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Men's semi-final preview: Discovering Novak Djokovic

Novak Djokovic serves to Victor Troicki during their fourth round match.
by Alix Ramsay
Friday 6 July 2012

He is the world No.1 and he has been king of the hill for the past year. We all know about his talent, his power, his stamina, his drive and his victories, but what are the secrets of his success?

1. You are what you eat: Djokovic has been on a gluten-free regime for the past 18 months. In past years, he has been troubled by a variety of allergies and breathing problems but since he cut out the gluten, he has been able to take over the world. However, there are times when a chap needs a carb or two – like when he has just won the US Open. Asked how his diet had helped him reach the top and how he was going to celebrate beating Rafa Nadal in flushing Meadows, he said: “I'll give you a simple answer: last night I didn't have any gluten, and tonight I will have a bunch of gluten - and alcohol.” That’s how it’s done folks.

2. Practice make perfect: Although this may be hard to believe when you watch the driven, winning machine that is the present day Novak Djokovic, when Nole was a teenager, he was pretty ordinary in practice. As his coach, Marian Vajda explains: “One part was the practice and one part was the matches. And in practice he never reached the potential that he reached in matches. I recognise him as a match player. He was basically skipping a couple of practices. He was still young, you know - 18 - but by that time I recognise that he has a big potential, playing great matches. I just find a good balance to do good practice and to prove to him that he has to work harder and improve in some areas.”

3. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery: The world No.1 is not only the best player on the planet, he is also a renown mimic and can imitate the quirks, tics and peculiarities of the brightest and the best (even if some of the brightest and the best have taken umbrage – not every tennis god has a sense of humour). According to Jelena Gencic, Djokovic’s first coach back when he was just a slip of a thing in shorts and knee socks in Serbia, this skill comes from all the hours he spent watching and analysing the superstars of the 1990s and dreaming of following in their footsteps one day.

4. Attention to detail: Our hero had his path to the top of the men’s game planned from day one. When he went for his first tennis lesson with the aforementioned Jelena Gencic, he arrived prompt and smart and with a little gym bag full of useful items to help him on his way. “One racket, towel, bottle with water, one banana, a dry extra T-shirt, wrist band and the cap,” Gencic said, recalling the contents of the bag. “And I said: ‘O.K., who prepared your bag? Your mother?’ And oh, he was very angry. He said, ‘No, I am playing tennis'.”

5. A hero’s hero: In 1993, a young Nole watched the Wimbledon coverage on TV and was star-struck as he watched Pete Sampras win the first of his seven titles. A love affair with tennis was born and a deep admiration for Pistol Pete began. "We're totally opposite,” Djokovic said. “Totally opposite personalities. Totally opposite game. But I just love the way he deals with the pressure. He always plays well, always serves well in the important moments. Mentally he was the strongest person I've ever seen.”

6. Man’s best friend: Djokovic’s dog, Pierre, is a pampered pooch and a very well-travelled poodle. Armed with three passports, he follows his master around the world and, although he was born in Germany, he now resides in Monte Carlo with his proud owner but considers himself to be Serbian. And, yes, Pierre is gluten-free.

7. Hairy moments: Is it just me, or does Djokovic’s hair actually get longer during the course of a match? The beautifully coiffured Serb likes to have a trim and a brush-up every couple of days to keep his look ‘just-so’ and, apparently, he has always been like that. Andy Murray grew up with Djokovic in the juniors – they were born just one week apart – and he has marvelled at the Serb’s tonsorial tendencies. “He always had the same hair. Not that my hair is great, but his has always been like it is,” Murray said. It takes the winning of a Davis Cup for Novak to change his look - when he led Serbia to victory in Belgrade at the end of 2010, he and the rest of the team shaved their heads on court. Bet those photos look good in the Djokovic family album.

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