Boris Becker claims Novak Djokovic is a dual personality. He’s the Zen-like competitor and the sweetheart who would take your last shirt if you were in dire need.
Goran Ivanisevic, a Grand Slam champion, talks about the “24-hour stress” of working with the number one. He also recalls Djokovic giving him chocolate as a way to boost his energy after their first practice set.
Nikola Pilic, a coach for the Serbs in his teenage years, remembers having a high sport IQ as well as “incredible coaching ability”.
BBC Radio 5 Live spoke to three men who helped Djokovic along the way as he prepares for the French Open next week, which could lead him to a 19th Grand Slam title.
‘Incredible coachability’ – Nikola Pilic
Jelena Gencic was hosting a summer tennis camp in Kopaonik, Serbia’s ski resort. She noticed a young boy looking intently through the fence.
He was invited to play the following day by her, and Djokovic would continue to develop his career for the next half dozen years.
Gencic, who passed away in 2013, decided that Djokovic would benefit greatly from a spell at Pilic’s academy in Munich just before his thirteenth birthday.
Pilic, a finalist in the 1973 French Open, recalls that he came with his uncle. They arrived very early and they jumped over a fence and waited for me.”
“He never forgot anything. He never forgot towels, a racquet or balls. He was always there at least twenty minutes before training, and was warming up and doing his exercise before the start.
Boris Becker: He has “two sides that fight against each other.”
Former world number one Becker was contacted by Djokovic’s agent after 13 years and six Grand Slam titles.
It was late 2013 and Djokovic had just lost the number one ranking to Rafael Nadal. He also suffered four Grand Slam final losses in 18 months.
The Serb would go on to win six more Grand Slam titles by working with Marian Vajda and Becker over the next three-year period.
Djokovic’s German language skills improved dramatically during this time as he spoke to Becker often in his mother tongue.
Goran Ivanisevic: Coaching him “can be 24-hour stress”
Ivanisevic was asked to practice with Djokovic, 13, a few months after winning Wimbledon 2001 as a Wildcard.
Ivanisevic said that he played a set and then gave me chocolate because he felt I had lost my energy.
“He was unique. You can’t learn from him or buy it – he was born with it.
He was not impressed. He played as if he were playing with his elder brother. I will always remember his eyes. He believed he could beat me back then.
Ivanisevic is currently in Djokovic’s coaching corner, trying help him catch Federer or Nadal on the 20 Grand Slam titles.
Ivanisevic says, “To be part the team you must be quick – to think quickly.”
You must always be prepared for answers and you must be able to follow his lead. He loves to study and you have to be there for him at all times.
To be honest, sometimes it can be difficult. It can be a huge challenge and an honor to be there. However, it can also be stressful 24 hours a day. Although it’s not healthy, you can see the results and feel that you are part in something that could make history.
Last year, Ivanisevic believed that Djokovic would beat Nadal in final at the French Open. He sees the situation differently this time, but he believes that his man is the best player in the game for the past decade.
He said, “In my opinion Nadal is the number one favorite to win the French Open. There’s only one person that can beat him to that number 14, title – Novak.”