Yesterday, the Serbian tennis federation (Teniski Savez Srbije, or TSS) announced the selection of Viktor Troicki to be the national team’s new Davis Cup captain. This decision came as a surprise to most tennis observers in Serbia, as well as to the captain of the last four years, Nenad Zimonjić. In their press release, the TSS said that the federation’s Board of Directors unanimously voted to appoint Troicki to a four-year term based on a proposal from a commission for the selection of the Davis Cup captain. (Thought the Board members are listed on the TSS website, and include one familiar name in Goran Djoković, Novak’s uncle, it isn’t clear who sits on the relevant commission.) They briefly thanked Zimonjić for his service before turning to a review of Troicki’s career highlights, starting with his heroics in the 2010 Davis Cup final against France and skipping his year-long suspension for breach of the ITF’s anti-doping rules.
In a lengthy statement posted on Twitter, Zimonjić expressed his dismay not only at the TSS decision itself but also at the process that led to it. According to Zimonjić, the players knew both that he wanted to stay on in his role and that the deadline for applicants for the captain position was October 24. At that time, he was informed by the TSS that he was the only candidate who met the criteria. Then, a week later, he received a phone call from Troicki himself telling him that other players had met in Paris, presumably during the Masters tournament there, and expressed a wish for him to be their new captain. On November 3, Zimonjić learned that the players had submitted a special request to the TSS and that the Board of Directors agreed to extend the application deadline by more than a month, giving Troicki time to collect his thoughts and put them on paper.
When Troicki contacted Zimonjić with the update some six weeks ago, he didn’t offer any “concrete reasons” why the players wanted a change. Nor, apparently, has anyone else, at least so far. Zimonjić claims that at no point this year—one that started with Serbia lifting the inaugural ATP Cup in Sydney—did players raise concerns, express dissatisfaction with his leadership, or indicate a desire to replace him. He continues: “Throughout the years, I tried to help all our players and be a support to them at all times, not only during Davis Cup competition but in every situation (I had excellent communication with all of them, supported them, followed their development, and was there for them with help).” Zimonjić further notes that he played alongside “4-5 different generations of players, starting from the very bottom level of Davis Cup competition [after then-Yugoslavia was relegated from the World Group due to sanctions] and going all the way to the title of world champions in 2010,” enumerating the various roles he has performed over his two and a half decades on the Serbian team: “singles player, doubles player, playing captain (in 2003-04), mentor, and. . . an older brother (as someone 8-15 years older than other members of the team, that’s how I behaved).” Zimonjić, who received the ITF’s Award of Excellence when Serbia made their second Davis Cup final in 2013, holds team records for doubles wins (30-19), overall wins (43-31, beating out Djoković & Tipsarević, who are tied at 34), and ties played (55).
In an interview published today in Sportski Žurnal (but conducted before Zimonjić posted his comments on social media), Troicki acknowledged that he didn’t expect this responsibility now, before the end of his playing career, and that he had “very mixed feelings” when he first got the news. However, while he was initially surprised by the development, the new role represents a dream come true for the 34-year-old and he feels “honored to have been selected”: when the players choose you, he explained, “that’s not something you refuse.” As for the reasons prompting this decision, Troicki didn’t offer much detail: “We’re all grateful to Zimonjic, who was an excellent captain.” “There were no disagreements, simply a need to refresh and change” after many years, he added, pointing to recent overhauls to leadership on other Serbian national teams, like football (soccer), as if to say that change is everywhere.
As for Zimonjić, he declined to speak to Vojin Veličković when the long-time Serbian tennis writer contacted him on Thursday night. It seems the TSS hadn’t bothered to inform him of their decision, leaving it to the journalist—who, like other beat reporters, had received an email from them some six hours earlier—to convey the bad news. Later, Veličković reflected on this lapse in collegiality: “Who would be a better captain is a professional question, and the federation has the right to its assessment; but whether one should inform someone about the outcome of his application and tell him that he’s no longer a part of a competition to which he’s dedicated a quarter-century of his life is a human one.” Although Zimonjić hasn’t officially retired, it’s tough to read yesterday’s comments as anything but an end to a significant chapter, if not a farewell.
Our excellent results were also the consequence of excellent teamwork. The team members and the national team’s results were always my top priority. I tried to convey that to all the players as well: what it means to be a national team member, to represent your team and country, and to contribute as an individual to a greater goal.
My desire was always to represent Serbia in the best possible way and in the best light, to give our nation reasons to be proud and happy, to all rejoice together and celebrate our shared historical successes!
To all players, I wish good luck and great success in the future, both in individual and in team competition.
Big greetings to all sports lovers and our loyal fans, our people who have rooted for us all these years at competitions in Serbia and around the world, with whom we managed to celebrate great successes and share many beautiful moments, for which I’m especially glad.
With wishes for many more reasons for celebration in the future: let’s go, Serbia!
Particularly given that Serbia hosts no ATP tour events, who knows when the veteran doubles specialist, who as of his last interview was still attempting to make a comeback from bilateral hip replacement surgery, will next appear before a home crowd. What comes across in his typed statement is a mix of pride, principle, bemusement, and sadness. “For me,” Zimonjić writes, “it was always a great honor, privilege, and responsibility to represent my country and my people, and to contribute as a member of the national team.” After listing his best results at team events, including four appearances at the Olympics, he observes, “I’m very proud of all these accomplishments, as well as of the fact that the players chose me to be the captain for both Davis Cup and the ATP Cup. In that regard, I was sure that my expertise, experience, knowledge—and therefore my function as team captain—wouldn’t be in question.” Like the now-former captain, readers of the public comments from Serbian tennis insiders are left without answers to the key questions: namely, why replace Zimonjić now? Perhaps above all, why—after all his contributions to the sport and given the apparent closeness among members of the team—do it in this way?