Sunday, June 29, 2008

Janko Tipsarevic, Balkan Baseliner

Will the beauty of his game save the tennis world?

Janko Tipsarevic
Age: 23
Country: Serbia
Ranking: No. 40

There's a new Serb gunslinger in town and he's got game. While the world rightly raves about Novak Jokovic - and Ana Ivanovic and Jelena Jankovic on the women's side - Janko is the latest Serbian tennis star whose name ends in "vic" with a game ready to break into the Top 10. If the world hadn't heard of him before - or seen him take world No. 1 Roger Federer to five sets at this year's Australian Open - they had after he bounced world No. 6 Andy Roddick out of Wimbledon's second round this past Thursday. The colorful Tipsarevic had lost to Roddick here in 2006, but avenged his defeat to the two-time Wimbledon finalist in four impressive sets, outlasting Roddick 6-7 (7-5), 7-5, 6-4, 7-6 (7-4). Roddick served 27 aces but he was 0 for 8 on break points and squandered three set points in the final set. In the tennis world this is known as "choking."

Yes, but that's not to diminish the influence of Tipsarevic's play on that result. The Guardian's Robert Kitson was so impressed by the young Serb's game that he wrote a poetic piece about Tipsarovic following a 2006 loss at Wimbleton to Andy Roddick. "Imagine a fly fisherman on the deck of a deep-sea trawler and you will get an idea of how Tipsarevic operates. In a world full of power-hitters he directs balls to improbable corners of the court with more subtlety and skill than the pile-driving Roddick will manage in his entire career."

Tipsarevic followed up his defeat of Roddick with a win Saturday over another hard hitter, Russian Dmitry Tursenov (the world No. 33 who had paired to beat him in doubles at this year's French Open), 7-6 (7-1), 7-6 (7-3), 6-3, to advance to a fourth round showdown with Rainer Schuettler.

Tipsy's trademarks, besides the noseguard over the bridge of his nose (what's that all about, anyway?) and the plentiful tattoos that peek out from under his shirt (forearm and back of neck), are his unbelievable power and baseline game. His forehand is a force to be reckoned with - this guy hits winners that leave no doubt about their intention - and his two-handed backhand is not far behind. Admittedly, he'll need to improve his serve to break into the Top 10 (as Roddick - who scoffs at any serve under 100 mph - said afterwards, "He hit 90 mph serves down the middle of the service box and I netted them"), but his mental acumen is worth an added 20-mph of zip any day. He got inside Roddick's head and played a game of chess with his opponent, constantly keeping him guessing. This kid's smart.

Tipsarevic started 2008 by reaching the third round of the Australian Open, where he more than held his own against World No. 1 Roger Federer, losing the deciding fifth set by 10-8 in a match that lasted 4 1/2 hours - no wonder they call the guy "Marathon Man"! He made it to the quarter finals at Zagreb, the third round of Monte Carlo (beating Paul-Henri Mathieu and Nicolas Lapentti before falling to David Ferrer), and barely lost a third-set tiebreaker to big-serving Chilean Fernando Gonzalez in Rome. He's also beaten James Blake this year. At the French Open, he lost in the first round, in four sets, to Ecuador's Nicolas Lapentti (which helped drop his ranking from world No. 33 to No. 40), but made it to the quarterfinals in doubles with his fellow Serb partner Victor Troicki before losing to the Russian team of Igor Kunitsyn and Dmitry Tursunov.

Oh, and about those tattoos. According to Wikipedia, they reflect his love of classic literature (rather unusual for a pro athlete): his left arm features a quote from Fyodor Dostoyesky's The Idiot ("Beauty will save the world") written in Japanese characters (after deciding it didn't look as cool in Russian), while a tattoo on his right arm represents the first two letters of the names of his father, his mother, himself and his brother, also written in Japanese Katakana. The tattoo on his back is a quote from German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer. Word has it that he reads Goethe and Nietzsche - for fun.

Tipsy's Tats quote Dostoyesky (L) and Schopenhauer (R)

Tipsy is quite the entertaining character to watch. Besides the tats, he also has piercings (he has a labret and a barbell in the right brow) and at one time sported glasses, which is rarely seen on today's tour...

...and even sunglasses - which you never see in the pro game (I wonder why?).

Future's so bright he has to wear shades

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