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Croatia and Serbia renew old rivalries in Davis Cup showdown

  • Croatia take on Serbia in Davis Cup quarterfinal tie in Split
  • First tennis clash between the nations since the break-up of the old Yugoslavia
  • Serbian number one Novak Djokovic confident his team can secure victory
  • Defending champions Spain without Rafael Nadal for tie against France

(CNN) -- 2005 champions Croatia take on neighbors and arch-rivals Serbia in the Davis Cup quarterfinals this weekend -- their first tennis clash since becoming independent nations following the break-up of the old Yugoslavia.

The tie in Split gives Croatia home advantage, but in terms of world rankings Serbia, headed by Novak Djokovic, will start as narrow favorites to reach the last four.

What is guaranteed is a tinderbox atmosphere in a Spaladium Arena filled to the brim with about 1,000 Serbian fans in the 10,000 capacity crowd.

Mindful of recent incidents at the Australian Open where Serb and Croat fans have been involved in ugly scuffles, extra security measures have been laid on by local police.

There's going to be a lot of tension in the air but hopefully everything is going to go all right
--Marin Cilic
  • Davis Cup
  • Serbia
  • Croatia
  • Novak Djokovic
  • Marin Cilic

Yugoslavia reached the Davis Cup semifinals three times, the last being in 1991, the year Croatia declared independence, leading to a bloody Balkan war with the Serbs.

Fortunately, relations have improved at all levels between the countries and Djokovic told CNN's Open Court earlier this year that players in the Croatian team were among his best friends on the circuit.

"I mostly get along with tennis players from my country, from Serbia, Tipsarevic, and from Croatia, Ljubicic, Ancic and Cilic, all these guys that I speak the same language with, it gets easier to have a friendship with and have a good connection," he revealed.

That friendship will be put aside when action in the best-of-five tie gets underway on Friday with the opening singles rubbers.

Croatia have been hit by injuries to Mario Ancic and big-serving Ivo Karlovic, with Ivan Ljubicic coming out of Davis Cup retirement especially for this tie.

With the reshuffles, a heavy weight of expectation falls on the shoulders of Croatian number one, 21-year-old Marin Cilic, who said the tie was going to be a "memory for life."

"It's going to be a clash of two great nations," he told the official Davis Cup website.

"There's going to be a lot of tension in the air but hopefully everything is going to go all right."

Cilic, who lost in the first round at Wimbledon, like Ljubicic is at his best on the indoor hard court surface being used in Split.

They will need to be with Djokovic, newly installed as world number two, leading a Serbian team boasting Viktor Troicki, Janko Tipsarevic and doubles world number one Nenad Zimonjic.

Djokovic is confident of victory but also wary of Croatia's home advantage.

"Given the quality of our team, it is logical to expect victory," he told his official website.

"Of course, it is hard to predict what will happen there, because being a host in Davis Cup matches is an advantage.

Djokovic wants top spot in rankings

"But, as I said, we have quality, which we've been confirming years back and we can challenge any team on any surface in any country. I am optimistic," he added.

Serbia knocked out the United States 3-2 in their last 16 World Group tie to reach the quarterfinals for the first time but Djokovic wants them to go all the way.

"We have a good chance to pass the Croats, and I think we can go all the way to the finals," he concluded.

Djokovic opens against Ljubicic in the first singles match Friday, with Cilic then playing Troicki.

In Saturday's key doubles clash, Croats Ivan Dodik and Antonio Veic are up against Tipsarevic and Zimonjic.

In other ties, defending champions Spain will be without world number one and Wimbledon champion Rafael Nadal as they take on France at Clermont- Ferrand.

Spain are bidding for a hat-trick of titles while France are hampered by the loss through injury of their top-ranked player Jo-Wilfried Tsonga.

Another absentee this week is Wimbledon finalist Tomas Berdych who misses the Czech Republic's visit to Chile in Coquimbo.

Russia have Nikolay Davydenko back for their Moscow tie against Argentina, who are missing injured U.S. Open champ Juan Martin del Potro.