I would like to introduce you to Novak Djokovic. And I don't just mean the guy who manages to beat Federer and Nadal on a fairly regular basis. Most of us know his tennis pedigree at this point. We know that history could be made on Sunday in the form of a THIRD contemporary of this generation to secure the Career Slam.
Think about that for a minute. It's a feat that has been accomplished by only a rare few players in the history of the modern era. If Djokovic wins on Sunday, it will (at least in my mind) cement this as the second Golden Age of tennis.
That, in and of itself, is extraordinary. Had Novak Djokovic grown up on a Mediterranean island or amongst the peaceful tranquility of Swiss mountains, it would still be an amazing accomplishment, simply because of the quality of his opponents. The fact that he grew up in the middle of the bloodiest and most savage European war since World War II makes his accomplishments nothing short of miraculous.
I am old enough to remember the Balkan Wars, which is to say that I heard the words "Kosovo" and "NATO bombings in Belgrade". I never fully grasped how literal the term "war-torn" was, however. The former Yugoslavia was quite literally ripped apart by bombs, by hatred, by genocide. And all of this happened when Novak Djokovic was learning to play tennis, a gift given to him by coach Jelena Gencic.
With her country falling apart around her, Gencic still trained tennis players, working at a club just outside Belgrade. She knew her stuff, did Ms. Gencic. She had, after all, trained Monica Seles and Goran Ivanisevic. And what she saw in young Nole was superstar potential, a future great champion.
She would listen to news on the radio of the bombings and report back to the Djokovic family about where it might be safe to play the next day. She discovered that if her part of the city was bombed one day, it would probably be safe to play there the next day, as the pattern was to take turns dropping bombs on different parts of town. The strategy worked and young hopeful Novak Djokovic stayed safe.
Checking bomb reports is certainly not in the job description of your run-of-the-mill tennis coach...then again Jelena Gencic wasn't just a coach. She was his protector, perhaps literally saving his life. He moved on to Germany to a different coach after it became obvious that his innate talent and abilities had outgrown the inadequate facilities in Belgrade. Nole never forgot his first coach though.
On June 1 Jelena Gencic died. Nole said she was like a second mother to him. Now, when we Americans call someone a second mother, we think of the lady who let you have ice cream for breakfast and cheered loudest at your high school graduation.
But for Novak, "second mother" isn't just a term. Jelena Gencic nurtured him, taught him discipline and protected him from harm. In other words, a true second mother. It's a sobering wake-up call for those of us who can only vaguely grasp that the suffering of war creates heroes every bit as much as it makes villains. My condolences to him on what must be terrible grief.
And so again, I introduce you to Novak Djokovic, a great champion, a quiet philanthropist, a hero to the Serbian people and a man for whom tennis and survival must be inexorably linked. You might not cheer for him...and with his habit of defeating the two most popular players in the sport, many of you probably don't. But you SHOULD respect and (dare I say it) admire him.
Sat 06/07 06:31
Tennistalk says farewell
Thu 06/06 04:05
Novak Djokovic's unsung hero
Tue 21/05 15:52
Another Federer and Nadal match disappoints
Fri 17/05 18:03
Bill Tilden and the effects of moral bankruptcy on a legacy
Tue 19/03 21:01
Professor Federer teaches us a thing or two
Mon 18/03 15:43
Nadal makes the cleverest comeback in tennis history
Fri 01/02 22:00
Nadal's return at Vina del Mar
Thu 15/11 16:54
Federer and company make no room at the top for youth
Tue 11/09 20:24
Murray joins the ranks of Grand Slam elite
Fri 17/08 19:45
There is something about Roger Federer
Mon 13/08 23:05
Tennistalk is in Cincinnati again
Tue 12/06 16:21
The French Open, Nadal's personal playground
Wed 09/05 14:58
Novak Djokovic takes up skating at the Madrid ice rink
Thu 29/03 14:30
Nadal and Spain give French TV a punch in the mouth
|1. Djokovic||12 500 pts|
|2. Murray||8 750 pts|
|3. Federer||8 670 pts|
|4. Ferrer||6 970 pts|
|5. Nadal||6 385 pts|
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