The future all-time great was living with his widowed grandfather in the Banjica neighborhood of Belgrade when the bombs struck, while his parents, father Srdjan and mother Dijana, spent most of their time in a mountain resort more than four hours’ drive away.
The couple worked day and night to fund Djokovic’s tennis exploits while the youngster continued to pursue tennis in Belgrade, where he witnessed the strikes that were purportedly intended to drive Serbian troops out of Kosovo.
Srdjan has described some of his experiences before his son shot to stardom as “terribly difficult” and admitted he was on the “edge of existence”.
“I will never forgive them for bombing,” he told Novosti. “He [Novak] was 12 then. A huge bomb fell in [municipality] Rakovica; all the windows shattered in our apartment in Banjica in ’99.
“We fell out of bed, ran into the hallway and cried, ‘God, save us – don’t give us away”. These are traumas that last a lifetime.”
The world number one has claimed that the conflict during his formative years helped his tennis career.
“Everyone who could fit here came – there was no limitation,” Djokovic told CBS in 2011, explaining how people had lived in a basement.
“We were waking up every single night at 2am or 3am for two-and-a-half months because of the bombings.
“In a way these experiences made me a champion, it made us tougher, made us more hungry for success.”
Staunch supporter Srdjan has stuck up for Djokovic during his sometimes-controversial career, most recently as part of the saga over whether the reigning champion has been vaccinated against Covid and will therefore be guaranteed a place at the Australian Open in January.
Djokovic senior says his son has inherited his stubbornness from him – and he can also make one claim that few in the game are able to boast.
“I am one of the few people who has a positive record in matches with Novak,” he explained.
“He beat me for the first time when he was 11. I couldn’t even win a game anymore, so the score is now 100-1.”
© 2021, paradox. All rights reserved.