By Martyn Herman
MADRID (Reuters) - Try telling Viktor Troicki and his Serbian team mates the revamped Davis Cup Finals don't matter.
The 33-year-old was inconsolable on Friday after poking a routine volley out on Serbia's third match point in the deciding doubles rubber of their quarter-final clash with Russia.
He and Novak Djokovic had three match points in the final-set tiebreak before Andrey Rublev and Karen Khachanov claimed a 6-4 4-6 7-6(8) victory at La Caja Magica to give the Russians a 2-1 win and set up a semi-final against Canada.
Troicki became a national hero in 2010 when he won the final point against France's Michael Llodra to clinch the Davis Cup for Serbia in Belgrade, sparking unforgettable scenes in which the team, including Djokovic, shaved their heads on court before partying into the small hours.
This time there was just gut-wrenching despair as Serbia's hopes slipped away in the cruelest fashion imaginable.
In an emotional news conference, Troicki could barely raise his chin off his chest.
"I probably feel the worst ever. I never experienced such a moment in my career," he said.
"I let my team down and I apologize to them. We were up in the tiebreak. We had chances to finish it. We didn't do it. I messed up in the crucial moments.
"I don't know. God gave me the chance once to be the hero, to win the Davis Cup in the deciding rubber. Now he took it away. I'm really disappointed with myself."
Djokovic claimed a 15th successive Davis Cup singles win when he beat Khachanov 6-3 6-3 to level the tie after Rublev had thrashed Filip Krajinovic 6-1 6-2 on center court.
The 16-times Grand Slam champion needed treatment on his elbow in the second set of the doubles but blanked out the pain as he and Troicki had match points at 6-5, 7-6 and 8-7 in the breaker. Troicki missed a return on Russia's first match point to spark wild celebrations in the Russian camp.
"It hurts, it hurts us really badly," Djokovic said.
The Davis Cup Finals marked the end of 35-year-old Janko Tipsarevic's career, another of the 2010 heroes, and captain Nenad Zimonjic described it as the end of the golden generation.
"At the end, you win as a team and you lose as a team. It doesn't matter if somebody wins two matches and you end up losing the match," he said as the tears began to flow.
"It was very emotional because it's Janko's last....sorry."
At that point virtually every team member began to cry and the media broke into applause.
"The main thing is that everybody knows here how much we care about each other, how much we love each other," he added.
Former world number eight Tipsarevic finished off a nerve-tingling news conference in forthright fashion.
"I will be very short," he said. "It's not the wins or the losses, it's that this beautiful sport makes you tough.
"This emotion that you want to commit suicide after a day like this. You go towards and against the wind. These emotions are the things I can draw from these 20 years."
(Editing by Toby Davis and Ed Osmond)