Growing up in Serbia during the Balkan Wars was not the ideal setting for an upcoming tennis champion but Novak Djokovic is now re-writing the tennis record books, writes Ahmed Rizvi.
Australian Open triumph is a well-deserved dream for Novak Djokovic
Years before Novak Djokovic stepped on to a tennis court for his first competitive match, the Serbian would stand before the mirror at his home imagining himself on the centre courts of the Rod Laver Arena, Wimbledon, Roland Garros or Flushing Meadows, trophy in hand and receiving a standing ovation as he was announced as the champion.
"I was always dreaming about being the best in tennis," Djokovic told CNN's Open Court show before the start of this year's Australian Open.
"I remember as a kid, I was improvising and making little trophies out of different materials and going in front of the mirror, lifting the trophies and saying 'Nole was the champion'."
And it was not just a dream, he announced it publicly. "Somebody asked him: 'Hey, boy! What do you want to be when you grow up'," his first coach Jelena Gencic said. "[And he replied] 'Be the first in pro-tennis'. He was six years old."
Djokovic has made those dreams come true, in the face of a number of challenges.
For one, tennis was a bit of an alien sport in Yugoslavia at that time.
Growing up in Kopaonik, one of Serbia's biggest ski resorts, winter sports should have been his first love. His father Srdan and uncle Goran were professional skiers.
Then the Balkan wars did not make it any easier for Djokovic to pursue his tennis dreams.
"We didn't have a childhood that is similar to some of our generation of tennis players because we grew up during the war," Djokovic said. "There was a lot of struggle … but we survived."
These survival instincts have helped Djokovic march through the tennis hierarchy. They are obvious in the marathon baseline brawls that he nails.
"You never get the grand slam trophy in an easy way … You have to earn it," Djokovic said on Sunday after becoming the first man in the Open era to win three consecutive Australian titles.
And Djokovic has earned each one of his six major titles. He could easily have been dismayed by the Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal duopoly, when the two shared 24 of 28 grand slams.
But he kept working on his game and fitness, even turning to a gluten-free diet.
Djokovic eventually announced himself as the king of tennis in 2011 when he won the Australian Open, Wimbledon and the US Open. He now sits firmly on that throne and if you could pick a perfect specimen to prove mind over matter, it is him.
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