25 August, 2013

Janko, Looking Up

Given the volume of press ink and keystrokes they generate, writing a post about tennis without the names Djokovic, Nadal, Federer, Murray, Sharapova, Azarenka or either Williams seems almost as valuable a modern day skill for tennis writers as quill pen mastery.  That said, if we're taking the shot, why not turn our attention to one of the sport's other most compelling characters, Janko Tipsarevic.  The bespectacled, Dostoevsky-tatted, sometime EDM DJ who was ranked a career high 8th in the world a year ago talked to myself and Josh Meiseles of the Sixth Set in the run up to the year's final major.  Despite a tough go of it on court lately, the Serb found plenty of reasons for optimism.

Tipsarevic started 2013 barreling through a relatively weak draw in Chennai (his highest ranked opponent was 60th ranked Go Soeda) to win his first ATP title of the year and his fourth overall.  Unfortunately, he found himself snakebit a couple of weeks later at the year's first major, the Australian Open.  There, he was forced to pull out of his Round of 16 match versus Nicolas Almagro due to a foot injury.  Unfortunately, the venom seems not to have been diluted with time.  Despite a strong 7-1 start in January, Tipsarevic has been reeling since. The 29 year old is just 8-16 since leaving Australia.  He arrives in New York ranked 21st in the world.  For the record, the computer doesn't lie, he's only managed back to back match wins twice since January; the last time at Roland Garros where he was dismissed in straight sets by Mikhail Youzhny in the third round.

Defending quarterfinalist points (360) from a year ago, the US Open would be a great venue to reverse a slide that he can't help but address, even unprompted on Twitter.  After falling in Montreal to Denis Istomin, his tenth opening round loss of the season, Tipsarevic tweeted, "The saddest part is that I'm practicing really well and have lost like 1 practice match since Madrid, but who gives a shit about that."  When we spoke with him, Tipsarevic was candid about the mental aspect of his struggles.

"I have to say that [the length of the season] was, apart from a little injury I had at the beginning of the year, one of the reasons why I dropped in the rankings," Tipsarevic admitted.  "At least in my case, [I] really needed to be focused every single day of [my] life; because you have other younger and better guys who are working to take your spot."  While his results waned, his professionalism did not.  "Up to Cincinnati, I was working hard," Tipsarevic said, "staying fit, staying in shape, but I wasn't really mentally there and I didn't enjoy myself."

Rough patch notwithstanding, the Serb feels like he and his game have turned a corner just in time for the US Open.  "I started feeling physically and mentally better last week [in Cincinnati]," Tipsarevic said.  "I know I lost in the second round, but I had a good win against Sam Querrey.  I started enjoying myself playing matches again....I hope things are going to change.... I kinda lost my focus a little bit and you can see the results, I dropped out of the top 20, but I'm feeling good, I'm playing good, it's not the end of the world and I hope I'll be back in the top 10."

The optimism surrounding Tipsarevic of late extends to the situation of his compatriot and Davis Cup teammate, Viktor Troicki.  The 27 year old former World No. 12 was suspended for 18 months by the ITF for breaking anti-doping rules, specifically failing to provide a blood test following a loss at the Monte Carlo Masters back in April.

"I know as you probably know that a decision will be made in four months.  He's going through a rough patch," Tipsarevic said regarding Troicki.  "I'm talking to him often on the phone and via email.  He has a healthy approach to it. He's been practicing every day and doing fitness."  When asked about Troicki's frame of mind, Tipsarevic said Troicki's spirits were up so far "because they might reduce his sentence, but we'll see."

Although he was in great spirits throughout, Tipsarevic reserved his biggest smile for the end of our conversation. "Coming the 19th of January." he said beaming, referring to the due date of his first child. Suddenly, it all made sense.  His inner calm comes from perspective.  Tennis matches aren't the only important thing in the world; nor are the exploits of a small handful of players, the only worthy stories in the tennis world.

Special thanks to Karen Pestaina of Tennis Panorama for the access

For my more frequent off the cuff observations, follow me on Twitter: @vblacklabel

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