Monica Seles nearly blushed.
The former World No. 1 and nine-time Grand Slam singles champion may not have quite expected to hear so many nice words about her from Novak Djokovic when she presented him the Laurues Sportsman of the Year at the Sporting Club here on a chilly winter night. He spoke about how much he used to idolise her as a young boy.
Seles wasn’t the only woman he paid a tribute to. He said he was grateful to his wife Jelena for the support she gave him during his fightback against career-threatening injuries.
The women, who know a thing or two about playing tennis at the highest level, have high regard for Djokovic, too. Earlier this month, Chris Evert and Lindsay Davenport — both World No. 1 in multiple years — hailed him as the greatest player of all time.
Davenport pointed out that neither Roger Federer nor Rafael Nadal could ever hold the four Slams at the same time, something Djokovic did in 2016. Something he is in a position to do again — he has won the Wimbledon, the US Open and, just three weeks ago, the Australian Open.
But, he may not have played any of those. He had seriously considered thinking of quitting.
He didn’t consider surgery as an option to his elbow problems, initially. “I am a big believer in natural healing,” the 31-year-old Serbian said shortly after receiving what was his fourth Laureus award. “I believe if we treat our bodies rightly, our bodies have the capacity to heal. When everything you've tried doesn't give you the results you want, then, surgery is okay as a last resort.”
He said the last 12 months were quite transformational for him. “I’m really pleased with the way the surgery went,” he said. “It allowed me to be back on the court just five weeks later. I was very anxious to be back on the court and to compete; I was very impatient, as I was not ready, emotionally, and my game was not there, not even close.”
Djokovic said he wasn’t thinking much about winning his next Slam. “Probably one of the biggest lessons I've learned is that the destination is not more important than the journey; it's the other way around,” he said. “My aim is to win as many Grand Slams as possible, and fight for the World No. 1 spot. But at the same time, my bigger goals are to stay mentally healthy and balanced. I know that with an optimal, functional state of mind, body and soul, I will have a better chance of achieving those goals.”
(The writer is in Monte Carlo at the invitation of Laureus)