Novak Djokovic credits his love of tennis down to a ‘lucky’ encounter with former tennis star Jelena Gencic after watching the 1993 Wimbledon final on TV. Gencic had taken up a role as a coach at the time, teaching a number of youngsters in Yugoslavia, and took Djokovic under her wing putting in motion the series of events that lead to all of his tennis success.
Djokovic is the one of most successful men in tennis history after claiming 22 Grand Slam titles across his career. He is currently tied at the top of the standings with long-term rival Rafael Nadal but will look to take the outright lead at the French Open when it gets underway later this month.
However, Djokovic’s career could have been very different had he not met Jelena Gencic. The former tennis player became a coach after retirement helping to find and tutor young players in Yugoslavia.
Djokovic first met her in a chance encounter as she taught other kids near his family’s pizzeria, asking him if he wanted to join him after seeing he was interested in the sport the previous day.
“My parents ran a pizzeria, it was called Red Bull,” Djokovic shared with Italian publication Corriere Della Sera. “Just opposite they built the tennis courts.
“I was six. I don’t know if it was written in destiny that I should become a champion, I told her that I don’t believe in coincidences, nothing happens by chance and everything has a reason. But I believe in luck. And it was lucky that Jelena showed up. There was no place for me on the course, and from behind the fence, I watched the other children play.
“Then I turned on the TV looking for a tennis match, and there was the Wimbledon final: Sampras beat Courier. The next morning Jelena came up and asked me: good morning little boy, do you know what tennis is? I replied: ‘Yes, yesterday I watched the Wimbledon final!’ And she said: ‘do you want to try it?’
The rest as they say is history. Djokovic still to this day praises Gencic for teaching him everything he knows about tennis.
“Jelena saw something inside me,” he explained. “I learned everything from her. If I’m such a perfectionist, it’s because she was.
“She had discovered Monica Seles, and she made me think like this: do you want a coca-cola? Monica Seles does not drink coca-cola. Do you want a burger? Monica Seles doesn’t eat at fast-food.
“She also made me grow as a man, she prepared me for life. My holistic approach, the attention to what I eat, how I sleep, how I recover, how I welcome my thoughts, I found in her.”