Inside story on Novak Djokovic’s shock ‘retirement’ from tennis… and what came next

Jelena Djokovic and Novak Djokovic

The decision was made and there appeared to be no turning back when Novak Djokovic told those close to him that he was quitting tennis in 2018.

With his ongoing elbow problem refusing to heal and shocking first-round defeats against Taro Daniel and Benoit Paire coming in back-to-back events in Indian Wells and Miami, it seemed as if the fire had been extinguished for Djokovic.

He even told his manager Edoardo Artaldi that the game was up and encouraged him to let his sponsors know that the Novak story in tennis was over.

The story was told by Djokovic’s wife Jelena in an interview with the show In Depth with Graham Bensinger back in 2020.

“He said to me that he’s quitting. That’s the truth. He lost in Miami. It was a terrible loss and then he just gathered at all of us and said ‘guys I am done’ and I was like what? He said yeah,” she said.

“Then he said Eduardo you can speak with my sponsors. I want to be clear with them. I don’t know if I am stopping for six months, a year, or forever.

“Just tell them if they feel like staying around they can. If they don’t, I’m happy. I just want to make sure everybody is okay with this.

“I’m like ‘You can’t quit’ and we are crying and we’re like ‘this is not the time’.”

The tennis world was not aware that Djokovic was this close to the end, with the short break he took with his family following his decision proving to be pivotal in what came next.

“It was crazy how we went on a holiday together and when he decides he doesn’t want to play tennis, he doesn’t want to see tennis or have anything to do with tennis,” added Jelena.

“I love tennis and kept taking the kids with me to play tennis and then he showed up the third and fourth day and saw me with this old tennis machine playing with Stefan.

“He saw how much we were having fun and how much we were enjoying being on the court.

“I think it was 10 days of him feeling I’m not playing anymore but it was that year when he had surgery and he rushed himself to come back.”

It didn’t take long for Djokovic to banish the misery of those defeats in Indian Wells and Miami as he went on to win Wimbledon and the US Open in the second half of 2018.

He also won the Cincinnati Masters that summer and went on to win the Shanghai Masters in a year that ended with defeat in the ATP Finals against Alexander Zverev.

Since then he has cemented his legacy at the top of the game and is now set to go down in history as the greatest player of all time after his latest Grand Slam title win.

Daniil Medvedev questioned why Djokovic was still in the game after he lost the US Open final against the Serbian on Sunday, but it seems his motivation to continue burns brightly.

“I’m going to keep going. You know, I feel good in my own body. I still feel I’ve got the support of my environment, of my team, of my family,” he said in New York.

“The Grand Slams, I have said in the last few years, have been always the highest goal and the priority of mine in the whole season.

“I don’t play as much in terms of other tournaments, so I try to prioritise my preparation so that I can peak in Slams.

“These are the moments and these are the kind of emotions that I motivate myself with every single day when I’m not playing a tournament.

“Yeah, occasionally I ask myself ‘why do I need this still at this stage after all I have done, you know? How long do I want to keep going?’ I do have these questions in my head, of course.

“But knowing that I play at such a high level still, and I win the biggest tournaments in this sport, I don’t want to leave this sport if I’m still at the top, you know, if I’m still playing the way I’m playing.”

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