Former Italian tennis player Filippo Volandri insists it was clear to him that Novak Djokovic was a special talent after the two met on the clay courts of Umag in 2004. Djokovic, now ranked at No. 1 in the world, was making his ATP debut and aiming to beat Volandri but the Italian didn't let the Serb make any surprises as he claimed a 7-6 (5) 6-1 win.
Djokovic, who was just 17 years at the time, fought back from 5-1 down in the first set to force a tie-break, before succumbing to Volandri. "Outside the court I was talking with some colleagues and I said, ‘This guy is really good!’.
” Volandri exclusively told the ATP Tour. “All the players said, ‘Come on, you could have won 6-1 6-1.' But I was right! "I was winning easily. I was already a good player and he had a reaction that surprised me,” Volandri said.
“Even though he was fighting with [his breathing] and he wasn’t breathing well, he had a reaction that you have inside or you don’t. You can work on it, but most players are born with something inside where they never surrender and they always try to make a reaction [when they are down].
That kind of reaction, 1-5 down, was really impressive”.
Volandri saw the characteristics of a champion in Djokovic
Djokovic, who has won 17 Grand Slam titles throughout his career, is considered as one of the greatest to ever play the game and his goal is to break Roger Federer's all-time Grand Slam record of 20 Majors.
"Already, physically and in terms of flexibility, he was at a different level. He was so powerful. He was jumping [everywhere] on the court and he put so much spin on the ball without having so much weight [on his body],” Volandri said.
“That’s the difference between champions and normal players. They don’t need too much weight to put so much spin on the ball, speed as well”. Volandri played juniors with Federer so when he met Djokovic -- while the Serb was still a junior -- he noticed he was different from the rest.
"When someone has something different, it’s tough to explain,” Volandri said. “You see how they are on court, his attitude, his mental power. Djokovic managed the bad moments as a pro when he was really, really young."