Novak Djokovic canceled his post-match news conference on Saturday after he learned of the death of his first tennis coach, Jelena Gencic.
Gencic, 76, died in Belgrade earlier Saturday. Djokovic’s team reportedly withheld the information from him so he could focus on his third-round match against Grigor Dimitrov, which he won 6-2, 6-2, 6-3. After the match, tournament organizers alerted the media that Djokovic requested to skip his media responsibilities after hearing of the news.
“Clearly affected by this sad news, Novak Djokovic feels unable to give a press conference this evening,” the tournament said in a statement. “He would like to send his apologies to the media. Jelena Gencic ‘discovered’ the world number 1 when he was 6 years old, and went on to coach him for five years.”
“His team kept the news secret from him until after the match,” ATP spokesman Nicola Arzani told The Asscoatied Press. “He just broke down. … He was very, very, very close to her.”
In 2010, Djokovic told The New York Times that “pretty much what I know on court, I owe to her.” Before discovering Djokovic during a tennis camp in his hometown of Kopaonik, Gencic had also worked with Monica Seles, Goran Ivanisevic and Iva Majoli. It was through her encouragement and confidence in Djokovic’s talent that his family sacrificed everything to allow him to pursue his dream, which included scraping together enough money to send him to Niki Pilic’s academy in Germany when he was 12. Below is an excerpt from that piece:
It was Gencic who taught him the grips and fundamentals; Gencic who provided him inspiration with Pushkin poems and classical music; Gencic who gently helped him arrive at the conclusion that he preferred to hit his backhand with two hands instead of the single hand used by his American idol, Pete Sampras. Just as important, it was Gencic who gave Djokovic’s parents, Srdjan and Dijana, along with Srdjan’s siblings, Goran and Jelena, the assurance that the boy had what it took to be something exceptional in a game whose subtleties they did not yet grasp.
“The third day, I called to see the father and mother for the first time, and I said, ‘You have a golden child,”’ Gencic, 74, recalled in an interview at a clay court in Belgrade where she still gives lessons. “I said the same thing about Monica Seles when she was 8.”
The Djokovics were stunned but ultimately inspired. They would need all the inspiration they could muster in the years ahead as they sacrificed security and scrambled for money in a disintegrating economy.
“Let’s say that Jelena Gencic gave us strength; she’s a serious woman,” said Goran Djokovic, who at 46 is four years younger than Srdjan. “We were all together as a family, and we had our project. It was not good times, there were sanctions and the war was starting. It was not an easy time for Serbia, for Yugoslavia, but all the money we had we invest in Novak. He had to be the one in front of the family who had to have everything he need — the new racket, the good food and everything. Of course we can live very easy if he didn’t play tennis, but we have a vision.”
Djokovic plays Philipp Kohlschreiber in the fourth round Monday.
Here’s video of Djokovic bringing home the Wimbledon trophy to Gencic in 2011.