By Zoran Milosavljevic
BELGRADE (Reuters) - The dedication to sporting excellence which moulded Novak Djokovic into the world’s top tennis player was preceded by a passion for skiing which remains one of his greatest joys, the 27-year old Serb told Reuters on Sunday.
Cutting a relaxed figure following afternoon practice less than 24 hours after losing the Dubai Open final to Roger Federer, the eight-times grand slam champion explained the tough decision which changed his life.
"I am very blessed to be able to play tennis, the sport that I love and very grateful for the opportunities to play in the finals of big events,” he said.
“When the season starts you are on the roll constantly and obliged to be committed to daily routines on and off the court.
“But before I ever hit a tennis ball I was already on the slopes of the mountains where I grew up and skiing has stayed my biggest sports passion.
“My father was a skiing instructor and competitor as well as my uncle and aunt and I really do come from a family which nurtures a skiing culture.
“Even though I love tennis with all my heart and it’s my number one sport, for me there is still no better feeling than going down the slopes on a pair of skis, it’s such a powerful feeling.
“There was a time in my life when I was around 10 or 11 when I had to decide between the two sports because I was strongly considering skiing.
“My father never pushed me one way or the other, he gave me the freedom to choose and I chose tennis. It turned out to be a good decision.”
Djokovic won his fifth Australian Open title in January to sit alongside two Wimbledon trophies and one U.S. Open in his impressive cabinet.
But he still acknowledges the importance of Serbia beating Croatia in next weekend’s Davis Cup first-round tie in the central city of Kraljevo whose sports hall is a far cry from the imposing Belgrade Arena.
“It is important for this part of Serbia to have such a big sports event. It should bring fans there a lot of joy and we are all looking forward to playing there," Djokovic said.
“Winning the 2010 Davis Cup title was one of the nicest feelings I ever experienced on the court.
“The second highlight of my career would be Wimbledon but winning the Davis Cup and sharing such a great achievement with your team mates and your people is something that happens very few times in your life.
“Roland Garros is of course one of my top priorities each year but it’s still a long way away and I need to play well in the Davis Cup and a lot of strong Masters events on the tour before then.
“That should help me build my form into the French Open, the only grand slam tournament I still haven’t won. It remains my life-long goal to complete the slam but I am sure that I am not the only one who wants to win it.”
Having his own family has taken a lot of pressure off Djokovic, who feels his form has peaked since getting married to childhood sweetheart Jelena and becoming a father to four-month old son Stefan.
“It has brought me only positive energy because I really don’t feel that being a parent or husband is a distraction of any kind," he said.
“I’ve been playing some of the best tennis of my career since I became a father and there is a more profound feeling to everything I do.
“There is an inner satisfaction that I possess at this moment in every aspect of my life and it helps me play better tennis. Being with my loved ones recharges my batteries and allows me to be fresh and motivated for what’s coming up.”
Djokovic feels he has benefited enormously from adding former German great Boris Becker to his camp.
“Boris has achieved a lot in his career, he is a legend of this sport and understands the pressure and challenges I face on the court and off it," he said.
“We talk a lot and although there is nothing major in my game we are trying to change, there are some specifics we always work on like trying to be more aggressive on the net. He has also contributed to my mental strength in a major way.”
(Editing by Ed Osmond)