Call tennis a lonely sport? You just had to step into the KSLTA tennis stadium this past week to how it's just not true, especially if you come from a country with a sporting pedigree.
The Serbian team pose for photographers after beating the USA 3-1 in their Davis Cup tie in Boise, Idaho last year. Pic/Getty Images
Travelling light is not something the Serbs do. On their trip to India for the Davis Cup World Group playoff this weekend, the former champions have brought along as many as 15 support staff for four players. The joke in the tennis fraternity is, bigger the player, bigger their entourage. And the Serbian team, currently ranked No 2 in the world, kept up with the trend. "Sometimes," stressed Vuk Nikolic, the Davis Cup administrator for the Serbian team, "there are even more."
Although not as varied as their poster-boy Novak Djokovic's entourage, which includes his pet poodle Pierre, the Serbians, turned out in their smart white team uniforms, have come in with a crack team of coaches, physios , trainers (at least one for each player) and doctors which is worthy of a major diplomatic operation. Then there's the media manager, logistics co-ordinator and an exercise co-ordinator. They even bring along their own stringer. The Indian team, with four support staff and two reserves, looked overwhelmingly outnumbered at home.
It's a big family
"It is more like a big family," said chief doctor and entourage veteran Zdeslav Milinkovic. "Our approach is that all year round the players should have access to the best of facilities and knowledge on everything from fitness to nutrition to anti-doping. We are constantly there to support our players. But that's what you will find with all the big teams, be it USA, Spain, France or Russia." Except that Serbia is a much smaller nation and a much poorer economy. Even their currency is cheaper than India's. "We don't have the money," said Bogdan Obradovic, Serbia's non-playing captain.
"But we have the knowledge, the will and the genes. As a captain I need inputs. And by having so many people, and not just two or three, I know there will be fresh ideas and fresh perspectives coming." The only glaring miss is a psychologist. "The Fed Cup team, the women, has one, we don't," explains Milinkovic. "The men, they are so stubborn they are not going to listen to a psychologist. So we just hit them on the head!"