Energy of Success. Novak Djokovic for Energize

Novak Đoković, one of the world's top tennis players, speaks for Energize about his road to success, believing in himself and his goals, rivalry, team work, Serbia and other topics.

It is important to stay focused on the goaland rise to the challenges encountered on the way.

What guided you through your formative years and gave you strength to carry on and persist with your goal to become the world No 1?

First and foremost, it’s love. Love for tennis, the sport I breathe, live and enjoy every day. When you love what you do, it’s far easier to overcome all the obstacles in front of you. You don’t find it hard to train five or six hours a day, abiding by a strict schedule of activities and rest, while your friends go out to concerts or clubs. You don’t find it hard to sacrifice other things either, knowing that you are dedicated to your goal to rise to the summit and that your family and the people closest to you support you. When success comes, others start supporting you as well, more and more people start encouraging you, believing in you, expecting you to give your best, so soon you find you simply don’t want to slow down or back away.

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You are known for your belief that nothing is impossible and you are a living proof of that. In Serbia, however, people often seem to give up easily. How does one motivate oneself to keep trying even when nothing seems right? Have you yourself ever come close to giving up?

You must believe in yourself, in what you do. It is important to be surrounded by people who will guide you and give you the strength when you need it, and not to pay too much attention to what others say or think. It is important to stay focused on the goal and rise to face the challenges encountered on the way. That, of course, is not an easy thing to do. I myself nearly gave up several times. In 2010 I even considered leaving tennis altogether. I kept asking myself if I was able to outdo Federer and Nadal; the pressure was huge, because I had failed many times playing with them. I knew, however, that I had to beat them. Luckily, I succeeded.

To my knowledge, NIS has always invested heavily into Serbian tennis through sponsoring the Serbian Tennis Association (STA) and I’m sure that without your support many things wouldn’t function well. I’d like to thank you immensely for that and I hope other companies will follow your example.

How did Serbia winning the Davis Cup help boost your self-confidence and energy on your way to the top?

In fact, that victory marked a turning point in my career and helped me overcome the crisis I have mentioned. The 2010 title is one of the nicest things that has happened to me since I started playing tennis. We celebrated before 20,000 fans that day, the emotions were really special, unforgettable and beautiful. That trophy meant a lot to me; it gave me the inner strength so, carried by that success, I embarked on the 2011 season and everything that followed.

What does playing for the national team mean to you, even when you are the world number one tennis player?

It is an honour to represent my country through sports. I carry Serbia in my heart, and that is not a cliché – it has a special and deepest meaning for me. The more so if you are among the world’s best tennis players, because you are constantly in the spotlight and scrutinized much more than earlier. This is why I try to represent my country and myself in the most appropriate way, which was not the case in the past, unfortunately. Serbia had its share of tough times in the economy, politics, and even in sports. That is why every athlete needs to represent it in the best manner, showing the world that sport can influence individuals and bring about positive changes in every sense and that not everything is as bad as the foreign media report.

What was your role in influencing top tennis players to turn to their countries and play for national teams? Do you believe that you helped raise the Davis Cup standard?

Each of my colleagues makes their own decisions regarding what’s best for their professional career and when to play the Davis Cup tournament. I know them all quite well, those are my friends and I must point out that all of them are fantastic guys, top professionals, but patriots as well. They are all very keen to bring joy to their nation and play for Serbia’s team whenever possible, just like me. With such attitude we certainly helped build up a strong team and raise the quality of the Davis Cup, as you suggested.

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NIS has sponsored the Serbian Tennis Association for years and was with our team when they won the famous Salad Bowl. How important is it that large, socially responsible companies help Serbian sports, which have not been invested in for decades?

To my knowledge, NIS has always invested heavily into Serbian tennis through sponsoring the Serbian Tennis Association (STA) and I’m sure that without your support many things wouldn’t function well. I’d like to thank you immensely for that and I hope other companies will follow your example and assist in proportion to their capabilities. Sponsoring sports is a sound investment in a nation’s health, children and role models which everyone can benefit from.

