No.1 3x3 team Liman are 'stronger' after last season's heartbreak
LIMAN (Serbia) - World number one Liman returned to the site of a nightmare but emerged from the World Tour season opener Doha Masters with their reputation further enhanced.
The sensational Serbs were back in Qatar just four months after one of the most heartbreaking losses ever seen on the World Tour.
In a classic final against Riga, Liman were up 20-15 and on the brink of a third Masters title in a shortened 2020 season before the Latvians produced the greatest escape since Andy Dufresne in The Shawshank Redemption capped off by a shot for the ages from Karlis Lasmanis.
"When I think of that game… we were winning the whole game," Liman star Aleksandar Ratkov said. "Everyone thought it was the end, it was harder to lose than win it.
"It was really painful. We were down but we knew we could come back to win the World Tour Final."
In the worst one-two punch since Floyd Mayweather inflicted on Conor McGregor, Liman's hearts were once again torn apart by their rivals in the Jeddah Final decider with Riga's other superhero - Nauris Miezis - outdoing Lasmanis with an epic Tissot Buzzer Beater.
It was a painful defeat that left Liman shaken and speechless.
"We were out for revenge, thinking we were going to win," Ratkov said. "Some of us were screaming and let the frustration out after we lost. But we all get together in good and bad times.
"Those moments are hard when you have the night ahead because you can't sleep and keep thinking of the game."
Liman enforcer Mihailo Vasic said he "couldn't believe what happened".
"The ball just didn't want to go in for us," he said. "Then we left their best shooter right open. I watched it two hours later and it was even crazier.
"It could have been a perfect year if we had won those games."
But a new season brings new beginnings and Liman have been out for revenge like John Wick. Their mission, however, hit a speedbump in Doha when sharpshooter Stefan Kojic was injured after their opening game meaning Liman played without a sub for the rest of the tournament.
Playing with so much courage and pride, Liman still made it through to the semis, where they narrowly lost to eventual champs Amsterdam. They also memorably beat much-hyped compatriots Ub in a quarter-final classic.
Their strong structure and team culture - which was strengthened by being based in China for a period - ensures they can withstand a player going down as they also previously showed by memorably taking out the Debrecen Masters 2019.
"We are more than colleagues because we lived in China…more like brothers," Ratkov said. "The defeats will motivate us even further to be better.
"I think we are the best team at the moment and I hope we can show that on the court."
"Those two losses (last year) made us stronger and I hope we learned a lesson," Vasic said.
Even with star Stefan Stojacic missing in Doha due to a nose injury, Liman were able to smoothly add new recruit Nebojsa Kilijan who stepped up with pick and roll action and the occasional two-point bomb.
In an ominous warning for rivals, Liman's disappointment has made them hungrier and maybe even better,
"We need more time to play together and know each other," Kojic said. "But we like to be with each other.
"We can't look back."