(CNN) — Novak Djokovic was only 11 years old and sleeping in his bed in Belgrade when a loud explosion, followed by the noise of shattering glass and air raid sirens woke him up.
It is March 24, 1999, along with the air strikes the Serbian capital mark the start of what would be a 78-day effort from the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) to try and bring to a finish atrocities committed by Yugoslavia’s then-president Slobodan Milosevic’s troops against ethnic Albanians in the province of Kosovo.
Djokovic hunted for four-year-old Djordje, eight-year-old Marko and his brothers, in their own pitch dark flat while his dad, Srdjan, aided his mother, Dijana, who briefly lost consciousness after hitting his head against the radiator following the first explosion.
“At 11, I was the big brother,” the top-ranked Serb composed in”Serve to triumph,” his 2013 autobiography. “I’d been holding myself responsible for their safety since NATO forces began bombing my hometown of Belgrade.”
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Two decades on, the Djokovic that is now 32-year-old is the favorite to win the US Open, which starts August 26 in New York. Such was his dominance in the past calendar year, he’s clinched four of the five slams. 16 majors, just two shy of Rafael Nadal of Spain are now held by him, and four behind men’s Grand Slam record holder Roger Federer of Switzerland.
His journey from Belgrade to the top of the men’s match was nothing short of remarkable.
In the introduction to his autobiography,” Djokovic clarified the odds were stacked against him.
“A boy like me, rising up in Serbia, becoming a tennis winner? It was not possible in the best of conditions. Plus it became ever more unlikely when the bombs began dropping,” he also wrote.
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From the first chapter of his autobiography, titled”Backhands and Bomb Shelters,” Djokovic vividly recalls the night that changed his life forever.
After Dijana regained awareness, the Djokovic family entered the unlit streets of Belgrade and strove to create their way into the local apartment building.
Djokovic abruptly found himself all alone after he dropped flat on his face, while the roads rushed down, holding his brothers.
“And it happened,” Djokovic wrote. “Rising up from across the roof of the building came the steel grey triangle of an F-117 bomber.”
“What happened would never abandon me,” he explained. “Even today, loud sounds fill me with fear.”
The bomber dropped two laser-guided missiles right on his head, which struck a hospital building a few roads away.
“I remember the temperate, temperate, metallic shell from the air, and the way the entire city seemed to shine like a ripe tangerine,” Djokovic stated in his publication.
The roads now covered in light, Djokovic chased after them until they reached the shield, also spotted his brothers and parents at the distance.
There were about 20 families.
“There were children crying. I didn’t stop shivering for the remainder of the night,” Djokovic stated in his publication.
In a 2015 interview with CNN television, Djokovic remembered the bombing effort, during which he and his family would spend every night at the shield from 8 p.m., and only had electricity for a couple hours every day.
“These days are surely something I do not wish for anyone to experience,” he said. “Two-and-a-half months, every single day and night, bombs coming to the city. We watched airplanes flying over our minds, and literally rockets and bombs landing half a mile away.”
Until this dark spring night in 1999, Djokovic had loved what he predicted into his autobiography, a”magic childhood.”
His dad Srdjan had been a former professional skier and also Djokovic started playing tennis. Nobody in his household had played with the sport.
Djokovic, who’d spent substantial parts of his youth in the small darkened mountain resort of Kopaonik, where his parents ran a pizza parlor, told CNN television in 2014:”It was kind of like a fate. Something happened out of the blue pill. That the tennis court was seen by me and that I watched tennis when I was four. My father bought me a small tennis racket and that is when I think all of us fell in love with the game.”
At age six, he was seen in Kopaonik from the late Serbian coach Jelena Gencic, who had worked with Serbian-born former world No. 1 and also nine-time key winner Monica Seles of the united states. Shortly afterwards, Gencic told his parents Djokovic had been”the greatest talent I’ve seen as Monica Seles.”
The pair would work together for five decades, through which Gencic taught her many life lessons that are pupil. When he learned of her passing through the 2013 French Open djokovic was so grief-stricken , he forfeited his post-match media conference.
Although the bombing raids might have ended his tennis career, it put life at a standpoint, Djokovic told CNN television in 2015.
“It gave me more admiration for all of the values that I’ve in my entire life,” he explained. “From tennis to anything. I understand what it feels like being anything less or more, and then being in this popular and global sport in the world on top of the world. So this comparison gives me the right outlook in life.”
Although Djokovic said in his autobiography the constant bombing campaign, the largest military operation in NATO history, left him feeling”helpless,” it didn’t stop him playing tennis.
Djokovic stepped up his training sessions. He practised in the hope at sites across Belgrade chosen by Gencic, dependent on where the most recent bombs had dropped, for as many as five hours a day.
From becoming paralyzed by fear originally, something changed Djokovic said in his publication since the strikes lasted.
“We chose to stop being fearful,” he explained. “After so much death, so much destruction, we just stopped hiding. When you realize you are truly helpless, a specific sense of freedom takes over.”
That the air strikes ended, after Milosevic agreed to troop withdrawals from Kosovo.
Back in September of that calendar year, the now Djokovic abandoned Serbia for Munich, Germany, to train in the tennis academy of Yugoslav expert Niki Pilic. Pro would turn four decades later.
In 1994, the then seven-year-old Djokovic appeared on TV, presumably telling his aide:”The goal for me would be to turn into the world No. 1″
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Seventeen decades later, he became the first Serbian player to rise to the No. 1 ranking over the men’s ATP Tour after he won his first Wimbledon title.
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