How Novak Djokovic Became a Star

Novak Djokovic Younger Years

Novak Djokovic, born in Belgrade, raised on the tennis courts. I didn't take long for Novak to pick up a junior tennis racquet and tennis ball. At the age of 4, his game and personality already promised a bright future, as stated by his first coach: Jelena Gencic. She knew he was going to be a champion. She described him as focused, conscientious, and talented. Nole, as fans and the media usually call him, also enjoyed skiing and soccer, but tennis ended up being the path he chose. Along his early career path, it didn't take long for him to out grow is beginner racquet and move up to more advanced racquets

In 1999, being just a 12-year-old kid, Novak was pushed into the arms of a defining opportunity. Jelena, who continued to be his coach through his childhood, advised his parents on the next steps. According to her, his game was to be exploited somewhere other than Serbia, so he started attending the tennis academy ran by Nikola Pilic in Munich, Germany. Pilic also noticed his tremendous talent. He even indicated that he doesn’t like to predict whether a player would be successful or not, but with Djokovic, he just knew he would. As tough as it is for a boy to stay away from home for long periods, the tennis player kept attending the academy and showing great results in singles and doubles skills.  

2001 was a precious one for young Novak. For his age group, he became a European champion in singles, doubles, and in the team competition. He also participated in the Yugoslavian World Junior Championship and won the silver medal.

After that year, all that Nole was involved in was successful. In 2002, he became the European champion of the under 16 years old category. He also won tournaments in France, United States, and Serbia. He kept playing at ITF tournaments, and his results turned him into the 40th best junior tennis player in the world.

Just one year after, in 2003, the Serbian went all the way up to become the best European tennis player under 16 years old. Later on, he won his first ATP points at a Futures Tournament held at the tennis club by the name of Red Star.

Then came the Davis Cup, an opportunity to represent his country (Serbia and Montenegro back then). He continued to play and succeed at various ATP Challenger tournaments, and in just one season, he went from the 606th position in the ranking to the 184th.

Novak Djokovic's Rise

The time came to put the big boy’s sneakers: his Grand Slams era began. 2005 was a pivotal year for Novak Djokovic. He participated in the main draw of all 4 Grand Slams. He even reached the 3rd round at Wimbledon and the US Open. All these events pushed him up in the ATP Ranking. He entered the top 100 and, by the end of the season, he was already at the 78th position.

Novak, sponsored by HEAD, the Serbian’s career was flourishing; his achievements were more and more unbelievable as he kept playing and climbing his way up on the ATP ranking. A year after all those Grand Salm’s debuts, he reached his first quarterfinal; Roland Garros was his stage for that. And just like that, in one good season, he went from being the 78th to being the 16th. He even was the youngest player in that top 20.

In 2007, Novak’s present and future were brighter than ever. He made himself a space in the ranking to quickly become N°3. For nearly two years, he comfortably sat in that precious high rated seat. The reaching of this position was due to his many conquers at top-rated opens: Miami, Estoril, and Montreal, and of course, his top game at Grand Slams made him a semifinalist at Roland Garros and Wimbledon and a finalist at the US Open. Nadal’s and Roger’s everlasting fight for that N°1 position was being threatened and spiced up by Djokovic’s impressive game and progress. On that same year, the now 33-year-old tennis player was part of an important event in sports history, as he led Serbia, as a newly constituted country, into its first Davis Cup.

Novak’s hard work and discipline finally transformed into the shape of an Australian Open and a bronze medal for Serbia at the 2008’s Olympic Games in Beijing.

2009 and 2010 were of no luck in the Grand Slam-winning area, but he kept growing strong and won a combined total of 7 ATP Titles and, the most valuable of that year was the Davis Cup. For the first time in history (including the Yugoslavia and Serbia and Montenegro era), Serbia wins this cup. Besides all of this, he reached position N°2 in the ATP ranking. It looks like these two years weren’t so bad after all. The best was yet to come.

The top year in Novak’s career, back then, arrived: 2011. He won all Grand Slams except for Roland Garros, but he still made it to the semifinal, and also, on that same year, he accomplished an outstanding total of 43 matches won in a row. He participated in 6 ATP Masters 1000 and won 5 of them. He also won his home town open: the ATP 250 Belgrade Open. These ten titles crowned him as the N°1 in the ranking. This is the Serbian’s most impressive year after 2015, on which he won 11 titles.

The following year wasn’t so full of Grand Slams and ATP Masters titles, but it sure was full of awards and recognitions all over the sports industry for all his last year’s achievements, such as: 

  • Sportsman of the Year Laureus Award
  • “Karadjordjeva Star Medal,” which was awarded by the Republic of Serbia for his success in representing the country.
  • A spot on TIME Magazine’s Top 100 most influential people in the world
  • SPY - Best Male Tennis Player
  • Flagbearer at London’s Olympic Games.
  • Arthur Ashe Humanitarian of the Year.

