Serbian powerhouse - UPWARD CURVE

Serbian powerhouse - UPWARD CURVE





Considered one of the best tennis players of all time Novak Djokovic

is a force both on and off the court. Matthew Weiner finds out more

It’s tough at the top, or so they

say. Yet Novak Djokovic has

been at the top of his game

for quite some time now and

the pressure doesn’t appear to

be showing. A rigorous tennis

schedule, media and sponsorship

demands, family commitments

and business meetings mean

the 26-year-old gets very little

down time, but, throughout it all,

one thing remains constant – the

cheeky, relaxed smile.

“I have a great life”, says the

multiple Grand Slam winner. “My

tennis career will only be short

so I have to make the most of it

while I am here and have fun at the

same time”. As well as the tennis

titles and accolades Djokovic has

appeared on TV shows in several

countries including the USA’s

The Tonight Show with Jay Leno,

CBS’s 60 Minutes and Sir David

Frost’s Frost Over The World on Al

Jazeera. in addition, he has also

made ventures into popular culture.

Djokovic appeared in the music

video for Hello a song by Martin

Solveig and Dragonette and also

made a cameo appearance in the

Hollywood high-budget movie The

Expendables 2. His face is often

on the front of magazines and the

Djokovic brand is unquestionably

on the rise. Any suggestion that he

might be doing too many off-court

activities is met with a verbal swipe

from Djokovic as fierce as one of

his forehands.

“At the moment I feel great both

physically and mentally,” says the

26-year-old. “Yes, I have done a lot

of activities since I became world

No. 1, but that’s what happens

when you achieve success as a

sportsman. I have a good team of

people around me who manage

and control everything I do and they

are doing a good job. Obviously

there are a lot of temptations and

a lot of things that you can enjoy.

That is normal. I cannot just be

100 per cent focused on tennis

because sometimes you need to

switch off and enjoy yourself. I am

young, I want to enjoy my life and

experience other things. I don’t

want to live like a prisoner where I

just live for tennis. Of course I must

be professional because to play at

the top level takes an incredible

amount of work and dedication

but at the same time I think I must

have some balance in my life. I

have always been like this and this

approach has brought me success

in the past and I think it is the best

way to be.”

Djokovic is undoubtedly a

busy man but he’s worked hard to

earn his success and acclaim. In

1993, as a six-year-old, Djokovic’s

raw talent was spotted by Jelena

Gencic who ran a tennis academy

in Serbia and who also oversaw the

development of Monica Seles and

Goran Ivanisevic.

“It was the summer in

Kopaonik,” said Gencic shortly









before she died in June at the

age of 77. “He was watching my

coaching sessions for hours so I

asked if he wanted to join in. When

he walked on court he had a big

bag with a spare shirt, a towel,

a banana, a bottle of water and

sweat bands. I asked if his mum

had packed the bag but he said

‘No. I watched Pete Sampras and

Stefan Edberg and this is how

they pack their bag’. Novak use

to love watching tennis on the TV

and when I first saw him hit a ball I

couldn’t believe how good he was. I

saw Monica Seles play at the same

age so I knew what I was talking


Gencic told Djokovic’s parents

that he would be in the world’s top

five by the time he was 17 and that

they must support him as much as

possible. “They were stunned when

I told them but they trusted my

judgement and they did everything

they could to help his career.” They

supported his move to the Nikola

Pilic academy in Munich in 1999,

but tennis wasn’t the only reason

for the re-location. It was ➤

Main: Djokovic after winning

the 2013 Australian Open

14 Upward Curve July-September 2013

July-September 2013 Upward Curve 15


Above: Djokovic is now able to

control his temper on the court

the year NATO started its bombing

campaign of Belgrade during the

Kosovo War. For Djokovic’s family,

it was the catalyst to move their

son to a safer and more suitable


“My country has gone through

some difficult times in the past 20

years,” says Djokovic. “I remember

waking up at night when the NATO

bombings were taking place and

seeing the look on my mother’s

face. I would pray that nothing

would happen to us but every night

they were bombing us and it will

always stick in my memory. From

the age of 13 though I spent very

little time in Serbia because that

was the best thing for my tennis

and for my education. I joined a

tennis academy in Germany and got

the best coaching I possibly could

while I also finished my education. I

was very fortunate in that respect. I

always had the support of the best

coaches and teachers and if I had

stayed in Belgrade I would not have

had those opportunities. Serbia

went through some tough times but

now I think the country is starting to

make progress. It’s great when we

achieve successes like the Davis Cup

because it makes everyone happy

and that can only be a good thing.”

