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Llodra-Zimonjic: Strength & Unity

DEUCE Magazine

Zimonjic, Llodra© Getty ImagesNenad Zimonjic and Michael Llodra head into the US Open in a rich vein of form.

Nenad Zimonjic and Michael Llodra head to New York City as one of the US Open favourites, having won 11 of their past 12 matches.

They have established themselves as one of the most imposing doubles teams on the ATP World Tour this season. With powerful serves, solid hands at the net and years of experience winning matches on the grandest stages, it’s no surprise that Nenad Zimonjic and Michael Llodra have flourished in 2011 - their first year together.

Zimonjic had the perfect end to the 2010 season. After closing out a three-year partnership with Daniel Nestor by winning the Barclays ATP World Tour Finals, the 35 year old was part of Serbia’s first Davis Cup champion team.

Llodra's story was the complete opposite.

"We've known each other for a long time, but I didn't know Michael that well off court"

Across the net from the spirited Serbians was the disheartened French squad. Llodra helped put his country ahead 2-1 with Arnaud Clement, rallying from two sets down to claim the doubles rubber against Zimonjic and Viktor Troicki, only to see his Davis Cup dreams dashed in a loss to Troicki in the deciding singles match.

It was a tough situation, but playing against each other on the world stage wasn’t as complicated as it could have been, given the two hadn’t been teammates yet, according to Zimonjic. “I think it was easier that way than playing the tie after being together for a year or two,” Zimonjic expressed to DEUCE in Cincinnati. “We are both professionals. When you step on the court, you try to win no matter which player is on the other side. We were very respectful to our opponents and there was no exception in that match.

“Michael was trying to do his best for his team and I was trying to do the same. He won the doubles match but we ended up winning the tie. I was very disappointed to lose the doubles rubber since we were up two sets to love. But at the end, Mika had to play the deciding match against Viktor which he lost, and it was really difficult for him. The whole year, he played unbelievable… didn’t lose one match in the Davis Cup until the last one.”

Zimonjic, Llodra In forming a new partnership, their alliance has provided both different perspectives, a change-up to what they’ve been accustomed to in the past.

Llodra’s previous full-time partnerships were with his countrymen and good friends, Fabrice Santoro and Clement, so his decision to join forces with Zimonjic wasn’t a foregone conclusion. "Last year, Nenad called me and said it would be a good opportunity to play with him, because he had a high ranking and thought we would play good together," Llodra discloses.

"I said, 'Thank you for the offer but I have to think about it. Usually I play with French players.' After a week, I decided to play with him because it was a great opportunity. With my age, I think I can play singles and doubles and I thought I have the chance to play with one of the best doubles players in the world."

Llodra has been a change of pace for Zimonjic too; his past partners include Nestor, Santoro, Leander Paes and Julian Knowle. "We’ve known each other for a long time, but I didn’t know Michael that well off court," Zimonjic admits. "I knew that he likes to joke around and that he’s not the most serious guy. It’s nice off the court as you spend a lot of time with your partner and he makes it more fun and interesting."

Zimonjic calculated their combined experience on the court and common approach of playing serve and volley tennis to be a winning formula. "You try to predict if you can play well together, if you can complement each other both on and off the court," says the Serb. "I thought with Mika, we'd have great potential, both being aggressive serve and volley players. He's a lefty and I'm a righty and both of us have big serves."

"We have a good energy on the court and off"

Equally as valuable as being in tune on court is a harmony away from the game, believes Llodra. "We have a good time on the court and also off, which I think is the most important thing… to enjoy the person you are playing with.

"He’s a great guy. It’s crucial for me to play with a guy I enjoy being around. Also, he has the perfect game for doubles with a huge serve and pretty good hands and volleys. He has a lot of experience, has been World No. 1, has won Grand Slams, so it’s very important for me to realise the chance to play with him. But also I try to help him with my experience in singles and doubles. We listen to each other and have good communication."

Zimonjic concurs with the Paris resident. “We have a good energy on the court and off. When we’re on the court, we’re pretty serious, trying to concentrate, trying to do our best.

“Off the court he’s the boss, organising where we’re going to go, whether it’s to celebrate or to go to dinner. He likes red wine, and knows a lot about it, so I get to learn and taste some great wines being with him.

“Once you get to play with somebody more, you get to know them better. You get to know what they like to do and how you can help them. Those are the things we are still learning about each other and developing."

Zimonjic, Llodra Their synchronicity has come to life during the North American summer hard-court season, after displaying consistency throughout the year, including semi-final showings at Roland Garros and Wimbledon.

Ashley Fisher explains, "Llodra and Zimonjic really do all the things well that make a good doubles team. Nenad is as fundamentally sound a doubles player as you will find and has had success with a variety of partners. Llodra is one of the few players that has the ability to successfully serve and volley in singles and has the ability to take over a doubles match with his shot making. Together they make a formidable doubles team who are capable of beating any team in the world."

In recent weeks, Llodra and Zimonjic have broken through for their first team title at the Legg Mason Tennis Classic in Washington D.C., saving four match points in both the semi-finals and final, and followed their triumph up with an impressive title run at the Rogers Cup, defeating World No. 1 Bob Bryan and Mike Bryan in the championship match. “It’s definitely a great feeling to finally get the titles. We didn’t play our best tennis, but we found a way to win as a team,” says Zimonjic.

“On the way to the title, we saved four match points in both the semi-finals and final, which was like a miracle, but we made it and that helped us the following week in Montreal when we got into tight situations. I’m really happy the way the partnership is going and I think we are improving with every match.”

"It took Llodra and Zimonjic half the year to fire on all cylinders, but now that they are, the rest of the doubles tour better look out"

Though it took eight months to claim their first title together, Llodra wasn’t concerned, believing the two were well on their way to success after reaching the final of the Mutua Madrid Open in May. "It’s always difficult when you play with a new player. You need time to see how you will play together," states Llodra. "Since Madrid, we’ve played pretty good. Our tactics are much better and we understand each other more on the court. It just takes time, as you need practice and matches to feel comfortable. Since we’ve arrived in the US, we’ve played well."

Neither player has advanced to the US Open final, but Llodra is optimistic about their chances. "The goal is to win the majors. We’ll have to work hard to get there but if we play well like we did this summer, we have a good chance. But there are many doubles teams that can win.”

For Fisher, the duo have been slow burners. Sending a warning to Llodra and Zimonjic's rivals, he says, "Doubles requires chemistry and it has taken Llodra and Zimonjic half the year to fire on all cylinders, but now that they are, the rest of the doubles tour better look out." 

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