He is writing the history of Serbian tennis in gold letters. He has laid down the foundations for a new, brighter future of the white sport played in our country. When only 16 years of age he achieved impressive results that many older players would be envious of. Four years on, he has come tantalisingly close to realising his life’s dream - he is already the world’s third best player: Novak Djokovic!
- I shall never forget the day when a four year old boy came to my tennis camp with a bag neatly packed, as if for professional training. I asked him who packed it for him, and he replied he did it himself. When asked what he wanted to be when he grew up, without hesitation he said: “number one in the world”, the same answer I was given many years ago by Monika Seles when she was a little girl - said the legend of Yugoslav tennis, Jelena Gencic.
This took place in the Kopaonik tennis camp, whose head coach at the time was Jelena Gencic, and the boy was none other than Novak Djokovic.
The Djokovics can be said to be a family of sportsmen and women. As a boy Srdjan put on a pair of skis in Zvecane, where he lived at the time, and then went on to compete for a number of years on the white slopes. His life changed in 1984 when he finished the skiing academy and began work as an instructor in the prestigious ‘Genex’ school in Kopaonik. It was there one winter that he met a beautiful and slender ski instructor Dijana, a recent DIF graduate. People started seeing Srdjan and Dijana together on the slopes with increasing frequency. It was the shared love of the mountain and the white pistes which brought them together. Forever!
Novak was the first of three sons. He was four when he took up tennis, while living in Kopaonik. Racquet in hand, he would run after the older kids at summer tennis camp, attempting to get the ball over the net. This went on for a while. He was eight when he was spotted by the eagle-eyed Jelena Gencic. Ever reserved in her statements, this time she could not but comment: ‘This is the greatest talent I have seen since Monika Seles.‘
Jelena began to follow his progress and look after little Nole. He took to tennis easily. As they say, he was a natural.
- It was hard then, but even now it is difficult - admits mum Dijana. - Novak was developing, he needed to be accompanied everywhere, and we weren’t rich. Society, as a rule, only remembers such kids later, when the accolades and medals begin to arrive. You can imagine how we felt when Novak left home on his own for the first time when he was twelve. He spent three months in Munich, Germany, at Nikola Pilic’s tennis academy. Nikola looked after him as if Nole was his own child. Still, there were some positives in this experience. Novak began to develop a sense of independence early on, so that later he didn’t seem to mind spending long periods away from home.
Jelena is our family coach - says Srdjan, smiling. - She created Novak. He owes her a great deal. Jelena instilled in him a certain attitude, both to sport and to life. She is the same with his two brothers. I believe that they too will succeed. Jelena has not been wrong in her judgement yet.
Novak embarked on his stellar career path when he was 14, in 2001, a year he finished as European champion (singles, doubles, team). He won gold in San Remo with his national team (‘the Blues’) that year, while they came second at World Championships. The following season he continued to impress with great matches and became the best under-16 player of the old continent, having won the prestigious ‘La Boule’ and ‘La Poet’ tournaments in France, previously won by today’s great tennis stars such as Hewitt, Grosjean, and Roddick. He was also victorious at the prestigious Prince’s Cup in Miami, as well as the ITF tournament in Pancevo (under 18) where he beat rivals up to three years older than him. After five ITF tournaments played, he became the 40th best junior tennis player in the world.
In the 2003 season he continued to impress with great results and titles. It began with his appearance in the final of the Nurnberg ITF tournament, a match he was unable to finish due to injury. He then went on to win another gold medal for his country. In the French city of Latne he competed together with his team mates, under the leadership of selector Jovan Lilic, and became Europe’s best under-16 player. He won all of the six matches played.
He found himself part of the SCG Davis Cup selection in matches against the Ivory Coast and Bulgaria. He will remember the summer of 2003, not only by the gold won in Latne, but also by his first professional tennis match. At the Futures tournament organised by TK ‘Red Star’ he beat the fourth seed in the first round, earned his first ATP point and went on to defeat all who stood in his way to the title.
- ‘My dream was to get through the first round and win my first professional point, so what happened was beyond my expectations, I won the title. In my home country, my hometown, I showed that I can compete with professional tennis players and beat them’ - said the member of Humska camp.
He didn’t stop there, and the following week, after winning the futures tournament he entered another one, organised by TK “Dril”, where he reached the semi-final, notching up eight consecutive wins. His entry into the world of professional tennis saw him instantly ‘jump over’ the bottom half of the ATP list. At the sixth and last Futures tournament he played in Serbia in 2003 he reached the semi-final. On route he defeated the French player Salves, 16 years his senior and a player who, during the ‘90s, spent five years ranked inside the top 100. He won the national competition for under 18s, followed by the title of national senior champion, which he won with his team (Partizan). It was Novak who scored the winning points for Partizan against their eternal rivals from Karaburma.
Following his appearance at the Challenger tournament in Belgrade in early February 2005, he decided to devote his time and efforts to playing professional tournaments and pave the way towards becoming one of the world’s best tennis players.
That same year he successfully qualified for Grand Slam tournaments in Melbourne, Paris and London. Following this, he entered the main draw in New York where he reached the third round. This result saw him move up to number 80 in the world. At his last tournament in 2005, in Paris (the Masters Cup), he reached the third round, on route ‘banking’ his first win over a top 10 ATP player, Mariano Puerta from Argentina (9). This enabled him to finish the season ranked 78th.
The following year (2006) he won his first ATP tournament in the Dutch city of Amersfort, immediately after which he took another title in Metz. This meant that he became the youngest player inside the top 20. Djokovic also played his first ever Grand Slam quarter-final that year at Roland Garros. He finished the season ranked a brilliant 16 in the world.
] And then the dream year arrived. In the first week of 2007 Novak was victorious at the start of the Australian summer season in Adelaide. This was to be just the start of the incredibly successful season that followed. His first stop was the semi-final in Rotterdam, after which his career really took off and so began his rise to the very top. After losing in the final at Indian Wells, Djokovic won his first ever Master Series title at the ‘fifth Grand Slam’ in Miami. A few weeks later the Serbian tennis player won the Estoril tournament. He played in the semi-finals of Roland Garros and Wimbledon, and in mid-August he won the Montreal tournament beating the top three players on his way to the title: Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Andy Roddick. At the US Open he made his first Grand Slam final appearance, which he lost to Roger Federer. Later that season, Novak secured Serbia’s historic place in the World group of the Davis Cup, after which he won his fifth title of 2007 in Vienna. In mid-November this amazing season was crowned with his first ever appearance at the Masters Cup in Shangai, even though he failed to reach the semi-final. Even so, Djokovic finished the year as number three in the world! 2008 will see him set his sights on even bigger goals - the second, and then first position in the ATP rankings.
] Everyone has their idol, and so does Novak Djokovic. His choice is American Pete Sampras (“I like his serve and behaviour on-court!"), one of the best players of all time, and lately he has mentioned Andre Agassi as an inspiration. He speaks Serbian, English and German. His favourite surface is hard-court. In those rare moments of free time, Novak likes surfing the net, watching films, listening to relaxing music, and sometimes he even manages to find time to go out with friends and his best friend Vuk. He likes home-cooked food, salads and fruit juices.
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