When people hear the words “tennis” and “Serbia” in the same sentence the most logical reaction is to think of world No.1 Novak Djokovic.
A five-time Grand Slam champion, to immediately cast one's mind to the best player on the planet makes sense.
But often slipping under the radar is fellow Serb and world No.9 Janko Tipsarevic, who proudly represents his country on and off the court.
There are two Serbs sitting inside the men’s top 10 and yet the spotlight seems to be permanently on only one. Is Tipsarevic, 28, fazed to be in Djokovic’s shadow? Well, no shadow exists, he said.
“I’m not even No.1 in New Belgrade which is a part of town where we both live,” Tipsarevic laughed.
“Obviously Novak is the best player in the world and I’m aware of that, but I try not to think that I am in anybody’s shadow.
“There is enough fame, financial satisfaction, recognition for all of us who are willing to do whatever it takes to be successful.”
Tipsarevic has become known for his profound and even philosophical approach to tennis. Always avoiding clichés in his answers, his views on the sport and his own status are rare among the flurry of press conferences and interviews.
Tipsarevic, nestled between Argentina’s Juan Martin Del Potro and Canadian young-gun Milos Raonic at the launch of the AAMI Kooyong Classic, kicks off his campaign on Wednesday against fan-favourite Marcos Baghdatis.
The Serbian is one of eight players in the Kooyong Classic – one of the most popular exhibition events in the lead-up to the Australian Open. And it’s the 25th anniversary of the event.
Also in the draw are world No.7 Tomas Berdych, Australian veteran Lleyton Hewitt, Croatia’s Ivan Dodig and Frenchman Paul-Henri Mathieu.
Tuesday’s launch at Kooyong Lawn Tennis Club was a relaxed affair as the competitors spoke casually about their health, preparation and life off the court.
Raonic revealed he was almost an Australian – his family choosing to move to Canada instead because Australia’s immigration pages were “much longer than Canada’s one page” – and Berdych talked about the highs of being a Davis Cup champion.
Mathieu touched on fatherhood, prompting Hewitt’s advice that “three (kids) are a lot more than two”, while Japan’s Kei Nishikori – who was forced to pull out because of a knee injury – discussed the thrill of winning on home soil in Tokyo last October.
But it was Tipsarevic’s comments that hit home with the most force.
The Serb’s Grand Slam results haven’t been as impressive as his fellow top 10 compatriots, but after surging up the rankings in 2011 – world No.49 to No.9 – the Serb hasn’t dropped away.
Asked whether he changed his approach to the game in order to keep his spot among the elite, Tipsarevic was typically articulate.
“Tennis in my opinion is a way of life ... you need to live and breathe tennis every day of your life in order to achieve results and be successful on the top level,” Tipsarevic said.
“I think my ranking improved a bit over the last few years because I changed my approach overall to tennis as a sport. I was always a hard worker on the tennis court but I changed the perception of how I behave and what I do outside of the tennis court.
“Before I was thinking that it was enough that you work hard for four, five, six hours a day on court, and that your day ends. All of these guys here (at Kooyong) are big champions and we all understand your day doesn’t end when you walk outside of the tennis court.”
Tipsarevic has never advanced past Round 3 of the Australian Open, so he is keen to get off to a strong start on Australian soil at Kooyong.
His mind is clearly in the right place – now it’s up to his racquet to do the talking.