Few people raised an eyebrow when Novak Djokovic announced he would be missing this week’s Serbia Open in Belgrade, the tournament his family owns, as he recovers after what was a traumatic Monte Carlo Rolex Masters, during which he learned of the death of his grandfather. The world No 1 is, of course, entitled to make any decision he likes about his schedule, within his commitment agreement. He will doubtless come back strong next week on the blue clay of Madrid (which is another issue).
There is no question that his withdrawal was a blow to his own tournament and crowds may well be down because many of them would have paid only to see Novak. Having won its first edition in 2009, Djokovic got injured in 2010 but returned to win the title last year and it can be argued he has done his bit, getting the tournament off the ground and playing it each time.
But this year’s event is different. When you consider that Serbia has three players inside the world’s top 30 you would have thought that there would have been some pressure put on the others – Janko Tipsarevic and Victor Troicki – to play in Belgrade. Not just for Djokovic’s sake but for the sake of the tournament.
Indeed, there were only two Serbians in the 32-man draw and both of them were wildcards, one of which was given to Marko Djokovic, the middle of the three Djokovic brothers. (16-year-old Djordje also got a wildcard into qualifying). The other wildcard went to Dusan Lajovic, who did win a match before getting injured in round two.
All that left Spain’s Pablo Andujar as the top seed. Now with all due respect to Andujar, who is enjoying his best season to date and is at a career-high of No 38, the question was raised by a fellow tennis journalist this week; when was the last time someone so lowly ranked was the No 1 seed for an ATP event?
Well, actually it was last year in Newport, when John Isner, then ranked No 46, was the top seed. To make matters even more bizarre, Spaniard Marcel Granollers (ranked 27) is playing a Challenger Tour event in Tunis this week, rather than chase the points in Belgrade.
The tournament is a week later in the calendar this year but only due to the way the dates fall, not due to any specific change. Rumours have been swirling that there was not much money available for player guarantees and it is also up against Munich and Estoril, two traditionally well-supported events.
It is perhaps more likely that in Olympic year, when the schedules of the top players are even more cramped, it is simply a question of priorities. Djokovic is obviously aiming for the highest prizes in the sport, particularly a fourth straight grand slam title, if he can win in Paris, while Tipsarevic is focusing on the bigger events. Troicki is perhaps the biggest surprise, because he would have had a good chance to win the title. But even doubles star Nenad Zimonjic is missing, which can’t be good.
Wimbledon announced last week (rather quietly, amid all the prize money headlines) that putting a roof over Court No 1 is a possibility for their next stage of development, called Wimbledon 2020. Since the roof on Centre Court opened in 2009, barely a drop of rain has fallen in three Wimbledon fortnights but anyone who has been to Britain knows that could change at any time.
A second covered court would certainly put the US Open to shame but it is the Australian Open that continues to lead the way on that score. On Wednesday, the state of Victoria committed a further AUD$5.5 million (£3.5 million) towards the next stage of development at Melbourne Park. Victoria has already pledged AUD$231 million to building at Melbourne Park, which includes an upgrade and a roof over Margaret Court Arena, the third-biggest court, which means that the 2015 Australian Open will have three covered showcourts.