BELGRADE – Thanks to the genius of Novak Djoković and other top-class Serbian tennis players – Janko Tipsarević, Viktor Troicki, Ana Ivanović, Jelena Janković, Nenad Zimonjić, and a galaxy of talented youngsters, Serbia has become a leading tennis nation in the world.
However, before Djoković appeared on the scene, there was a period when Serbian tennis did not flourish, the Serbian House of Good News was told by Jelena Genčić, the most famous Serbian creator of talented players.
A Time of Changes
“It may sound heretical and contradictory, but I stand behind my words. Tennis functioned better in Serbia earlier than in a period when many talented youngsters appeared. Clubs were not prepared to handle this wave of talent, because it brought novelties that did more harm than good to Serbian tennis”, said Genčić, who died in 2013 after this interview was made.
“When the earlier funding system was no longer capable of financing all the talented kids, international and domestic programmes had to be reduced. One example was when we had three talented youngster but could only choose two to send to tournaments. This was a fatal flaw which we did not recognise in time. We reacted too late, and lost continuity and had to change the methodology of our work”, Genčić said.
Ups and Downs and Injustice
Genčić said that this was a period of many ups and downs. Clubs were forced to shorten the programmes of players who were to be taken to prominent tournaments. It was a great injustice, but at that time it was the only way to keep the system afloat.
“In that situation parents began paying to send less talented kids to tournaments. This meant that the pyramid of quality crumbled; it was now the most prosperous rather than the most talented who played at the most prominent tournaments. That was the start of the downslide of our tennis and the undermining of the foundations of basic tennis”, Genčić said.
She said this period lasted between 1985 and 1990. The consequences were dire. With the passage of time untalented youngsters with ensured funding inevitably began to slacken their game. They did not care about their results, because they knew their parents would keep funding their appearances at tournaments.
“This led to a decline in the quality of tennis. Failure to work and a lack of ambition halted all progress”, Genčić said.
Although Genčić said that in her view the beginning of the bad period in Serbian tennis was when parents began to finance their children, even then there were exceptions.
In the history of Yugoslav and Serbian tennis there were bright examples of the private engagement of parents who helped their children financially to reach the top. Those who had help from their parents were Bruno Orešar, Goran Ivanišević, Mila Jaušovec, and later Viktor Troicki, Jelena Janković, Ana Ivanović, Janko Tipsarević. On top was the Djoković family, who promoted Novak to the world’s number one player.
Some earlier local aces – Nikola Pilić, Bora Jovanović, Željko Franulović, Nikola Špear, Slobodan Živojinović, Goran Pripić and others achieved their apex according to the older model of financing, which is not very likely ever to be repeated in Serbia again.