For the first time in four years, Novak Djokovic will not play at the Serbia Open in Belgrade. Shaken by the death of his beloved granfather, he has decided to skip the tournament of which he bought the rights and which is now managed, like many other things, by his own family. Between business and patriotism, an analysis of the ties that bind "Nole" and family to the country and the city that saw him grow up…
Novak Djokovic is in mourning. The player, usually seen as the joker of the circuit, has lost his eternal devil-may-care smile. Vladimir, his grandfather, his "hero" as he liked to call him, with whom he took refuge with his family during the bombing of Belgrade by NATO forces in 1999, has passed away. The world number 1 learned the terrible news during the Monte Carlo Masters, but still managed to make it to the final before losing heavily to Nadal, later saying he was "mentally exhausted". Affected as rarely before, he decided to skip the Serbia Open, HIS tournament, the only 250 series tournament in which he participates, having done so every year since its creation in 2009.
Too much emotion to bear for one man, even when his name is Novak Djokovic. A solid lad, who always dreamed himself a champion and managed to capitalize on his talent for tennis, despite difficult conditions and the demands of his loved ones. It took great mental strength for little "Nole" to be worth of the sacrifices made by his family and the hopes placed in him. "Forever thankful" for the time and money spent by his parents, Srdjan and Dijana, he never misses an opportunity to honour them. The passionate atmosphere of the "Djoko clan" around him is overflowing, almost overbearing, the product of this rise through painful times.
And now, as he goes from victory to victory, it's like the Djokovic family had grown to some 7.1 million people, as the entire population of Serbia follows the performances of the prodigy with an almost-brotherly love. As Elena, a student, explains: « The international community had forgotten that Serbia is not just a theatre of war, but a country filled with talented and determined people. The Serbs feel like Djokovic's victories are like their own». The same solemnity from the authorities, President Boris Tadic considers the player as « the greatest ambassador for this country ». Like the other members of the Davis Cup by BNP Paribas team winner of France in 2010, he has been given a diplomatic passport to facilitate his travels.
Through patriotism as well as sound business sense, Djoko and his family decided to build on this enthusiasm. Everywhere in Belgrade, giant posters of the player are on display for his principal sponsors - Head for rackets and Sergio Tacchini tennis-wear. The Italian supplier is also distributed in Serbia through Family Sports, the company founded by Goran Djokovic, Novak's uncle. Among other things, this company, which employs a total of 150 people, oversees the management of the Novak Tennis Centre, a massive complex built in 2009 to replace of the old sports centre Milan Gale Muskatirovic in the Dorcol district, on the banks of the Danube.
« Djokoland »
The prize-money won on the ATP Tour has provided enough funding for the construction of eleven super-modern tennis courts, an academy, but also a restaurant, a spa, shops, a beauty salon and a hairdresser ... « Djokoland » is meant to showcase an exciting Serbia, athletic and open to the world. Three other "Novak Cafe & Restaurant" recently opened in Serbia - in Novi Beograd, Kragujevac and Novi Sad. On the menu: guaranteed gluten-free dishes, to eat (and win) like the champion.
And then, of course, there's the Belgrade Open, launched in May 2009. Novak took his chequebook out again to buy the rights of the former Amersfoort Open in the Netherlands and moved it, to offer his country its first-ever tennis tournament. Held at the Novak Tennis Centre, the competition has twice been won by its benefactor, who has once again put uncle Goran in charge. The Mayor of Belgrade, Dragan Dilas, doesn’t find anything wrong in all this, quite the opposite actually, as when he recently pointed out that his city, which used to have "three tennis courts, 15 years ago," now counts "hundreds". In a country traditionally turned to team sports, the sudden breakthrough of the little yellow ball out is quite an achievement. Yet another one for Novak.