Try finding another teenager with total career earnings of 118 American dollars whose career prospects are being discussed across the tennis world. Djordje Djokovic, a 16-year-old who made ‘all’ that money for losing in the first round of a Futures tournament in Serbia last summer, was never going to be allowed to learn the game in obscurity.
As soon as Djordje – or ‘Djole’ – made it clear that he wanted a life in tennis, and perhaps even before that, the comparisons started with his older brother Novak (or ‘Nole’). Nick Bollettieri, who has been supervising Djordje’s training at his academy in Florida, has been urging the younger of the three Djokovic brothers to first become a man, and then to be his own man. “The worst thing in the world for Djordje is to spend the whole time trying to copy his brother – I’ve told him: ‘don’t do that s—’. There’s no point doing that. No two individuals are the same,” Bollettieri told thetennisspace.com, but his words are unlikely to stop the comparisons.
“Djordje spent a couple of months here at the academy last season, and he’s got good groundstrokes, but everyone has to remember that Novak is Novak, the middle brother is the middle brother, and Djordje is Djordje. It’s not fair to wonder whether Djordje is good enough to become the world number one – there have been millions of tennis players over the years, and how many of those have gone on to become world number one?
“What Djordje has to do now is go out and play a lot of matches, get some exposure, and get tough. He’s 16, but he can’t think that he’s a young boy anymore, he has to grow and he has to grow up – if he wants to become a good player, he needs to become a man. He’s not finding that easy, he’s finding that a bit of a struggle. He is growing very quickly and it’s important that he keeps getting bigger and stronger, as he could be one heck of a player.”
Clearly, there is a difference between being “one heck of a player” and being the world number one and a winner of five grand slams. Expectations needs to be managed.
The middle Djokovic brother, Marko, has also played some professional tennis, yet it sounds as though the 20-year-old, who has been playing in lowly Futures events in Turkey this year, has been considering stopping to go to university. So if there is going to be a second Djokovic brother on the main tour, it is going to have to be Djordje, who may already be familiar to armchair viewers for his animated celebrations at Novak’s victories. Novak has acknowledged that Djordje will not be allowed to play, or even to practise, without a crowd gathering. “He’s very talented and actually someone who practised with him and said that he has a copy-and-paste of my forehand,” said the Australian Open, Wimbledon and US Open champion, who has plainly not seen the memo about making comparisons between two brothers in the same field.
“I’m really happy to see my younger brother doing well in tennis, because it hasn’t been easy for him. He’s still not mature enough to be able to face these really difficult mental struggles all the time, and practising in front of 20 or 30 people because he’s carrying the burden of the Djokovic family. For him, it’s not really the best situation you can ask for, but it makes him stronger. He is really fighting. He understands that he has to fight his own way through, and hopefully he will.”