BELGRADE Bars and pubs in Belgrade prepared for a rush of tennis fans ahead of Sunday's Wimbledon final between Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray, while local newspapers drummed up the excitement splashing patriotic headlines across their front pages.
The daily Blic said the Serbian world number one would have to overcome massive home support for Murray, who stands one victory away from ending Britain's 77-year wait for a Wimbledon's men's champion.
"Novak ready to strike the empire," the newspaper declared.
"Apart from Novak's girlfriend and family in his box at the All England Club, the whole center court crowd will be rooting for Murray and Djokovic will have to find a way to deal with the huge pressure."
Djokovic would draw inspiration from his 2011 victory at Wimbledon, after which 100,000 elated fans gave him a hero's welcome in front of Serbia's parliament in central Belgrade, it added.
Shopkeepers and bakery owners in the countryside retreat of Krcedin overlooking the Danube in the northern province of Vojvodina counted down the minutes to the end of their morning shifts.
"We are all very impatient for the final to begin and keeping our fingers crossed for Djokovic to come out on top," a kiosk seller told Reuters.
"It's much more than just a tennis match for many of us because Djokovic has been a great ambassador for Serbia ever since he broke into the spotlight," she said.
Blic quoted Djokovic's former mentor Nikola Pilic as saying the Serb would have to dig deep after a grueling five-set win over Argentine Juan Martin Del Potro in an epic semi-final on Friday.
"It's difficult to recuperate in just 24 hours from such a strength-sapping encounter and Djokovic will be up against it because Murray is every bit as resilient as he is," Pilic said.
"But whatever the outcome, this final will signal the dawn of a new era because Djokovic and Murray will have contested three of the last four Grand Slam finals and are clearly the two best players in the world."
(Reporting by Zoran Milosavljevic; Editing by Peter Rutherford)