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The Serbians continue to be a revelation

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TALL DEEDS: Talented players like Jelena Jankovic (left) and Ana Ivanovic, snapped in front of the Eiffel Tower, have, along with Novak Djokovic, put Serbia on the world tennis map. Photo: AFP
TALL DEEDS: Talented players like Jelena Jankovic (left) and Ana Ivanovic, snapped in front of the Eiffel Tower, have, along with Novak Djokovic, put Serbia on the world tennis map. Photo: AFP

Nikolay Davydenko cherishes his anonymity

PARIS: Serbia has limited tennis infrastructure and little state support for the sport. It also has two women and a man left in the French Open singles draw.

Jelena Jankovic and Ana Ivanovic advanced to the French Open semifinals for the first time with victories on Tuesday, while Novak Djokovic joined them on Wednesday.

"Wherever you go, it's just Serbians all over the place, winning all these matches," said the fourth-seeded Jankovic on Tuesday.

Ivanovic, who beat 2006 runner-up Svetlana Kuznetsova 6-0, 3-6, 6-1, said she drew inspiration from her fellow Serbs.

"We can all use others' successes as motivation," Ivanovic said. "People back home are very proud of us, and that makes us feel very good."

The Serbs have been approached to play for other countries Djokovic for Britain, Ivanovic for Switzerland, and Jankovic for the United States. All declined, despite obstacles facing budding tennis talent in Serbia.

Modest tradition

The war-wracked nation of 8 million touts a modest tennis tradition aside from nine-time Grand Slam champion Monica Seles, who was born in Novi Sad but is an ethnic Hungarian and an American citizen.

"All that we have in tennis here came from mud, from nothing," Tipsarevic said.

Djokovic, Jankovic and Ivanovic say their parents were their main financial backers and they've spent time elsewhere. Djokovic was in Munich, Germany, for two years before returning to Belgrade, while Jankovic is based in Bradenton, Florida, and Ivanovic resides in Basel, Switzerland.

Quiet man

Nikolay Davydenko is happy to leave the Russian razzmatazz to Marat Safin and Maria Sharapova if it guarantees him victory over Roger Federer in the French Open semifinals.

The quiet man of tennis, decidedly low-profile compared to his former World No. 1 and double Grand Slam winning compatriots, cherishes his anonymity which has cloaked his rise to four in the world.

But should he pull off a masterstroke and achieve a first career win over the World No. 1 and reach the Roland Garros final, he'll have to reluctantly emerge from the shadows.

The odds are stacked against him; eight times he's played Federer and eight times he's come up short.

Enjoy the game

"The most important thing for me is to enjoy my tennis. If I am enjoying it then I play well," said the 26-year-old.

"You always need to make good results by getting to a Grand Slam final or a semifinal. You are playing on centre court, people know you. On TV, people watch you.

"But what do I most enjoy? Hitting the ball and making winners."

It's not the philosophy which will make the advertising men drool, but it is the kind of single-mindedness that has taken the frail-looking, 70kg Russian into a second French Open semifinal.

Friday's clash will split the Paris sympathy vote.

There will be those willing on Federer to grab the two wins he needs to claim a first French Open title and so become just the third man in history to hold all four Grand Slam crowns at the same time.

However, there will be others who believe Davydenko was cheated out of a place in the 2005 final when he lost a five-set semifinal marathon to Mariano Puerta, the Argentinian who later failed a drugs test and was banned.

Federer has only played Davydenko once on clay. That was a straight sets win in the Hamburg semifinals in 2005.

Respect

But the World No. 1 has the utmost respect for Davydenko whose form now is almost unrecognisable to that of two years ago.

"He's a great player," said the top seed who reached his third successive semifinal with a 7-5, 1-6, 6-1, 6-2 win over Tommy Robredo.

"He's improved over the years. He's become more consistent from the baseline and his serve has improved. He's a great runner, it will be a very physical match."

Work hard, play harder

Maria Sharapova works hard for her rewards and enjoys them.

"I wake up and I practice, and it's about four or five, six hours of the day where I commit myself to my career and what I'm doing," said Sharapova on Tuesday after reaching the semifinals.

"When I'm done with that, I'm able to enjoy the place where I live my house, and my car, and probably those things I wouldn't be able to have without tennis," Sharapova said.

The 20-year-old Sharapova, who was born in Siberia and began training in Bradenton, Florida, at age 9, said she grew up in a secluded environment.

"I didn't know what the other life could have been like," Sharapova said. "I went to a private school for two years, but other than that, I've always been home-schooled most of my life."

Only a few people really knew Sharapova when she was growing up, she said. "I've never really been that social," Sharapova said. "I've never had to go to class every single day. So I don't really don't know what that life is all about." Agencies

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