Serbia’s hopes of winning the Davis Cup for the retiring Janko Tipsarevic ended in tears and heartbreak after a quarter-final defeat by Russia in Madrid.
Part of Serbia’s Davis Cup-winning team of 2010, 35-year-old Tipsarevic chose this week’s event as his career swansong.
He had to watch from the sidelines as Novak Djokovic was subbed in alongside Viktor Troicki for the deciding doubles after Djokovic had levelled the tie at 1-1 with a 6-3 6-3 victory over Karen Khachanov.
A dramatic contest against Khachanov and Andrey Rublev that saw Djokovic need treatment to his troublesome elbow and the Serbian pair argue with the umpire came down to a deciding tie-break.
Serbia had three match points but could not take any of them, with Troicki scooping a horrible volley long on the third one, and Russia made them pay to reach the last four for the first time since 2008 with a 6-4 4-6 7-6 (8) victory.
A distraught Troicki, who won the deciding rubber in the 2010 final, blamed himself, saying: “I probably feel the worst ever.
“I never experienced such a moment in my career, in my life. And I let my team down, and I apologise to them.
“We had chances to finish it. We didn’t do it. I messed up in the crucial moments.
“God gave me once to be the hero, to win the Davis Cup in the deciding rubber. Now he took it away. I’m really, really disappointed in myself that I couldn’t hold my focus till the end and finish.”
The press conference then became even more emotional when captain Nenad Zimonjic, who was also part of the winning team in 2010, turned the focus to Tipsarevic.
He eventually composed himself enough to say: “There’s four players sitting here and I would say they are our golden generation. And I see it as an end because it’s Janko’s last match.
“And your dream may be to go all the way to celebrate with a victory, but sometimes it doesn’t happen what you wanted to happen.”
Tipsarevic, the only player not struggling to hold back tears, added: “I remember yesterday after the doubles one of your colleagues asked me what is the one thing that you can pull out from all these 20 years.
“And what did I say? The one thing is not the victories or the losses, it is that this beautiful sport makes you f****** tough.
“This emotion that you want to commit suicide after a day like this, and you go towards and against the wind, these emotions are the one thing that I can draw from all these 20 years that I was playing for the country and individual competition.
“A few of the guys apologised to me. I don’t accept these apologies because none of them let me down all over these 20 years.
“Everybody knows that they are like my brothers and I will be with the team in one or the other capacity and I would like to thank them all for being with me on this journey.”
Serbia’s despair was Russia’s joy. Khachanov and Rublev have been playing as a two-man team following the late withdrawal through fatigue of US Open finalist Daniil Medvedev.
They collapsed to the court in each other’s arms at the moment of victory and will take on Canada on Saturday for a place in the final.
Rublev in particular has shone this week and it was his 6-1 6-2 victory over Filip Krajinovic that paved the way for victory.
The 22-year-old said: “Both teams could win, both teams had a lot of chances. It was just like a coin toss, and we won this coin toss.
“It’s an amazing feeling to be part of this team, to play with them, now to be in the semi-final with them after so long a time. I’m happy I can perform really well, that I win my matches.”
Rafael Nadal ensured hosts Spain did not follow Serbia out of the competition by winning singles and doubles in another late-night contest against Argentina.
A minute’s silence was held before the tie for the father of Roberto Bautista Agut, who died on Thursday.
Bautista Agut’s replacement, Pablo Carreno Busta, was beaten 6-7 (3) 7-6 (4) 6-1 by Guido Pella but Nadal thumped Diego Schwartzman 6-1 6-2 then teamed up with Marcel Granollers to defeat Maximo Gonzalez and Leonardo Mayer 6-4 4-6 6-3.