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05 February 2011

Blog - Flag wars


NEWS ARTICLE

Photo: Arne ForsellSwedish fans

By Peter Bengtsson in Helsingborg

We are yellow, we are blue – we are Swedish, who are you?

Sweden might feel that they have a kind of monopoly for the colours blue-and-yellow. But since the new nation Ukraine saw the daylight in 1991, there is a challenge.

Whether Swedish or Ukraine, if fans attending the Fed Cup tie at Idrottens Hus arena in Helsingborg decide to colour code their clothing to their country flag they’ll be hard to distinguish from each other. Choose the blue-and-yellow and it will all be fine.

It turns out both countries have blue-and-yellow in the national flag. As with all Nordic countries, Sweden has the familiar cross and the blue-and-yellow has been the Swedish official symbol since the union with Norway ended in 1905.

You may think that the Ukrainian flag was presented for the first time when the Republic came into existence in 1991, but that is not correct. Ukraine enjoyed independent status after World War I and today’s combination of colours was very much present at that time. The blue-and-yellow flag was also seen in the Soviet Republic of Ukraine when it was occupied by the Germans during World War II.

Tales from the past even suggest that the blue-and-yellow were the colours for Kievian Rus, the Medieval state of Rus. The state existed from approximately 880 to sometime in the middle of the 13th century. Interestingly, Scandinavian traders were among the founders of Kievian Rus, which could explain the love of blue-and-yellow for both countries. Another theory is also that blue-and-yellow was used for both countries since the famous battle in Poltava.

In terms of women’s tennis, however, there’s no similarity present between the two countries. Ukrainian women have produced some great noise on the tennis circuit of late, and the country currently has 40 players on the official WTA world ranking list. In contrast, the monarchy of Sweden has just six ranked women players.

And Sweden just learned, along with the rest of the tennis world, that Ukraine has some good male players, too. World No. 4 Robin Soderling was upset by fresh-faced Ukrainian Alexandr Dolgopolov at the recent Australian Open.

Which country will carry the blue-and-yellow flag with more tennis pride in the coming years? Time will tell, and this week’s Fed Cup first round will be counted in this tennis flag war.


The ‘Little Big City’

BratislavaBy Adam Lincoln in Bratislava

Given the historical links between Slovakia and Czech Republic, there’s plenty of mileage in the ‘local derby’ angle for this weekend’s Fed Cup tie in Bratislava.

But for a millennium or so, Slovakia was actually part of another country: Hungary. To be precise, the Slovak territories formed a northerly province in the Kingdom of Hungary, which in turn was under the thumb of Austria’s Habsburgs for much of that time.

While the empire fell apart after World War I, and the language of the former Magyar overlords bears no relation whatsoever to Slavic tongues like Slovak and Czech, old buildings across Slovakia still bear inscriptions in Hungarian.

Today, Bratislava is very much a Slovak town, but the signs of its multicultural past are still evident here, too. The golden crown that sits atop the spire of the St Martin’s Cathedral is an oversized replica of the Hungarian royal crown.

For centuries, Hungary’s monarchs – which also meant Austrian monarchs such as the redoubtable Maria Theresia – were crowned here, because Budapest and much of Hungary was occupied by the Ottomans.

Indeed, until the 20th century, ‘Bratislava’ didn’t even exist. With Vienna only 37 miles away, the city was always known as Pressburg to German speakers, while the Hungarians called it Pozsony.

Climb up to the city’s old ‘hrad’, or fortress, for a panorama that takes in three countries – Slovakia, Austria and Hungary. Green fields have replaced what was once the no-man’s land of the Iron Curtain.

Some try, but to compare Bratislava to Budapest, Prague, or Vienna is to do the Slovak capital a disservice. With a population of about 430,000, it is a fraction of the size of those cities, but has a charm all its own.

The compact, pedestrian-friendly old town has been gloriously restored. Among the most impressive buildings is the pastel pink Primate’s Palace, where Napoleon signed the Treaty of Pressburg in 1805 after a couple of major battle victories over the Austrians. The French ruler surely noticed the Hall of Mirrors inspired by the Palace of Versailles. The palace was the venue for this Fed Cup tie’s official dinner on Wednesday night.

Today, Bratislava’s touristic slogan is “Little Big City”. It’s a quirky place, with life-size brass statues of notable identities – including Napoleon – sprinkled around town. For those with an interest in the Soviet bloc, there’s the flying-saucer-esque  Novy Most bridge, and the mind-blowing neighbourhood of Petrzalka, with its proliferation of panelaky (pre-fabricated concrete apartment blocks).

