Novak Djokovic, the Making of a Champion, Part 2
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Continued from Part 1
In early 2003, at the age of 15, Djokovic received wildcards into three Futures events in Germany and Serbia, but failed to win a match.
Then in June, having just turned 16, he received another wildcard into a Futures in Belgrade. There, in the first round, he beat the No. 4 seed and then another four matches to win the title, gaining him his first world ranking of No. 767.
Afterwards he said, “My dream was to get through the first round and win my first professional point, so what happened was beyond my expectations. I won the title in my home country, my hometown. It showed me that I can compete with professional tennis players and beat them.”
Two weeks later, and once again with the help of a wildcard, Djokovic reached the semifinals of another Futures in Belgrade, and three weeks later—this time as a direct entrant into the main draw—reached yet another semifinal.
At age 16, he finished 2003 ranked world No. 687.
In February 2004, Djokovic attained his highest ITF world junior ranking of No. 24.
However, his success in Futures and Challenger events saw him rise into the world’s Top 200 and finish 2004 at No. 186 when he was 17.
He qualified for the 2005 Australian Open, losing in the first round in straight sets to Marat Safin.
Having turned 18, he qualified for the French Open, where he was forced to retire in the second round against Guillermo Coria.
He then qualified for Wimbledon, where he lost in the third round to Sebastian Grosjean—a result that lifted him into the top 100.
In September he reached the third round of the U.S. Open, losing there to Fernando Verdasco, and finished 2005 as the youngest man in the top 100 at No. 78 at just 18 years old.
Still struggling financially, in April 2006, Srdjan was so disheartened that he had Dijana talk to the LTA about the possibility of Djokovic and his brothers switching nationalities to play for Great Britain.
"The decision in the end was mine," said Djokovic. "I never wanted to change countries; it's something that is part of me. We are all really proud of where we come from. And though we've been through tough times, it makes us stronger."
A month later, in Paris, he met Slovakian coach Marian Vajda, who in 1987 had reached world No. 34 and enjoyed spells as the Slovakian Davis and Fed Cup captain.
Having consulted with Vajda informally, Djokovic reached his first Grand Slam quarterfinals at Roland Garros, earning himself $149,590.
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With Vajda installed as his full-time coach, having just turned 19, Djokovic won his first ATP title at Amersfoort and then Metz to end 2006 ranked No. 16.
When Srdjan tried congratulating him for reaching the top 20, Djokovic stopped him. "When I'm number one," he said, "then you can congratulate me."
2007 started well for him when he won the title at Adelaide, lost in the final of Indian Wells, but a week later, won his first Masters series event at Miami.
At age 20, he ended 2007 ranked world No. 3.
GRAND SLAM SUCCESS
In February 2008, Djokovic won his first Grand Slam at the Australian Open by beating Federer in the semifinals and then Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in the final.
He then won the Masters events at Indian Wells, Rome and was a bronze medalist at the Beijing Olympics.
Nole finished the year winning the Tennis Masters Cup in Shanghai, but despite these results, due to the dominance of Nadal and Federer, he spent the entirety of 2008 as world No. 3.
2009 saw Djokovic win titles at Dubai, Belgrade, Beijing, Basel and Paris, and he also was runner-up in Cincinnati, Rome, Monte Carlo, Miami and Halle.
In September he hired American coach Todd Martin on a part-time basis to work alongside Vajda. Once again though, he finished the year ranked world No. 3.
In 2010, Djokovic reached the quarterfinals of the Australian Open, and in February, he finally reached world No. 2.
For much of the rest of the year though, his results failed to impress.
In April, he ended the relationship with Martin, whose attempt to re-model his serve and introduce more slice and variation into Djokovic’s game had failed.
Though he retained his title at Dubai, he lost in the quarterfinals of Roland Garros and the semifinals at Wimbledon.
By this time Vajda was back full-time as his coach and in July Djokovic met holistic nutritionist Igor Cetojevic.
Throughout his career Djokovic had suffered from breathing problems and nagging injuries, which forced him to have to retire in the middle of some matches.
Andy Roddick once remarked sarcastically of him, "He's either quick to call the trainer or he's the most courageous guy of all time."
For a long time Djokovic had tried finding a solution. Cetojevic, who had studied Chinese medicine, streamlined his diet and cut out gluten altogether.
