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'Serb and volley': Serbia's rise to tennis powerhouse

From Paula Newton, CNN
updated 6:31 AM EST, Fri December 19, 2014
Belgrade-born Novak Djokovic, the world's number one male tennis player, is the poster boy for Serbia's recent athletic resurgence. Belgrade-born Novak Djokovic, the world's number one male tennis player, is the poster boy for Serbia's recent athletic resurgence.
HIDE CAPTION
Meet Serbia's tennis superstars
Meet Serbia's tennis superstars
Meet Serbia's tennis superstars
Meet Serbia's tennis superstars
Meet Serbia's tennis superstars
Meet Serbia's tennis superstars
Meet Serbia's tennis superstars
Meet Serbia's tennis superstars
Meet Serbia's tennis superstars
Meet Serbia's tennis superstars
Meet Serbia's tennis superstars
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STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Serbia has produced in recent years a string of tennis superstars
  • Novak Djokovic is currently the world's number one male tennis player
  • The rise of the country's tennis champions has created a halo effect in Serbia

Editor's note: CNN's On the Road series brings you a greater insight into the customs and culture of countries across the world. Until the end of December CNN International explores the places, people and passions unique to Serbia. Read CNN's special reports policy.

(CNN) -- Grand slam triumphs, world number one rankings, Olympic medals -- Serbia, a country of just over seven million people, has defied crushing odds and financial difficulties to emerge in recent years as an unlikely tennis powerhouse.

Undeniably, the Serbian tennis rise -- dubbed "Serb and Volley" by some observers -- is led by Novak Djokovic.

Meet Serbia's tennis sensations

The 27-year-old, known affectionately as Nole, is currently the world's top seeded tennis player, a title he's holding for the third time in the last four years. Last July, he beat Swiss supremo Roger Federer in a thrilling Wimbledon final to win his seventh grand slam title.

But it's not just Djokovic. Over the last few years, the Balkan country has produced a string of global male and female tennis superstars -- from former world number ones Ana Ivanovic and Jelena Jankovic to singles and doubles champion Nenad Zimonjic.

"I think generally we're very talented athletes, it doesn't matter which sport," says Zimonjic, 38.

"In the past, we didn't have that much success in individual sports but it turned out to be that our generation was maybe the beginning of something new -- you know to have world number ones, for such a small country, it was amazing."

Novak Djokovic celebrates after securing the 2014 Paris Masters title on Sunday 2 November 2014.
Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images/file

The phenomenal rise of the sport's profile has created a halo effect in Serbia, not just for its tennis talent but the whole country.

The perseverance of Belgrade

Serbia is still trying to recover from the devastation of the Balkan war in the 1990s. Since the dark days of the conflict, the country has sought to find equilibrium for an economy that was subject to years of mismanagement, suffered infrastructure damage during NATO bombings and endured extended economic sanctions.

Yet, despite the limited financial backing and crumbling facilities, Serbia's tennis future still looks bright as a new generation of young athletes is determined to follow on the footsteps of their compatriot superstars.

"We are really strong people and I think that is what makes us so special," says 17-year-old Ivana Jorovic, a former world junior number one.

"We need to do everything alone without any help because we are really a small country. It's hard but in the other way it's really nice because that makes you really strong," she continues. "You have to do everything the best if you want to beat someone from America."

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