It is March 24, 1999, and the air strikes on the Serbian capital mark the start of what could be a 78-day marketing campaign by the North Atlantic Treaty Group (NATO) to try to carry to an finish atrocities dedicated by Yugoslavia’s then-president Slobodan Milosevic’s troops in opposition to ethnic Albanians within the province of Kosovo.
Whereas his father, Srdjan, helped his mom, Dijana, who quickly misplaced consciousness after hitting her head in opposition to the radiator following the primary explosion, Djokovic looked for his brothers, eight-year-old Marko and four-year-old Djordje, of their pitch darkish house.
“At 11, I used to be the large brother,” the top-ranked Serb wrote in “Serve to win,” his 2013 autobiography. “I would been holding myself chargeable for their security ever since NATO forces began bombing my hometown of Belgrade.”
Twenty years on, the now 32-year-old Djokovic is the favourite to win the US Open, which begins August 26 in New York. Such has been his dominance up to now 12 months, he has clinched 4 of the final 5 slams. He now holds 16 majors, simply two shy of Rafael Nadal of Spain, and 4 behind males’s Grand Slam document holder Roger Federer of Switzerland.
His journey from war-torn Belgrade to the highest of the lads’s recreation has been nothing wanting exceptional.
Within the introduction to his autobiography, Djokovic defined how the percentages had been closely stacked in opposition to him.
“A boy like me, rising up in Serbia, changing into a tennis champion? It was unlikely in even the most effective of circumstances. And it turned ever extra unlikely when the bombs began dropping,” he wrote.
Within the first chapter of his autobiography, titled “Backhands and Bomb Shelters,” Djokovic vividly recollects the evening that modified his life ceaselessly.
After Dijana regained consciousness, the Djokovic household entered the unlit streets of Belgrade and tried to make their solution to the close by house constructing of an aunt’s household, which had a bomb shelter.
Whereas his dad and mom ran down the streets, holding his youthful brothers, Djokovic immediately discovered himself on their own after he fell flat on his face on the street.
“After which it occurred,” Djokovic wrote. “Rising up from over the roof of our constructing got here the metal grey triangle of an F-117 bomber.”
“What occurred subsequent would by no means go away me,” he stated. “Even right now, loud sounds fill me with concern.”
The bomber dropped two laser-guided missiles proper over his head, which struck a hospital constructing a number of streets away.
“I keep in mind the sandy, dusty, metallic shell within the air, and the way the entire metropolis appeared to glow like a ripe tangerine,” Djokovic stated in his guide.
The streets now coated in gentle, Djokovic noticed his dad and mom and brothers within the far distance, and chased after them till all of them reached the concrete shelter safely.
There have been about 20 households hiding within the shelter.
“There have been kids crying. I did not cease shivering for the remainder of the evening,” Djokovic stated in his guide.
In a 2015 interview with CNN tv, Djokovic recalled the bombing marketing campaign, throughout which he and his household would spend every evening within the shelter from eight p.m., and solely had electrical energy for a number of hours every day.
“These instances are actually one thing that I do not want for anyone to expertise,” he stated. “Two-and-a-half months, each single day and evening, bombs coming into the town. We noticed planes flying over our heads, and actually rockets and bombs touchdown half a mile away.”
Till that darkish spring evening in 1999, Djokovic had loved what he referred to as in his autobiography, a “magic childhood.”
His father Srdjan was a former professional skier and Djokovic first began enjoying tennis on the age of 4. Nobody in his household had performed the game earlier than.
Djokovic, who spent giant elements of his youth within the small Serbian mountain resort of Kopaonik, the place his dad and mom ran a pizza parlor, instructed CNN tv in 2014: “It was sort of like a future. One thing that simply occurred out of the blue. I noticed the tennis court docket and I noticed tennis on TV after I was 4. My father purchased me a small tennis racket and that is after I suppose all of us fell in love with the game.”
On the age of six, he was noticed in Kopaonik by the late Serbian coach Jelena Gencic, who had labored with Serbian-born former world No. 1 and nine-time main winner Monica Seles of the US. Quickly after, Gencic instructed his dad and mom Djokovic was “the best expertise I’ve seen since Monica Seles.”
The pair would work collectively for 5 years, throughout which Gencic taught her pupil many life classes. Djokovic was so grief-stricken when he heard of her demise through the 2013 French Open, he canceled his post-match press convention.
Completely different perspective
Though the bombing raids may simply have ended his tennis profession, it put life in a very completely different perspective, Djokovic instructed CNN tv in 2015.
“It gave me way more appreciation for all of the values that I’ve in my life,” he stated. “From tennis to no matter. I do know what it appears like being with out something roughly, after which being on high of the world on this very world and fashionable sport on the earth. So this distinction provides me the suitable perspective in life.”
Though Djokovic stated in his autobiography the relentless bombing marketing campaign, the biggest army operation in NATO historical past, left him feeling “helpless,” it did not cease him enjoying tennis.
Actually, Djokovic stepped up his coaching periods through the 11-week marketing campaign. He practised for as much as 5 hours a day at websites throughout Belgrade chosen by Gencic, based mostly on the place the latest bombs had fallen, within the hope NATO planes would not goal the identical place twice.
From being paralyzed by concern initially, one thing modified because the strikes continued, Djokovic stated in his guide.
“We determined to cease being afraid,” he stated. “After a lot demise, a lot destruction, we merely stopped hiding. When you understand you’re really powerless, a sure sense of freedom takes over.”
On June 10, 1999, the air strikes ended, after Milosevic agreed to troop withdrawals from Kosovo.
In September of that 12 months, the now 12-year-old Djokovic left Serbia for Munich, Germany, to coach on the tennis academy of former Yugoslav professional Niki Pilic. He would flip professional 4 years later.
In 1994, the then seven-year-old Djokovic appeared on Serbian TV, confidently telling his interviewer: “The objective for me is to turn into the world No. 1.”
Seventeen years later, he turned the primary Serbian participant to rise to the No. 1 rating on the lads’s ATP Tour after he received his first Wimbledon title.