Tennis: French face daunting final hurdle

Novak Djokovic is world number three, a grand slam champion and the talisman for Serbia's Davis Cup campaign but, for France, he is the tip of the iceberg.

Guy Forget's team prepare for tomorrow's Davis Cup final fearing that, even if they silence the Belgrade crowd by taking care of Djokovic, victory will still be out of their reach.

The task facing the French is daunting because Serbia boast their strongest Davis Cup lineup, with Viktor Troicki, Janko Tipsarevic and Nenad Zimonjic providing consistency, flair and doubles expertise behind Djokovic's all-round talent.

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"Everybody is talking about Novak, but in the semi-finals it was Tipsarevic who won both his singles and showed that he is a great player," Forget told reporters.

"Troicki is also playing very well, and so the home crowd is not our main concern, it's the fact that we will have to play very well if we are to have a chance to win."

Serbia coach Bogdan Obradovic could not have asked for a better build-up to the final.

After Tipsarevic claimed two points in the 3-2 semi-final win over Czech Republic in September, Troicki won the Kremlin Cup in October and, last weekend, Zimonjic captured the ATP World Tour Finals doubles title with Daniel Nestor in London.

It suggests Serbia are ready to win the Davis Cup in their first final appearance.

They reached the World Group for the first time in 2008 and, having twice preserved their top-tier status following first-round defeats, they made this year's final with wins over the United States, Croatia and the Czechs.

Zimonjic, the 34-year-old with two Wimbledon and one French Open doubles titles to his name, is likely to partner Tipsarevic in the doubles rubber, while Djokovic and Troicki should feature in tomorrow's opening singles.

The French are missing Jo-Wilfried Tsonga with a knee injury, so look to a quartet of world number 12 Gael Monfils, Michael Llodra, Gilles Simon and Arnaud Clement.

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"The players make things happen and my job is to make sure my team stay focused and in good shape so that they can be on top of their game," Forget said. "I haven't told the players yet who is going to play in the opening singles rubbers on Friday because I don't know yet." After reiterating that the Serbian team would keep their promise to shave their heads if they win the title, Djokovic said he was ready to face Llodra, who beat him in straight sets at the Paris Masters last month.

"He was playing great tennis in what was probably his best tournament of the year, on a surface more suited to his game," Djokovic said. "It was a fast surface but the conditions here are going to be different.Whoever I play, I am going to be ready."

Serbia have won all four of their matches at the Belgrade Arena, where Djokovic also has a perfect Davis Cup record in his singles rubbers.

The 2008 Australian Open winner believes the 15,000 home fans can again be a telling factor in what he expects to be a finely-balanced final. "We've always had huge home support and you can feel the interest and the passion of the people who want to come here and support their team," Djokovic said.

"It's going to be crucial for us to have a big support because it's going to be an unpredictable match against a very strong French team, and the crowd's support can play a key role."

Forget is confident France have enough experience to deal with playing in a hostile environment. "We have played Davis Cup matches across all the continents and these guys know how they have to play and behave when they have the crowd against them," he said.