Novak Djokovic livestreamed a visit Monday to some childhood tennis courts that were struck by the 1999 NATO bombing campaign in what was then Yugoslavia. Hiking through Kopaonik, Serbia, the No. 1 player pointed out three former clay courts, now overrun by vegetation, only a fence and net post remaining, and his favorite tennis wall, which “survived the bombing, and survived many different hits.”
Djokovic reminisces about his earliest tennis rallies, playing with rabbits, the “complete serenity” of the mountains, and courtside food and drinks with his family, who ran the small tennis club for a few years. To watch him stroll through ruins set in such natural beauty is both haunting and calming.
It’s unsurprising that Djokovic—who withdrew from the China Open, spoke out about the psychological strain he endures, and said that the top ranking is no longer one of his priorities—would take time to emotionally regroup. At times in the video, he sighs heavily and seems overcome by nostalgia, but also leavens it with characteristic humor. “Nobody has been here for many years after bombings because of the dangerous cluster bombs that were not deactivated, but now it’s all clear. You can come here guys, trust me,” he chuckles, and, turning the camera on his brother and wife, adds, “we’re safe, we’re all good.” A little later, he grabs a racket and a ball and starts rallying with the pockmarked tennis wall: “The best sparring partner you can have is a wall, guys. Trust me, never misses.”