The endless tournaments, hours spent travelling and embraces of one hotel lobby after another make tennis a gruelling sport. Players at the age group and lower levels, such as the ones at the Chennai Open Challenger, can seldom afford the luxury of a team.
It is called ‘boxing minus the blood’ for a reason.
But it all seems a little bit easy when you have the greatest player of all time at your ringside. That is what Hamad Medjedovic says.
Touted as the next big thing from Serbia, the 19-year-old was left pinching himself when Novak Djokovic took him under his wing.
“Serbia is a small country. You can hear it (from somewhere). I was good as a junior and I had just won against the first seed at French Open (boys) when he texted me,” says Medjedovic on how Djokovic spotted him.
The texts were followed by a handful of training sessions and the 22-time Grand Slam winner was convinced of Medjedovic’s abilities. He’s been at the Novak Tennis Centre in Belgrade for the last two years.
Medjedovic stems from a generation that has been heavily influenced by Djokovic’s success. Djokovic was the reason Medjedovic started playing tennis.
“I’m not sure even half the guys in Serbia would play tennis if not for Novak. He brought a lot of belief in the players and everyone. The culture of tennis changed completely after him,” he says.
His idol supporting him in the sport was gratification beyond measure for Medjedovic who had left his home in Novi Pazar, a small city on the Serbia-Montenegro border, at the age of nine and moved to Belgrade.
“For me it was special. I’m grateful for what he has done. It would take a lot of time to describe him as a person and what he’s done for me. I just appreciate it,” Medjedovic says.
Even through Djokovic’s tutelage and the expectations that have since followed, Medjedovic holds a mirror up to himself. He wants to pay the dues.
He is persisting with the Challenger Tour, aiming to win consistently here and then move to the ATP Tour.
“Logically, it’s better (for me) here. I’m trying to be more consistent in tournaments. You can play well one week and win a lot of matches, and the next (week) you have to do it all over again. It’s tough to do that.
“At the moment, I do not think I’m 100 percent ready. When I feel I’m ready to play on the big stage with the big players then for sure,” he says.
Apart from consistency, there is another quality that Medjedovic is looking for. Rather, desperate for - Djokovic’s discipline.
“This guy is so professional. (In) Every aspect of his life which could help him on the court, he works. With the food, sleeping or anything else, he just looks for ways to get better. That’s what I admire,” Medjedovic says.
By his admission, matching his mentor’s standards and training with him can be tough too. “He is the greatest. He is looking at it from his point of view and that makes it challenging at times.”
But Djokovic would be proud of his pupil’s win on Monday. Just like Djokovic, Medjedovic dug deep into his reserves to pip Sweden’s Leo Borg, son of Bjorn Borg, 6-1, 4-6, 6-2 in the opening round.
“Not really. I’ve got used to it since Novak has watched me many times,” he responds cheekily to talks of pressure because of Bjorn’s presence at the court.
Medjedovic, rather fittingly, like Djokovic, moves on from the win swiftly. “I’m not looking too deep (in the tournament). Just the next round and take it to step by step.”
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