Early into the fourth set, down two sets to one, Janko Tipsarevic scrounged around his gear and popped a pill, gesturing animatedly to his box whilst urging himself on to make the most of his time at Wimbledon. His opponent: fourth seed and last year’s finalist Kevin Anderson had gone about justifying his billing, serving down the ‘T’ where the first serve kicked off the surface leaving Tipsarevic wrong-footed and falling over.
When he did manage to return, he did so tamely, the one-handed backhand lob falling squarely in the service court where Anderson had ample time to slot it past a flailing Tipsarevic. While the first set had evidenced why the match was bound to advance along expected lines, Tipsarevic pulled one back in the second, not by returning better but by holding his own serve, then trading groundstrokes from the back until Anderson blinked.
However, for those watching Tipsarevic in action, the fact that the Serb, is in his twilight years, doesn’t escape one for even in moments of ecstasy, something has got to give. For Tipsarevic who is on the comeback trail for what many have deemed to be a final hurrah, an injury flare-up was imminent ever since the first serve of the match. The thing in question then is the source of discomfort. Is it the hamstring tendons of the left or right leg, or is it the foot, or the right knee for much of Tipsarevic’s lower body has been ravaged by injuries.
To ascertain the issue, Tipsarevic called for a medical time-out after Anderson had bundled up the third set 6-1. Three minutes later, Tipsarevic was back on the court with the fourth set getting underway. Play progressed on expected lines as Anderson’s return of serves went deep and kept low, prompting Tipsarevic to lunge forward, his racquet pushing the ball over the net somehow, only to be swatted dismissively by the South African who towered over the net.
Change of ends beckoned a change of game-plan and Tipsarevic pushed past the pain, the painkiller helping of course. The final hurrah had to be reminiscent of the Tipsarevic of old who had carved a niche for himself, not least for his outward appearance than for his playing style. When he first came into prominence, Tipsarevic could be classed as the most unconventional player in a sport which cherished everything routine. Post engaging matches which had gone the distance, the post-match pressers would have the interviewer picking his brain over his love for classical literature. The Serb then delighted those in attendance by talking about the many contradictions in his philosophy for life – he calls himself an atheist but reads the Bible.
As most players on the ATP tour bared their torsos at the change of ends, Tipsarevic would do so and reveal a canvas of tattoos. The most popular one remains the quote from Russian writer Fyodor Dostoevsky’s ‘The Idiot’ which says “Beauty will save the world,” spelled in Japanese, tattooed on his left arm. Of the few instances when he lost his cool on the court and had rather ugly spats with the linesman, his unique appearance on the tour of a tattooed punk didn’t help either.
However, all of that brouhaha over his persona could never take away from the tenacity of his game-play, something which he’d never let up for a single point, evidenced by his career-high ranking of world number eight. For much of his career, the Serb remained a baseliner who traded majorly in penetrating groundstrokes, also venturing to the net for a deft touch when he spotted an opening.
Down a break in the fourth set, it was always going to be tough for Tipsarevic to get one back. He was hardly managing to hold his own serve. When Anderson was serving at 5-4 for the set and match, a couple of passes down the line from Tipsarevic had Anderson trapped in the middle of his court. The Serb willed himself to bring the set back on serve as the crowd cheered him on. All of that came to nought when a thumping forehand from Tipsarevic gathered a touch from the net and slowed, falling at Anderson’s end with a predictable bounce. The fourth seed then played a mean backhand slice which bounced off the net to fall on Tipsarevic’s side of the court. It evoked sighs from the crowd, an apology from Anderson while Tipsarevic cursed his lot as he fell to his knees.
It has been that sort of a career, where the highs could be counted on one finger – Tipsarevic has only four titles to his name since turning professional back in 2002 – but the lows could be fished out of a bowl. It’s only tragic then that Tipsarevic should bow out in similar fashion. It remains to be seen if he’ll soldier on for another slam before officially calling time on his professional career.
Updated Date: Jul 10, 2019 02:13:04 IST