The story about Novak Djokovic’s first racquet — a pink one

Before Novak Djokovic faces Rafael Nadal in the French Open quarter-finals on Tuesday, Sasa Ozmo takes a look back at how Novak Djokovic got into tennis with a pink racquet more than 30 years ago.

Novak Djokovic with a pink racquet, 1991 Novak Djokovic with a pink racquet, 1991 © screenshot Telegraf

It is June of 1991. Everything is falling apart in the former Yugoslavia.

But one kid is happy. His name is Novak Djokovic and he just received his first tennis racquet from his parents.

Little that anyone present at that time knew that the videos and photographs from those days would go on to be watched by millions of people around the world; a precious material in getting to know the beginnings of one of the greatest players in the history of tennis.

On the eve of his quarter-final match at Roland Garros with Rafael Nadal, Djokovic is reminded by Serbian journalists about his first racquet with one question: why was it pink?

“Ooh, that is a riddle you just gave me to solve,“ Djokovic said, reminiscing and trying to play back the memories in his head.

At that time in 1991, soon to be dissolved Yugoslavia did not have much of a tennis tradition – particularly not in Serbia. However, there were a few prominent players throughout history: Željko Franulović and Slobodan Živojinović, Goran Ivanišević was making a name for himself, and Monika Seleš was starting to dominate.

It hurts when you wake up and you do not have enough to buy the most basic stuff for your kid

Dijana Djokovic

Still, tennis was an expensive sport and it was unimaginable for most of the families for their kids to even try it on a remotely serious level. Nonetheless, Djokovic’s family was unwilling to give up. The Djokovics were particularly inspired after Jelena Genčić, Novak’s first coach, told him that he was a “golden child“ – the most talented she had seen since Seleš. His father, Srdjan, even went to loan sharks in an attempt to fund his son’s tennis career.

“It hurts when you wake up and you do not have enough to buy the most basic stuff for your kids,” Novak’s mother, Dijana, once said. “Srđan would borrow from some people, then he would pay them back by borrowing from other people. There were many nights where we did not sleep at all. When they are aware that you need the money urgently, the interest rates just go up.“

Djokovic : “As long as it was a racquet…”

In those circumstances, the color of the racquet was not something you get to choose nor was it remotely important.

“All I can say is that I wanted any racquet at that moment, as long as it was a racquet.“ Novak explained. „My father bought it for me when I was four years old. I did not care about the color. I had it in my hands the whole day.“

“Go on, serve,“ you can hear Srdjan tell him in the video while Novak is imitating professional players by putting one of the balls in his pocket. 

I am playing tennis! Let me be. I am playing tennis!

Novak Djokovic, aged 4

As someone calls him to come back to the house, Novak wants none of it.

“I am playing tennis! Let me be. I am playing tennis!“

Fast forward more than 30 years and he is still playing tennis – not on a parking lot in Serbia, but in the world’s biggest stadiums. And he is playing out a career he could have only dreamt about when he held the pink racquet for the first time.

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