The Davis Cup is tennis’

equivalent of the World Cup and

in 2010, Djokovic, along with ATP

stars Janko Tipsarevic and Viktor

Troicki, led Serbia to the Davis Cup

title for the first ever time.

“For Serbia to win the Davis

Cup is as close as it gets to

a miracle in modern sport,”

says Nebojsa Viskovic, tennis

correspondent for SportKlub,

Eastern Europe’s biggest cable

TV network. “Our country has no

money and no infrastructure, but

thanks in part to Novak Djokovic

our country has done amazing

things in tennis.”

Viskovic was the first journalist

to ever interview Djokovic in 2000

so he knows all about the talent

that is now top of the tennis tree.

He is also in admiration of a man

who many people wrote off as not

having the mental strength to cope

with the stresses of top-flight sport.

After Djokovic won his first Grand

Slam in 2008, it took him three

years to win another. “Djokovic

has always had a very complex

personality,” says Viskovic. “But

he’s not a kid anymore and he

has really matured as a person.

Everyone forgets that Roger

Federer had problems when he

first came on the tour. He could be

bad tempered and sometimes had

problems with his attitude but he

grew up and Novak has done the

same thing.” ➤

July-September 2013 Upward Curve 17


Left: Djokovic with girlfriend

Jelena Ristic

That Davis Cup victory seemed

to be the turning point in Djokovic’s

career. In 2010 he moved onto a

gluten-free diet which cut out many

of the physical problems that he

had encountered during some key

moments. Instead of the ‘Djoker’,

some critics were labelling him

the ‘Choker’ as he retired from

some matches with breathing

difficulties and other ailments. “It

was a fantastic moment for me,”

says the 26-year-old. “It was not

so easy because gluten is in a

lot of foods. It’s in pasta, bread,

sauces, and all kinds of foods. I

have been eating pasta every day

of my life while I have also eaten

a lot of bread because in Serbia

there are bakeries on every corner.

They taste really nice too! I had

some tests and it found that I had

an intolerance to gluten so I cut it

out of my diet and it made me feel

great. I lost weight and felt much

fitter and stronger for it.”

Six weeks after the Davis

Cup victory Djokovic began the

best run of his career, winning 43

consecutive matches in what many

pundits and players described as

the best season in the history of

tennis. “It was the best year of my

career,” says Djokovic. “I won ten

titles, three Grand Slams. I beat

Nadal in six finals on three different

surfaces including on clay for the

very first time. It’s always going to

be impossible to repeat a season

like that but you have to take the

positives and use that confidence

to make you realise you can win

any match against any opponent if

I am 100 per cent fit and focused.

But I have to look forward and

I don’t want to live in the past

so I need to stay focused and

enjoy every challenge that

comes my way.”

And there will be plenty of

opportunities coming Djokovic’s

way in the future, both on and

off the tennis court. In 2005

Djokovic set up a company called

Family Sport which originally

began investing in the restaurant

trade with the help of his father

Srdjan who once owned a café

himself. Since then a number of

Novak Cafes & Restaurants have

sprung up in Serbia and last year

it was reported that Djokovic had

purchased the entire production

of the country’s donkey cheese.

This was apparently to enable an

efficient supply of the product,

a delicacy in Serbia, to all his

restaurants, although Djokovic

has refused to confirm the story.

His endorsements with Mercedes,

Audemars Piguet Swiss watches,

Learjet and Uniqlo sportswear

are also likely to keep the Serb

busy while in the future Djokovic

also has plans to set up a tennis

academy in Belgrade. And for the

next few years, at least, it’s the

tennis court where we will see

Djokovic put his priorities.

“There is still so much to

achieve,” says Djokovic. “When

I first broke into the top ten it

was Roger (Federer) and Rafa

(Nadal) who were dominating the

sport. They made it really tough

for me but eventually I managed

to beat them but you cannot get

complacent. Everybody talks

about the top four guys in tennis –

myself, Federer, Nadal and Murray

but there are so many other

players like Ferrer, Tipsarevic and

Del Potro. These guys mean you

have to keep on working hard to

stay at the top. It’s a great time

to be in tennis.” n

18 Upward Curve July-September 2013

More magazines by this user
Similar magazines