodra, Gilles Simon and Arnaud Clement
Riding a wave of emotions into this year's Davis Cup final in Belgrade, the Serbian and French finalists have everything to play for during the last event of 2010.
While Novak Djokovic and Nenad Zimonjic were busy pulling in successful campaigns at the World Tour Finale in London, the French squad led by Gael Monfils and Michael Llodra were plugging away on the practice courts in the south of France.
It goes without saying that a victory for either team would translate into a monumental achievement. Serbia, a country of 10 million people, may never get another opportunity to fight for the Davis Cup title at home, while the rich history of French tennis seldom expects anything short of top honors.
Djokovic has publicly stated that his sole mission for this year year has been to bring his nation their first Davis Cup crown, while French captain Guy Forget—both a DC winner as a player and a coach—has remained confident and serene in his team's chances.
With the court surface at the Belgrade Arena playing more like the O2 Arena in London, both Djokovic and Zimonjic will feel right at home from the first ball struck.
Davis Cup competition has always brought forth a completely different dynamic from any Tour event on the calender. Matches are played over five sets, and the partisan crowd can often dictate the outcome. We've seen Chilean hero Fernando Gonzalez play some of his best tennis when representing his country, and I'm confident the same can be said for Djokovic.
Although Djokovic has shown some nerves during the various Davis Cup ties this year, his competitive nature and defensive skills have aided him to victory. Serbia's top star does have a few solid shoulders to lean on during the three day event. Viktor Troikci, a winner in St. Petersburg, Russia this fall, opted to miss the Paris Masters event in order to "be fresh and ready for the finals."
How about the philosophical Janko Tipsarevic? The glasses-weary baseline guru has put together a competent year, highlighted of course by his win over Andy Roddick at the US Open. The 26 year old posted crucial singles victories during the semifinal round against the Czech Republic, and will therefore be better prepared to deal with the pressures of playing at home.
When looking at the French squad's chances, one has to wonder whether or not the substance and grit required for victory is present? Richard Gasquet has folded and faded under many circumstances, while Monfils and Llodra—although ultra talented—have been known to break down tactically in bigger matches.
I was impressed with Llodra's demeanor at the Paris Masters, but I'm not convinced that his straight set victory against Djokovic will become a factor in Belgrade. With the court surface playing significantly slower, Djokovic's return game and passing shots will be awfully tough to diffuse.
Monfils' play will inevitably become vital towards his team's chances of survival. Playing some of the best ball during the fall season, Monfils finally seems to be soaking in the wise words of his coach Roger Rasheed. However, I'll never really be at ease with Monfils' consistency or positive outlook towards his game, simply because he more often than not experiences way too many turbulent results.
In saying that, I do believe that this tie will go down to the wire. As much as pressure, confidence or nerves may creep into the equation, it appears that both teams are healthy and have been training hard. There's never been any secrets towards the French squad's annual success in Davis Cup, and while Serbia enters its first-ever DC final, there's no question that the budding tennis nation is ready to become a regular force for the title.
I'd be inclined to say that France has a much better lineup to gain the doubles point, while Serbia's singles players have posted better results this year.
French underdog and former top six player Gilles Simon could become a factor in the weekend's action, posting stellar fall results, while playing his best career tennis on hard courts. If Forget decides to use Simon, his skill set will hold enough offense and defense to defeat any member of the Serbian team.
All in all, it's been a hectic year on the circuit, and I expect nothing less than a blockbuster finish in Belgrade. While the 16,000 in attendance will be amped for a first-time victory, I do believe that many gasps of frustration, and nailbiting moments will occur before the final shot is won.
Already Belgrade's most eligible bachelor, look for Djokovic to lead his anxious teammates towards their maiden title.
Winner: Serbia, 3-2