Djokovic, who had been brought up on pizza, shed a few pounds yet felt stronger.
"The whole allergy thing was coming from gluten," he said. "I didn't know. We grew up on gluten - bread, pasta, and I was consuming it in big, big amounts. I guess I'm very sensitive."
Following Wimbledon, he lost in the semifinals of Toronto and the quarterfinals of Cincinnati, but then reached the final of the U.S. Open where he lost to Nadal.
In October, he retained his title at Beijing, and in November he lost in the final of both Basel and the semifinals of the Barclays ATP World Tour Finals to Federer.
DAVIS CUP VICTORY
The story of Novak Djokovic is also the story of modern day Serbia.
"Novak Djokovic," Vladimir Petrovic, Serbia's ambassador to the US said, "is the single biggest positive PR this country's ever had. He's a positive face of the new democratic Serbia."
Throughout 2010 Djokovic had led his country to the final of the Davis Cup. Following victories over the USA, Croatia and the Czech Republic, Serbia faced France in Belgrade.
The final was a taut affair, eventually being won in the fifth set and deciding rubber for the home country by Victor Troicki.
Djokovic, though, had more than played his part by winning both his single matches, though he lost the doubles in five sets when partnering Nenad Zimonjic.
The win sparked national fervour in Serbia with the entire team publicly shaving their heads afterwards.
In January 2011, Djokovic won his second Australian Open by beating Federer in the semifinals and Murray in the final.
Including his wins in Australia, he then went on a 43-match winning streak—during which he collected consecutive titles at Dubai, Indian Wells, Miami, Belgrade, Madrid and Rome, before losing to Federer in the semifinals of Roland Garros.
Encouraged by his country’s success in Davis Cup, and with his breathing, injuries, and coaching difficulties a thing of the past, Djokovic's confidence soared.
"Everything came into the right place," he said during his incredible unbeaten run. "My mind-set is different now; I have a different approach to my life, to my profession. I'm more stable emotionally. I feel much tougher mentally. That's the learning and experience you get playing at the highest level. Physically, I've always tried to stay fit, I've been very dedicated - and that's what's paying off right now."
Having beaten Tsonga in the Wimbledon semifinals, Novak was assured the following week of becoming world No. 1.
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In the final, he beat defending champion Rafael Nadal to claim the title he had craved since he first saw Pete Sampras winning the tournament as a six-year-old.
Afterwards he said,
“I can’t find words to describe the feeling that I have right now. I managed to achieve a lifetime’s goal and make my dreams come true, all in the space of three days. It’s just an incredible feeling that I’m never going to forget. This is the best day of my tennis career. This success kind of makes you rewind to the old days, makes you go back to your childhood and remember what you’ve been through to get to this stage.”
After Wimbledon, Djokovic’s superb form continued as he won his fifth Masters Series title of the year at Montreal. Then at the U.S. Open, he beat Nadal in the final to win his fourth Grand Slam.
During the U.S. Open, he suffered a back injury, which forced him a week later to default during Serbia’s Davis Cup semifinal defeat to Argentina in Belgrade.
After several weeks of rehab he returned to the tour but withdrew from the Paris Masters event with a shoulder injury.
2011 saw Nole compile a record of 70 wins and 6 losses, win three of the four calendar year Grand Slams, win 10 of his then 28 career singles titles, and earn an incredible $12.6 million.
In December he was named 2011 ITF World Champion, and in February 2012 named the Laureus Sportsman of the Year
Novak’s good run continued in early 2012 when he survived a bruising five-set semifinal encounter against Andy Murray to reach the final of the Australian Open.
Then, in the longest Grand Slam final of all time, lasting five hours and fifty-three minutes, he beat Rafael Nadal in one of the greatest matches of all time, to win his fifth Grand Slam.
Djokovic beat Murray in the final to win the Miami Masters but then lost to Nadal in the final of the French Open, and to Federer at the semifinals of Wimbledon, losing his position as world No. 1 in the process.
Having won consecutive titles at Beijing and Shanghai, at the end of October Nole regained his No. 1 ranking, finishing 2012 winning the Barclays ATP Finals in London.
And in January 2013 Nole then won his third consecutive Australian Open beating Andy Murray in the final.
Age 25 Djokovic has won 35 career titles, and earned over $48 million in prize money.
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