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Tennis-Shaped by hardship, Djokovic grateful for ‘tennis mother’ and ‘tennis father’

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By Julien Pretot

PARIS (Reuters) – While Novak Djokovic was already looking ahead to a potential record-extending 24th Grand Slam title, there was also time on Sunday for him to look back at what had shaped him as tennis’s most successful male player – hardship and adversity.

Djokovic, who clinched his 23rd men’s major title at the French Open on Sunday, grew up in war-torn Serbia before moving to Niki Pilic’s academy in Munich, Germany in 1999 – one of two key encounters in his life.

“My upbringing was probably different than most of the other players from my generation. Going back to the 1990s when I was four, five years old, and we had couple of wars,” Djokovic told a press conference after winning his third French Open title by defeating Norway’s Casper Ruud in straight sets.

“Serbia had embargo. I couldn’t travel for quite a few junior tournaments. So there was a lot of adversity and it was a very challenging time for everyone in my country.

“My family was on a very low budget. But my parents still decided to support me in my dream, which was to become a professional tennis player and hopefully win Wimbledon and be number one in the world.”

Djokovic reaped the rewards of spending time with another major figure in his life, Jelena Gencic, who he called his ‘tennis mother’, with Pilic being the ‘father’.

“She passed away about 10 years ago, but she was an incredibly big influence on me, on and off the court,” Djokovic said.

“She was a true mentor. And she worked closely with my parents, who gave her space and permission to spend a lot of time with me, also when we were not training on the court. I used to go to her home, and we did many different things that were shaping my mind as a human being, but also as a professional, as a young player who dreams of becoming a professional.”

His parents, Srdan and Dijana, were former skiers but had no tennis background, and Djokovic was grateful that they took a leap of faith with him.

“My mother is a rock. She’s an incredible woman who kept the family together in the toughest moments. My father is an incredibly driving force of the family, someone who has instilled in me such power of belief and positive thinking,” he said.

“He never played tennis. No one played tennis in my family, so he had to ask people who were experts, who were knowledgeable in the field, to know whether I had a potential, a talent, whether he should invest money or not.

“So again, we were lucky to encounter these two people early in my career, and they convinced him that he should go ahead. So of course he and my mum had to go through a lot of difficulties, financially, emotionally, whichever way, for me to sit here. So I don’t forget about that. I actually carry it in my heart.”

(Reporting by Julien Pretot; Editing by Toby Davis)

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