Six months later Gencic asked her friend Croatian Niki Pilic, the 1973 French Open finalist, if Novak could train at his tennis academy in Munich.
Goran took his nephew on his first visit to the academy. They arrived in midwinter and with little money.
Pilic's wife nicknamed Novak “Jacket”, because he didn't have one. Goran stayed with him for five days and when he left Novak cried.
Pilic initially wasn’t keen on the idea of Novak, then aged just 12-and-a-half, training away from home in the gruelling regime of his academy. He soon changed his mind though, and Nole spent much of the next two years with Pilic, who treated him as if he were his own child.
The Djokovic restaurant depended on seasonal business, which was sometimes good and sometimes not. Even when Pilic threw in a discount from the $3000 a month academy fees, the costs of travelling and tournaments forced Srdjan into borrowing money at high interest rates from loan sharks.
“It was hard then,” said Dijana. “Novak was developing, he needed to be accompanied everywhere, and we weren’t rich. Society as a rule only remembers such kids later when the accolades and medals begin to arrive. Nole's goal to win Wimbledon gave our family something we had to fight for.
It was a very bad time because our country was in a bad situation, so we were trying to do everything for our son. You can imagine how we felt when Novak left home on his own for the first time when he was 12. Still, there were some positives in this experience. Novak began to develop a sense of independence early on, so that later he didn’t seem to mind spending long periods away from home.”
Pilic said, “I realised after a short spell playing against him that he had this incredible will. He was great to coach, particularly because he had what it takes in the places that no coach can reach: into the heart and the head.”
Pilic recalled one day at the academy, Novak, then aged 13-and-a-half, passed him while he having lunch, 20 minutes before his lesson was due, on his way to warm up.
Pilic said to him, “Aren’t you a little early?”
To which Novak replied, “I’m not going to waste my career.”
Novak’s former manager Dirk Hordorff said that once when he had just finished a tough training session in the Austrian Alps, and all the other players were preparing ready for a party, Novak asked him,
“If I go out tonight, would it be good for my tennis?"
“Just go," Hordorff replied, "you worked hard, drink a glass of wine."
But Djokovic cut him off saying, "I didn't ask you, would this be good for me? I asked would this be good for my tennis?"
Pilic said, “Serbs point to the bombing as the crucible of Djokovic's competitiveness, but he also had no choice. The family had put all its chips on him.”
Much of Novak’s drive came from his dad. With no tennis knowledge Srdjan became certain that his son would become world No.1 someday.
Pilic said, "His father believed Novak was an unbelievable player, even when he wasn’t unbelievable, and he told everyone who would or wouldn't listen. At each level he would look around at the opposition and tell Novak, you're better than all of them."
Fellow Pilic Academy student Ernests Gulbis said, "He was always very confident, and he was very sure that he was going to be on top. Nothing arrogant, but with all his thinking, all his work, he was really professional already at a young age.”
By age 14, Novak, along with Andy Murray, who is seven days his elder, were amongst the best juniors in Europe. But due to shortages of finances, Novak was unable to play many international tournaments.
The family kept looking for investors, but without success, and the Serbian Tennis Federation had no funds to give him.
“Nobody cared," said Goran. "Srdjan was going around, trying to convince people, please invest. Like you are selling fruit or dairy: Here's an investment for you. It was a very tough time."
From my book, “So you want to win Wimbledon? – How to turn the dream into reality” – available from Amazon
And here's Part 2