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Djokovic leads Serbian tennis revolution

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Djokovic: Talent and turmoil
  • Djokovic reached a career high ranking of number two in the world in 2010
  • Ana Ivanovic claimed grand slam glory at the French Open in 2008
  • Serbia also has Janko Tipsarevic and Viktor Troicki ranked in the top 50 on the ATP tour

(CNN) -- Novak Djokovic and his female counterparts Ana Ivanovic and Jelena Jankovic have transformed Serbia into one of the leading tennis nations in the world with their well-chronicled achievements in the past few seasons.

Djokovic reached a career high ranking of number two in the world earlier this year, Jankovic went one better and briefly topped the women's rankings in 2008 while Ivanovic claimed grand slam glory at the French Open in the same year.

It is a remarkable record for a country of approximately 10 million people and with no great tradition in tennis, rather a passion for team sports such as football (Serbia qualified for the 2010 World Cup finals) and basketball.

Djokovic aside, Serbia has also produced Janko Tipsarevic and Viktor Troicki, who are both ranked in the top 50 on the ATP tour, giving them a formidable Davis Cup team.

With Djokovic leading the way and winning the conclusive rubber against John Isner, Serbia beat the might of the United States in the World Group first round earlier this month to reach the quarterfinals of the competition for the first time.

They will now play neighboring Croatia for a place in the semifinals.

In times past the two countries formed part of the old Yugoslavia, who reached the last four of the competition in 1988, the following year, and 1991.

The Serbian women's team reached the World Group playoffs of the Fed Cup in 2007, but with Jankovic and Ivanovic in the ranks have the potential to challenge for top honors in years to come.

Djokovic puts an unusual slant on the reasons for the success of the current crop of Serbian players, tracing it back to the crisis of 1999 when NATO planes bombed Belgrade before the regime of president Slobodan Milosevic was removed.

Gallery: Novak Djokovic

Djokovic celebrated his 12th birthday during the bombings and like other youngsters was not allowed to go to school because of the dangerous situation.

It left him and other leading players with no alternative but to practice tennis for four or five hours on end day after day.

"But still you know it (the war) gave me a lot of hours on the tennis court and I was very happy about it," he told CNN.

"But in those conditions, in those times, you have players like Jelena Jankovic, Ana Ivanovic, Tipsarevic, myself, all these guys went through that.

"I think it is a question that has been raised and asked to all of us, for last two, three years, how come you are coming from such a small country with so many problems and you still managed to become top players you know," he added.

Djokovic says that the bonds that were forged in those trying times has given all those involved a double sense of purpose.

"As a small country we got united in those critical times and we supported each other and right now that the country is prospering and it has turned its intentions towards the West and I am happy with the situation as it is now," he added.

Prior to the current clutch of star players, the most famous home-grown talent produced by Serbia was former world number one Monica Seles, who fostered her talent in the old Yugoslavia.

Seles was born in Novi Sad and at the age of 11 won her category at the renowned Orange Bowl tournament in Florida where she was spotted by noted coach Nick Bollettieri.

It prompted a move to the United States where she later became a naturalized citizen and multi grand slam champion.