FEATURE – Djokovic imitates Nadal to intimidate the other Djokovic: “My son is in love with tennis.”
LONDON – Djokovic hits a forehand in Aorangi Park, where the practice courts are located. The forehand lands at an angle. Djokovic applauds. The forehand of his opponent, Djokovic, is very good.
“Have mercy!” Peter shouts, he’s the only person who isn’t a Djokovic.
The Djokovic who owns that forehand is Stefan, Novak Djokovic’s seven-year-old son. His father at 35 is looking to win his seventh Wimbledon.
At times, Djokovic steps aside to watch his son play against Peter (Jelenic), a childhood friend. Stefan is very funny because he takes the game very seriously. He grunts when hitting the shots and throws himself on the floor if necessary to return a drop.
And the most striking peculiarity: his drive. It is a right-handed spin that follows through over his head. Just like Rafael Nadal’s iconic move.
The boy does not hit the ball in this way by chance. It is clear to him that this is how the 22 Grand Slam champion executes the stroke. He does it to annoy his father. Djokovic is amused, and at the same time, he knows that it is not the most advisable way to hit the ball. Nadal’s drive technique is not taught in tennis schools.
“He likes to do that; he likes to intimidate me on the court by finishing the swing over his head. He knows I don’t particularly like it. He does it both ways, I try to teach him to finish it up here,” he tells CLAY during a press conference, making the technical gesture of both hands meeting above the left shoulder.
“He does both moves, but whenever he follows through over his head he laughs. We have these funny moments on the court. I try to use every opportunity to play with him because he’s completely immersed in tennis now.”
Just like for several tournaments on the calendar, he has brought his family with him. His wife Jelena and youngest daughter Tara complete the intimate core of the clan. The children enjoy the tennis atmosphere as fans as well. Last week, they received autographs from Venus Williams in their signature books.
On match days, Djokovic’s trained exclusively with other tour players, such as David Goffin, before his last-16 clash with Dutchman Tim van Rijthoven. But on his days off, his son is the main attraction and does not want to miss anything. Goran Ivanisevic sometimes must restrain him, so that he does not keep a ball from the sparring partners in his eagerness to pick up every ball that remains on the court.
Thus, in an event as big as Wimbledon, where stories are amplified, the appearance of Stefan playing together on the court has revolutionized the Internet. The 20-time Grand Slam winner himself shared the photo of his son hitting a forehand, much like himself.
“Now he can play. He’s watching, analyzing. We are talking about tennis. Last night when I went to put him to bed, he was asking me what the difference in racquet sizes is for, strings, why is it strung with less tension, all those basic questions that kids are curious about,” Djokovic recounts. In fact, questions that are not so common for such young children. Questions that are much more complex.
Little Djokovic likes tennis. More than that. “He’s in love with tennis, I’ve never forced him to be on a tennis court, but if he wants to, I try to always be ready to be there and play with him.”
Stefan also tries other sports, something important for Djokovic, who remembers his childhood taking part in martial arts, soccer, and skiing.
“It’s very important, especially at his age, that he gets a lot of stimulation. I don’t like it when children, being so young, only play one sport. Trying different things helps brain and motor skill development.”
Does Djokovic envision his son as a champion in the sport where he himself has written so much of its history?
“I will support him in every possible way so that he can become a professional tennis player if he has the intention and if he wants to,” he says.
For now, Stefan looks at Wimbledon as an amusement park. Djokovic is enthusiastic, but not in a hurry: “It’s too early to talk about it, honestly. He’s not even eight years old.”