Novak Djokovic grew up in Serbia with three goals: To become the number one ATP player in the world, to win Wimbledon, and to eat a chunk of the grass immediately afterwards.
He accomplished all three of those dreams last year, on July 1st 2011 when he defeated Rafael Nadal to win it all in London.
In regards to his now-famous Wimbledon victory-snack, Djokovic said to Jay Leno, “Listen – in my dreams the grass tasted much sweeter, [but] there, it had this flavor of the sweat – my sweat, the opponents sweat – so it didn’t really feel great, but it came naturally.”
Leno’s subsequent hearty laugh was typical of the soundtrack to Djokovic’s current life as a member of TIME Magazine’s 100 Most Influential People, five-time Grand Slam title winner, and twenty-five year old class clown.
Novak “Djoker,” as he’s been nicknamed by the media, is a unique personality in the tennis world. We’ve seen pros get draped in endorsements, branch out into fashion, even star in music videos with their boyfriends, but we’ve never seen such a comedian.
Djokovic has famously impersonated other pros, on and off the court, such as Rafael Nadal, (who wasn’t particularly in on the joke) and Maria Sharapova, (Do yourself a favor and click this link).
In the spotlight, Novak is attractive, well-spoken, and funny – but we’re not just dealing with a great personality here. We’re talking about a man who was the youngest player to ever reach the semifinals in all four Grand Slams, (accomplished in 2008) the 6th player to ever win three Grand Slam titles in one calendar year, (2011) and the only Serbian to ever win a Major singles title.
Where did this kid come from, and what was his road to the top?
In 1991, four-year old Novak Djokovic was just a young Serbian kid hanging around the local tennis courts, absorbing everything he could from the sidelines, and idolizing Pete Sampras. Serbian coach, Jelena Gencic noticed the boy and invited him to hit around one day. Djokovic’s fate was sealed.
Djokovic said to 60 Minutes’ Bob Simon, “I was saying I want to be number one of the world, and I was seven, eight years old. Most people were laughing at me, because, you know, it seems I have a one percent chance to do that.”
Gencic ranked the percentage a little higher. She believed in Djokovic fiercely, and convinced his parents to allow him to split his time between Serbia and Germany at 13, where he was trained by Nikola Pilic at the Niki Pilis Tennis Academy.
That year he reached the finals of the Junior Davis Cup for players under 14 and won silver in the World Junior Championship’s team competition. By 17, he was ranked in the ATP, (albeit 606) and by 18, he was playing in all four Grand Slams.
At 19, impressive performances in the French Open and Wimbledon got him into the top 20, making him the youngest top 20 player of all time. Later that year, he defeated Federer, Nadal and Andy Roddick in the American tour, winning the Masters Series Rogers Cup in Motreal. Suddenly Djokovic was number three in the world.
His first Grand Slam title came the next year at the 2008 Australian Open. He’d win it again in 2011, along with Wimbledon, (elevating him to ATP number one) and the US Open. He opened the 2012 season by winning the Australian Open for the third time. At this point, he had defeated Rafael Nadal in the finals of three consecutive Grand Slam titles, but Nadal finally conquered Djokovic this May at Rolland Garros.
Djokovic was also defeated in July at Wimbledon in the finals by Roger Federer, pushing him to number two in the world. Nothing to scoff at.
Novak is currently back in Wimbledon playing in the Olympic Games. On August 3rd he was defeated by Brit Andy Murray, taking him out of the running for Gold, but will play for his second Bronze on August 5th against Argentinian Juan Martin Del Porto.
Through the ups and downs, Novak Djokovic remains upbeat, optimistic, and light-hearted. He utilizes social media to keep close contact with his fans. He wrote on his Facebook page August 2nd, “I really like coming here and sharing my thoughts with you. I know you are always around to hear me out and give your feedback and that really means a lot to me.”
Not to forget his roots, he follows every post with a Serbian translation.
The world will be watching DjokerNole, (as you can find him on twitter) closely this month at the US Open.
Regardless of whether the five-time Grand Slam pro and second in the world walks away on top, you can be sure he’ll at least give you something to smile at.