What strategy does Serbia need for investing into sports and youth development?

In 2010 I even considered leaving tennis altogether. I kept asking myself if I was able to outdo Federer and Nadal; the pressure was huge, because I had failed many times playing with them. I knew, however, that I had to beat them. Luckily, I succeeded.

In tennis specifically, I would like to see a national tennis centre and a system in place which would develop new talents and players. That is the basis we need so as to achieve success in the long run. Unfortunately, we don’t have the NTC yet but once it is established, hopefully in the near future, we will be able to create the conditions for all young talents to be able to have a home, a base, a centre to train in, rest and hang out. I remember when I was 12 or 13, Serbia was at war and tennis wasn’t too popular, unfortunately. I had to go to Germany, to Nikola Pilić’s Academy. I remember how much that sense of belonging and growing up in a group has helped me in my career later on. That is what we need, a collective identity in individual sports. Parents cannot carry the burden of their children’s careers for long, as has been the case. That is not a key to success. We need to set up a viable system.

Tennis is an individual sport. However, you are known for your tight-knit team of people accompanying you for years, with whom you are rather close, just as you are with your family. How important is team work for you and how can a strong team and the support from the family contribute to a tennis player’s success?

I am so lucky to have around me the people who wish the best for me, who are sincere and who I care for so much. They help me stay on the right track and support me in what I do. That is so rare these days because unlike those who focus on investing their energy into their own goals, my friends are focused on me. That is why all of my accomplishments are not only my personal success but theirs as well, to a large extent.

Is rivalry intense in tennis? Do you find it easier to communicate with the junior or senior rivals?

Rivalry is really intense, but we all respect each other deeply and have a rather good relationship off court. We don’t let the competitive drive affect our relationships privately, which is not an easy thing to do at times. The seniors among us, so to speak, have been facing such challenges for years now and we’ve got used to what life of a professional tennis player brings, so we try to pass on some of that experience to younger generations to make it easier for them. Personally, I have equally good communication with Federer and Nadal, with the Bryan brothers, with Dimitrov, Nishikori and others. Sound and normal relationships are based as much on sincerity as on mutual respect.

Do you intend to stay in tennis after your career of an active player is over?

I see myself as part of the efforts to develop Serbian tennis. I’m not sure what my official role will be, but I will try to help young players even more than I do now. Though I am very busy during the season, I always find the time to train with some of our talents, to talk to them and hear their opinion. I will be able to seriously devote myself to it after my professional career.

You travel a lot. Where do you like to travel most and what are your favourite places in Serbia?

Unfortunately, I don’t have much free time over the year, but I like to come to Serbia whenever I can and enjoy the beauty of our country. I have nothing to hide; apart from Belgrade, Kopaonik is where I feel most comfortable. I have such fond memories of this mountain, and the nature is fantastic both in summer and winter. I try to discover the beauties of other places as well and there are plenty of such places throughout Serbia. Every time I see and find something new, some new place, and I’m glad for that.

For top sports players, proper diet is very important. What do you eat? Do you have a nutritionist and what is your favourite food?

I like pasta and eat it almost on a daily basis, following the gluten diet, of course. I drink rice milk in the morning; generally, I eat a lot of rice, white fish and chicken. That is what I must eat, but luckily it’s the food I like. My mother makes the best pancakes in the world and I often get a craving for them.

What is your message to young athletes? What is the key to success?

I’m often asked about the recipe and the secret of success, but frankly there’s nothing special to say. Young athletes should keep things simple; avoid complicating things and falling under pressure. Also, a lot of pieces need to come together. The process of growing up and gaining experience is crucial, as well as understanding what to do on and off court, learning about the sport itself as much as possible, acquiring the skills and knowledge needed for maximum improvement. Confidence and self-assurance are equally important, but success always comes from having a firm character. It is important to be mentally strong and constantly strive for improvement, for being the best.

This interview was published in the 3rd issue of Energize magazine.

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