Now, Slovakia is among the most prosperous members of the ‘new’ European Union, a testament to the resilience of an often put-upon people. Tennis is just one area of endeavour where the country punches above its weight. Czechoslovakia won the Fed Cup five times, but the Czechs have not won it by themselves, and neither has Hungary. For the record, Slovakia triumphed in 2002.


A Novi Sad doubleheader

Novi SadBy Zoran Milosavljevic in Novi Sad

Staging a Fed Cup tie in Serbia’s picturesque northern city of Novi Sad will bode well for the competition. Home to an annual music festival in July, drawing thousands of foreign visitors in a medieval fortress overlooking the Danube River, Novi Sad will be a worthy host of its first top-level tennis event featuring once mighty nations looking to return to the top tier of the competition.

The SPENS Arena, with a capacity of 6,500 seats, will be buzzing with excitement when Serbia, missing its top players Jelena Jankovic and Ana Ivanovic, take on the Canadians, who reached two successive quarterfinals in the 1980s before they plummeted into the doldrums of Fed Cup zone group action.

Apart from on-court thrills bound to provide a spectacular atmosphere, Novi Sad has so much to offer to visitors throughout the year. Its main pedestrian street, Zmaj Jovina, is packed with a variety of tasty bars and pubs while the city’s outskirts are famous for farms, which are home to secluded restaurants offering the most delicious home-made local dishes.

Still, the cathedral in the city centre, just opposite the town hall where the draw for the tie was held, appears to be the most eye-catching hallmark in a city of just over 400,000, where a mixture of everlasting Habsburg architecture and an ever-so-lively Balkan hospitality provide a truly refreshing environment.

Rich with entertainment and yet able to air a much-needed tranquility to its residents and tourists alike, Novi Sad will complement the pulsating rhythm of Serbia’s capital Belgrade, which became a world tennis stronghold in December when Serbia won its first Davis Cup title.

The Davis Cup champions will start their title defense against India here next month, and there is little doubt that Serbia’s tennis federation has made the right decision to entrust Novi Sad in what should be a highly entertaining doubleheader.


Wine anyone?

By Sandra Harwitt

Have you never heard of Maribor, Slovenia?

It’s true that many people might not know much about the city, but it’s certainly come to the attention of the Guinness Book of Records.

That’s because Maribor is home to the world’s oldest living specimen of a noble grape vine that still bears grapes. The Guinness Book recognized the vine in 2004.

Seriously!

The vine was planted over 400 years ago on the left bank of the river Drava and has survived revolutions and the two World Wars.

The vine yields a noble wine called Modra Kavcina (Blue Kavcina) and around 100 bottles of wine are produced each year. This wine is most often a special gift bestowed on select dignitaries each year.

And the Old Vine has spread its way around the world with cuttings from the original vine having been planted in places such as France, Spain, Switzerland, Austria, and Australia.


Top-notch Tasmanians

By Sandra Harwitt

For many, Tasmania might just seem to be an off-the-beaten path Australian island. But, surprisingly, a number of its native sons-and-daughters have found themselves enjoying world-class distinction.

Take, for instance, actor Simon Baker. He was born in Tasmania, and has become a famous face on TV and in the movies. Think ‘Devil Wears Prada’ on the big screen, ‘The Guardian’ and current TV hit ‘The Mentalist’ and you’ll have Simon Baker pegged.

And Baker isn’t the only famous actor to hail from Tasmania.

Errol Flynn, that grand swashbuckler of yesteryear, was born in Hobart in 1909. His father was a respected biologist, and on his mother’s side he is a descendant of Fletcher Christian of H.M.S. Bounty fame.

In the royal department, Mary Donaldson, the Crown Princess of Denmark and future Queen, is from Tasmania. The former marketing executive met her husband, Crown Prince Frederik at a Sydney pub during the 2000 Olympics and the rest is history.

But with all that said, the most famous citizen to have Tasmanian roots is the Tasmanian devil. The marsupial that bears black fur with white patches and is the size of a small dog has become world renowned from the Looney Tunes cartoon character, Taz.

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  • BLOG EDITOR

    Sandra Harwitt

    Sandra, an American sportswriter for longer than she's willing to admit, has travelled the world to cover tennis for major publications, such as ESPN.com, The Miami Herald and Associated Press. Her biggest problem of late is managing to pack worldwide purchases into suitcases and still meet the airline weight restrictions.

 

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