“I soon realised after a short spell playing against him that he had this incredible will,” recalled Pilic recently.“He was great to coach, particularly because he had what it takes in the places that no coach can reach: into the heart and the head.” Where did that utterly determined spirit emanate from?“Because nobody in my family ever touched a tennis racket before me, so there was no tradition whatsoever.I would have become a skier or football player or a regular student. When something is meant for you, it is meant for you.” Perhaps, then, it was meant for this 24 year-old to be playing such an iconic role in his young country’s life that Vecernje novosti, a newspaper in Belgrade, hailed Djokovic, amid ecstatic celebrations in the city, as “a balm for all our wounds”.
At 19, already in the world top 40, he could see only one proper course.
Once again yesterday, Djokovic reflected on how he had to negotiate some serious “ups and downs in life to become a champion”.
The downs included a spell in spring 1999 when Djokovic, his parents and two brothers, Marko and Djordje, were living in a small apartment in Belgrade as Nato jets were targeting the Serbian capital.
Jelena Gencic, Monica Seles’s mentor, was the first to realise that little Novak just might be a rare find when she turned up in Kopaonik to take a summer clinic.
“I shall never forget the day when this boy came with a bag neatly packed, as if for professional training,” says Gencic.