More than any other contemporary player, Novak Djokovic owes his longevity to how physically gifted he was, as well as to his brilliance as a player.
Djokovic was born on March 12, 1987, in Nis, Serbia, a town bordering Croatia. His parents were in the export business, first exporting mushrooms and later olive oil. Djokovic is by nature drawn to the outdoors: he loves to skate, fish, hang out in the woods, and this even extends to his need to play tennis on an outdoor court in the Mediterranean sun.
Djokovic’s mother, a medical doctor, was a force in driving her son towards a life of sporting excellence. When his primary school was not competitive enough for him, she transferred him to a private boys’ school, which she founded.
A superb student, Djokovic was recruited to be captain of his middle school volleyball team, where he became a local hero.
After Djokovic won his first junior tennis tournament at the age of nine, his career took off in 2004, when he beat Spain’s Rafael Nadal in a final at the Halle Open in Germany. By the end of that year, Djokovic had won the Wimbledon junior title, and he reached a high point at Wimbledon in 2006, when he reached the quarter-finals at the men’s tournament, only to lose in five sets to a young Juan Martin del Potro, who would eventually move on to be seeded higher than him at Wimbledon.
Djokovic won his first Grand Slam title in 2008, when he was still just 21 years old, when he beat Switzerland’s Roger Federer in the final of the Australian Open. But Federer was the best player on the planet, and he lost the final to Djokovic because he was second best on the day.
There were three straight French Open titles for Djokovic in 2011, 2012 and 2013, in which he became a tournament favorite. In 2013, Djokovic started playing with a wrist injury that would always come back to haunt him. But he continued winning major tournaments, and there were signs that he was tired of the injury, or at least had worked through it.
By the summer of 2016, it was Djokovic’s time to miss. He announced that he would be taking a long break from the sport. He underwent elbow surgery later that year, and his return to the sport was slow in the first few months of 2017.
Once he began to get better, he started to dominate, dominating the grand slams once again. In 2017, he has won three of the four majors so far, and would like to put another trophy around his neck for good measure at the U.S. Open. He’s won the Open twice, and he’s ranked No. 1, so, barring injury, he will take home the top prize if he gets past his first round in New York.
After losing in the quarter-finals of Wimbledon, which was a more-than-respectable performance, Djokovic is back to No. 3 in the world. That may not sound exciting, but it’s a dramatic rebound from only three months ago.
Over the course of his career, Djokovic has admitted that he is frustrated by the fact that he has had such a powerful serving game since he was very young. Through much of his career, Djokovic has had excellent returns and, on top of that, an uncanny ability to change the direction of the points. There has never been any question that he would be a dominating player on clay courts, but it is his returning game that will be his Achilles heel if he’s to end his Grand Slam drought and continue dominating men’s tennis.
Djokovic has always made sure to keep in shape, so any knock he received from a shoulder injury or elbow injury is part of the reason why he’s been able to continue playing through lengthy absences from the tour. But this year, Djokovic said he will not take such precautions, and instead will make sure that he is ready to play when the time comes. Djokovic can relate to his team’s criticism. He has had some recent injuries, like a thumb that required surgery, that the team wondered if he would recover from, but he managed to do so.
He has a good partner in Andre Agassi on his coaching team, so there’s no reason to think he’ll be playing beyond the U.S. Open.