Magazine article Newsweek

Exclusive: Novak Djokovic's Father on How He Made His Son a Multiple Grand Slam Champion; Srdjan Djokovic Has Had a Profound Effect on the World No. 1's Career

Magazine article Newsweek

Exclusive: Novak Djokovic's Father on How He Made His Son a Multiple Grand Slam Champion; Srdjan Djokovic Has Had a Profound Effect on the World No. 1's Career

Article excerpt

Byline: Teddy Cutler

Read the full exclusive Newsweek interview here

Novak Djokovic just lost a tennis match. And he has an eye infection.

If you were Andy Murray or Roger Federer, the Serb's main rivals in professional tennis, those two seemingly mundane facts might be reasons for optimism. After all, the last time either of them beat Djokovic in a Grand Slam tournament was when Murray did it over two years ago, in the 2013 Wimbledon final.

But the father of the man dominating men's tennis sees no cause for concern. Sitting in the Belgrade, Serbia, restaurant he owns and has named after his oldest son, he shrugs off this aberrant bit of bad news for his boy and throws his doubles partner under the double-decker. "Zimonjic was not on form," says Srdjan Djokovic, referring to Nenad Zimonjic, who was paired with Novak in a Davis Cup doubles match for Serbia against Kazakhstan.

Srdjan also knows the oldest of his three sons doesn't lose very often. Novak won the Australian Open at the start of the year, his fourth Grand Slam out of the past five. The French Open in May is the only major he has yet to win. He has 11 Grand Slam titles, six fewer than Federer, who holds the record. In other words, Novak lost through no fault or ailment of his own, so Murray and Federer had best look elsewhere for succor.

Novak's dominance in the most competitive era in men's tennis is astounding, given the rivals he has bested. Spain's Rafael Nadal is one of the all-time greats--he's won 14 Grand Slams and is now ranked fifth in the world--but he has been slowed by injury. Switzerland's Federer has an almost unassailable claim to be the greatest player of all time, but he hasn't won a slam since 2012 and is ranked third. Britain's Murray is ranked second, but the gap between him and the Serb often seems very wide; Novak has won 22 of their 31 matches.

Novak's natural talent is key to his success, of course, but he has built his climb to the top on a foundation of support provided by his devoted and loyal family. At the center of the Djokovic family support network is Srdjan, who makes no apologies for the way he favored the oldest of his three sons. Once he realized Novak had a special talent, he says, e veryone else had to come second. "Only Novak mattered," Srdjan says. "All of us--even his own family and his coaches--were unimportant. Everything was done to make Novak achieve what he has achieved today. As soon as I saw a small thing not going as planned, I would go somewhere else, for another coach."

The pushy tennis parent has long been a blight on the modern game, but Srdjan insists he wasn't driving his toddler to be a great athlete; he explains that he felt an obligation to nurture his son's very evident and abundant talent. "Parents are unrealistic with their careers and dreams. They decide that their child is great and put so much pressure on the child that it cannot handle it. When it grows up and learns how to live, chaos comes. The whole family is destroyed. I didn't decide that Novak was a talent, because I am not a tennis player. I listened to the advice of others."

As a young man, Srdjan worked as a professional skier and ski instructor. He later opened a restaurant and sports equipment business in the Serbian mountains. In May 1987, Srdjan's wife, Dijana, gave birth to Novak, their first child. Early on, they gave him a mini-racket and a soft foam ball, which became, his father says, "the most beloved toy in his life."

"We took table tennis bats, put obstacles in the middle of the carpet and played on our knees," says Novak's youngest brother, Djordje, 20, whose tennis career has been put on hold because of an injury. (He is studying business as a backup plan .) "We were breaking stuff all around the house and Mum complained, but Dad said, 'Don't stop them, this is what they love to do.'" (The middle brother, Marko, 24, was also a professional tennis player and now works as a tennis coach for children. …

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