2013 was a year of records for Nole. He won his 3rd consecutive Australian Open. Thanks to that, he became the first man in the Open Era to do so. He tied Agassi and Federer as the all-time winner of the Australian Open. Back then, each of them had won 4 titles. To date, Novak is the only all-time winner and conqueror of Melbourne with seven titles. Djokovic easily managed to beat the king of the Montecarlo Open (Rafael Nadal), ending his possibilities to win his 9th consecutive title. The actual N°1 also set a record of 4 titles in China Open that year, and he is still the tennis player with more titles in said open, with a total of 6. The conqueror of Beijing won four of these six titles in a row (2012-2015).

More trophies and completed milestones went knocking on Djokovic’s door next year, and most of them included beating Federer and Nadal. He won his 3rd Indian Wells title, and just like that, he tied Roger Federer and Jimmy Connors as the players with more titles at this open. At present, Novak and Federer are still tied, but at 5 Indian Wells titles. He also won his 3rd Rome Masters by defeating Nadal, and, to date, he is 2nd in the history of players who have won the most titles in this tournament. Nadal is still the first with a total of 9. 2014 was also the year in which the Serbian reached his 600th won the match, a total of 20 ATP World Tour Masters 1000 and his 7th Grand Slam by beating Federer at the open the Swiss have won the most: Wimbledon. Novak greatly sealed that year by being, once again, the N°1 tennis player after his shortfall to the 2nd spot in 2013.

2015 turned out to be the best in Djokovic’s tennis history, yet; his game was at his best. He was either a finalist or a winner at every event he attended to that year. He won Grand Slams in Australia, United Kingdom, and the United States. That season he also won 8 other tournaments: ATP Finals, ATP Masters 1000 in Paris, Shanghai, Rome, Monte Carlo, Miami, Indian Wells, ATP 500 in Beijing. Novak was a finalist at Roland Garros, the ATP Masters 1000 in Cincinnati and Canada, and also at the ATP 500 in Dubai. This year was more than a dream come true; it resulted from Novak Djokovic’s consistency and thirst. He became the first tennis player in history to win the first 3 ATP World Tour Masters 1000 in a season. He also was the first player to win 6 ATP Masters 1000 in one season. He finished 2015 with a total of 59 ATP titles.

The following year didn’t have as many titles as the last, but it sure had records and firsts. After being in 3 Roland Garros Finals (2012,2014-2015), Novak finally won his first Grand Slam in France by beating Andy Murray, who was also having an outstanding performance that year. Still, it wasn’t a difficult match for Novak, who won with a final result of 3-6, 6-1, 6-2, 6-4. In that same year, he won his 30th ATP World Tour Masters 1000, being the first to do so. As of today, he is still the all-time winner of these tournaments and shares this honor with Rafael Nadal, each one having won 35 titles.

2017 represented a mild setback in the Serbian’s game and winning streak. He went through a right elbow injury, and its surgery left him out of the tennis courts for more than four months. He even admitted to returning too soon to the courts after the surgery and indicated that this caused him more problems. Novak couldn’t attend the US Open, and it’s the first time in his career that he’s skipped a Grand Slam. That year he only won 2 ATP Titles: one in Eastbourne and the other one in Doha (Both ATP 250)

Even though his situation wasn’t as promising as the one in his past years, he still managed to climb back on top and won 2 Grand Slams in 2018: Wimbledon and the US Open. His game wasn’t fully on top yet, but he made it to the finals of Shanghai, Cincinnati, Nitto, Paris, and London’s Queens Club, having won the first 2. By winning the Cincinnati Open, Djokovic became the first singles player to achieve the Career Golden Masters. He had been a finalist at this open five times, and the 6th brought him this golden milestone as one of the many records he’s set and beaten throughout his career. Novak also reclaimed the N°1 position in the ATP Ranking, then 2019 came along, and he fell back to being N°2 at the end of the season, but the achievements didn’t stop coming his way. That year, he won the Australian Open and Wimbledon. He was a finalist at the ATP Masters 1000 in Madrid, Paris, and Rome and won the first 2. He affirmed his reign in the Paris Open, winning his 5th title and making the record even harder to beat for other players.

Above is just a fun video of Novak vs. Tennis Machine.

The year 2020 and the COVID-19 pandemic brought the darkest cloud upon the entire world, and tennis was, of course, affected in many ways. Most ATP tournaments were canceled, but still, some of them took place while the pandemic is still growing strong. Even though this year has been very complicated for tennis, Djokovic manages to participate in as many tournaments as he can, such as the Australian Open, Cincinnati Open, the Dubai Tennis Championship, the ATP Cup, and the US Open. He’s won all of them except for the latter. The Rome Masters is now taking place, and Djokovic is in it to win it

This year also encouraged the leadership in Nole’s soul. He is leading the initiative to start a new tennis player association aside from the existing structure of the ATP. His goal is to ensure the wellbeing of the players in as many aspects as possible. This, of course, was something the ATP saw as a threat, but time must pass before conclusions can be made.

Djokovic’s tennis career is more than impressive. His talent and ever-growing need to play and win are outstanding.  He is a winner in and out of the tennis courts. Aside from his 80 singles titles, he speaks five languages; he’s been a member of the ATP Player Council since 2016. He created the Novak Djokovic foundation with his wife Jelena in 2007, and has nearly 28 million followers on social media.

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