BELGRADE – The success of Novak Djokovic has long surpassed Serbian borders. Many stories were told about the best tennis player in the world. His greatest support on his way to Number 1 is, without doubt, Srdjan Djokovic. Novak’s father gave exclusive interview for the Serbian daily Kurir. In it, he speaks about many things his family went through following Novak to the world’s top.
When asked why they haven’t been in the media for years, Novak’s father said that the success Novak achieved is enormous. He said that, in the beginning, they tried to be honest with reporters and talk about good and bad things that happen in the family and around it. However, as he said, most of the reporters did not report it in a good manner and they weren’t correct when it came to the rest of the family.
Srdjan said he believes their non-presence in the media was the right decision because Novak is Number 1, a true Serb who sends the right image about his people and country. He speaks of Serbia as an old country and civilization, that Europe and Serbia cannot be without each other. He has never made a mistake representing himself, his family and people. Certain people from around him like to put themselves in the foreground, but he is the only one deserving for his success and no one else but him. The rest should prove with their knowledge that they are successful enough to show in the media, he said.
When asked how difficult it was to decide to sacrifice the whole family for the sake of Novak’s success, Srdjan said that this was a risky decision he and his wife made, and that nobody could guarantee them that it will all pay off. They believed in Novak, in his qualities as a player and a person, as all parents believe in their children. However, he says, the biggest problem in the world of tennis are unrealistic parents. This way they ruin their children, family, and in most of the cases it ends terribly wrong. They do not want to hear the truth experts and here and abroad tell them.
That is why Srdjan decided to act diametrically opposite. He knew that tennis is an expensive sport, unknown the him and the family, and said that he was no expert to judge Novak’s talent. Late Jelena Gencic, who gave Novak much in his life, said that besides Monika Seles, Novak is the greatest talent she has ever seen. This was encouraging for the family, but doubts remained, Srdjan said. As years passed by, they heard the same opinion from other experts.
Speaking of when they definitely made the decision, Srdjan said that they decided to take the risk and entered it all with full heart, without reserve. He said that they sat with Novak when he was 10, asked him what he wants to be in life, to which he answered he wants to be world’s number one in tennis, in which they supported him absolutely and than Srdjan devoted himself entirely to Novak’s career.
Novak had attitude as young child, he was amazing than as he is today, Srdjan says. His attitude towards his rivals, the elderly, young people, celebrities and unknown people will never change, he will be like that to rest of his life, adds Srdjan.
Speaking of tournaments and investments in Novak’s career, Srdjan said that back then all doors were closed. The situation in Serbia was very hard, sanctions, bombing. There were individuals, Srdjan says, who could have helped, but they did not see what the world saw. It has never happened in the history of junior tennis for one player to connect titles in all ages with 14, 16 and 18 years. It was very difficult for the family. Although both Srdjan and his wife had well paid jobs, Novak’s expenses were higher. They managed in different ways, first of all, they loaned money from a loan shark. They were charging 15 percent of interest on monthly level, Srdjan says.
Politicians and state institutions did not want to hear to help, Srdjan says. Serbian sport, science and culture are the flagship of Serbian society. Wherever they show up, people from these spheres represent Serbia in the right way. There were only two men, a friend of Srdjan’s brother who gave them DM 5,000 when Novak was 14 and told them to return when they can. The other man, a friend of a friend, gave them, at the time, DM 20,000 and said to him that Novak is amazing sportsman, and that he knows they are having troubles. He told them that the money was for Novak’s career, and even if he does not manage to make one, that is for the success in his life. Partizan also helped, Novak used to train there every time he returned from Munich, where he lived, Srdjan says.
Father of the world’s number one says that it was very difficult to keep the family together at the time. He says that he had full support from his wife Dijana, who made up for his absence and being with Novak in all his tournaments. She worked 15 hours a day, raised other two boys. Srdjan says that they could not have anything if the family had not stayed together in those difficult moments.
It used to happen that they don’t have the money for basic needs in the morning. They sold all the gold they had in their home and lived few months of that money. They have spent 17 years living in rented apartments, landlords would kick them out as they could not pay the rent. Srdjan could not sleep at night, so he walked the streets. Police even arrested him few times, but after he would explain everything to them, he says, they would sit together in the station, laugh and drink brandy until morning.
Family is the foundation of every society, but in Serbia it is collapsing, he says. Until family as institution does not recover in Serbia, the society cannot move forward. Djokovic family’s story should be stimulus to people. Nothing is impossible if two people love each other, and if they pay attention to their children, they will be responsible members of the society regardless of what they do for living, Srdjan says.
He spoke of how they hid all this from their children, boys had no idea what was going on. If Novak knew what was the family going through at the time, hardly any of this he is today would happen. Novak found out some parts when he was 17, but even then Srdjan did not tell him the truth. Some coaches with bad intentions filled Novak’s head with stories that he does not need his father in his career, Srdjan says. So he decided to tell Novak only part of what they went through, and it fell so hard on him. He realized that the family is the pillar of his success. This is sacred, there is no room for compromise. After that Srdjan says, there was no need for similar discussions.
The most important advice Srdjan gave to Novak was that his parents, brothers and family are the most important in life, they are the ones who support him the most even when it is hard and when it is good. No one else will be like that for him, ever, besides his family. This, Srdjan hopes, Novak understood. He is compilation of the best qualities from Srdjan and Dijana. Novak has mother’s calmness, and father’s grit and stamina. He has mother’s water and father’s fire, said Srdjan.
Novak’s father is especially proud of Novak for one thing, he says. When Novak was a young boy he would get terribly angry when he would lose a match, he did not take it the right way. Srdjan often told him to congratulate his rival when he loses, and to tell him – well done, I will do everything I can to win the next time. The defeat is so much better than the victory you get to after torture. The defeat makes one to think about his game and learn from mistakes so he would not repeat them again. Novak realized that, and everyone can see how he behaves now, says Srdjan.
Novak is the only one who behaves the same way in life and sport, says Srdjan. There is no athlete who treats his opponents in the same way when he loses and wins, said Novak father.
He also said that Nadal used to be Novak’s best friend while he was winning. But when things changed, they were no longer friends. This is not sport, says Srdjan. This is what Novak has in him, but others don’t. Federer may still be the best tennis player in the history of tennis, says Srdjan, but as man he is completely opposite. He attacked Novak at Davis Cup in Geneva, he realized Novak is his successor and in every way tried to discredit him. Novak’s success is an amazing thing and something that some people simply cannot understand, says Novak’s father.
Marko and Djordje want to be like Novak
“What doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger, people say. Family is together and it will be this way while we are on this world. Our younger two boys are incredible, they are trying to create tennis careers along with school. They often go to Novak’s apartment, look at trophies, sleep in his bed, all part of the wish to have some of Novak’s success pass on them.”
Novak and Andy will be great friends
Speaking of relationship between Novak and Andy Murray, Srdjan said that they basically grew up together. Andy is a week older than Novak, they participated in tournaments, played tennis, football, hung out, and they passed this into their professional careers.
I have never, not even for a second, felt jealousy from Andy’s family, says Srdjan. Andy’s mother went in the locker room, in Rome, to congratulate Novak, his team and family. They cannot be best friends, says Srdjan, as they fight for the most important titles, and lot of money. But they are more than correct rivals and Novak’s father is sure that after they finish their professional careers, they will be great friends.