Trophies. Fame. Money. They can’t buy happiness.
Novak Djokovic sits firmly atop the ATP rankings after winning the last three men’s Grand Slam singles titles, including this year’s Australian Open. He will head to the French Open looking to repeat the incredible feat of holding all four majors in a few months, but this was far from the plan this time last year.
In a revealing interview with CNN Friday, his wife, Jelena Djokovic, admitted that Novak was ready to call it quits after struggling with injury.
“He said, ‘I’m done, I’m not playing tennis anymore. I lost this, I’m not having fun anymore, this is it.'”
The 31-year-old had won all four slams beginning with the 2016 Wimbledon to the 2017 French Open, before unraveling in a third round loss to Sam Querrey at Wimbledon that year. He was overwhelmed by an elbow injury which forced him to miss the final six months of the year since he preferred not to pursue surgery and heal naturally.
Andre Agassi, his coach at the time, was discouraged by the decision to the point they split ways.
“I only knew him with a hurt elbow, so it was always plasters and big problems,” Agassi said. “I think there was a real hope his elbow could heal naturally, holistically. I personally wasn’t a fan of that choice. You can’t force someone when it comes to their own body, you have to understand their hesitations, but health is a function of taking care of your body, making the hard decisions, giving yourself the time and then moving forward methodically. Rest wasn’t going to do it in my estimation.
“When I saw the results of his MRIs in August, I was very clear with him: I advocated surgery right away, because that could end the issue once and for all.”
It wasn’t until a shock straight-sets defeat at the hands of up-and-comer Hyeon Chung, in the fourth round of the Australian Open in 2018, that Djokovic finally came around and had surgery in February, something that was still a hard experience to deal with even after going under the knife.
“When he was starting to take those pain-killers, it was something that was completely against everything that we believed in,” Novak’s wife Jelena revealed. “To do the surgery, it was against his core values. It was really huge. It’s like he buried one part of him with that decision.”
Djokovic seems to have buried those struggles with that part of him as well, soaring back up the rankings and possibly even exceeding the ridiculous standard he set for himself before his swoon.
Who can he thank for not leaving the game in 2018? His wife, Jelena.
“Her support was crucial in the times I was facing adversity and had obstacles that seemed, at times, too challenging,” Djokovic said at the 2019 Laureus Sports Awards, where he won World Sportsman of the Year. “Without her support it would be very difficult for me to play competitive tennis at such a high level.”
Now with 15 Grand Slam singles titles to his name, Djokovic sits two behind Rafael Nadal and five back of the all-time leader on the men’s side, Roger Federer.
Time will tell if he can catch up to them, but he certainly has that after rediscovering his form and love for the game.