This world-famous tennis star steadily rose to the top of the sport throughout the years, becoming the number one ranked men’s singles player for the first time in 2011. But did this star athlete go from rags to riches?
Novak Djokovic’s family was not poor when he was growing up. The Djokovics ran several small businesses, including a store for sports equipment and three restaurants.
Read more below to find out about Djokovic’s early life in a changing country, his family, and how they ultimately helped him become the number one men’s singles tennis player today.
Djokovic’s Early Life
Djokovic was born in 1987 in what was, at that time, Belgrade, Yugoslavia, and is now Belgrade, Serbia. As Djokovic was discovering his love of tennis and dreaming of becoming a champion, his country was plagued by political unrest and major governmental shifts.
Yugoslavia was a country from 1918, after World War I, until 2006, following the Breakup of Yugoslavia and the Yugoslav Wars. In 2003, Yugoslavia was replaced by a new nation-state called Serbia and Montenegro to keep the country together, until Montenegro peacefully gained their independence in 2006, making Serbia and Montenegro separate, independent countries.
This unrest caused the collapse of the economy in the early 1990s, which did affect Djokovic’s family. By then, Djokovic was already hooked on tennis, thanks to the tennis courts placed right across the parking lot from his family’s properties.
It was there that Jelena Gencic, a former professional tennis player and highly sought after coach, spotted the six-year-old Djokovic while running a tennis clinic. He had been watching them play all morning before Gencic invited him to participate in the clinic, which he accepted.
New York Times interviewed Goran Djokovic, Djokovic’s uncle, on the subject. “Let’s say that Jelena Gencic gave us strength; she’s a serious woman. We were all together as a family, and we had our project. It was not good times, there were sanctions and the war was starting.”
“It was not an easy time for Serbia, for Yugoslavia, but all the money we had we invest in Novak. He had to be the one in front of the family who had to have everything he need… Of course we can live very easy if he didn’t play tennis, but we have a vision,” he said.
The Tennis Dream
So while the Djokovic family was not poor, they faced a suffering economy and saved all that they could in the hopes that at twelve years old, Novak would go to a tennis academy in Germany run by Nikola Pilic to hone his skills and have the best chance at success.
The Djokovics were not new to sports dreams. Djokovic’s uncle and aunt were both professional skiers, as was his father, Srdjan, who was also a phenomenal soccer player.
Before leaving for Munich, where Pilic’s tennis academy was, Djokovic and his family faced the bombing of Belgrade, or the NATO bombing of Yugoslavia in 1999. For nearly three months, he and his family spent a few hours every night in the basement for protection.
In a CBS documentary made in 2011, Novak Djokovic talked about this event and how it influenced him. “The basement is practically where we stayed. Everyone who could fit here they came, there was no limitation… In a way these experiences made me a champion, it made us tougher, made us more hungry for success.”
Djokovic did end up going to Pilic’s tennis academy at twelve, becoming an international player at fourteen, and then going pro at sixteen. He’s been a fan favorite for a long time, proven by posts like this one, and his career has only risen from there–all the way to number one, which he’s been on and off since 2011.
Watch this VICE Sports interview in the YouTube video below to learn more about Novak Djokovic’s tennis career and accomplishments.