How Djokovic 'Turns Into A Student' Around Stars Like Kobe Bryant & Cristiano Ronaldo
Editor's Note: This story was first published on 25 January after Novak Djokovic spoke on ESPN about how Kobe Bryant mentored him. On 26 January, Bryant passed away in a helicopter crash. He was 41.
Tennis players often speak about the other players — current and former — they learn from and how those lessons impact their own games and careers. But it’s not every day that a superstar from another sport enters the conversation.
Seven-time Australian Open champion Novak Djokovic revealed on Saturday during an off-day interview with ESPN that he has learned a lot from retired basketball legend Kobe Bryant, especially when the Serbian fell outside the Top 20 of the FedEx ATP Rankings two years ago while he was dealing with an elbow injury.
“Kobe has been one of my mentors,” Djokovic said. “I’ve had several phone conversations with him and also of course when we see each other live in the past couple of years. When I was going through the injury with my elbow and struggling to mentally and emotionally handle all of these different things that were happening to me and dropping in the Rankings and then having to work my way up, he was one of the people who was really there for me to give me some very valuable advice and guidelines to kind of believe and trust in myself, trust the process that I’ll be back.
“I’m very grateful to him for being there for me, for being very supportive. I love Kobe, who doesn’t? He’s an amazing guy and one of the best basketball players and athletes of all-time.”
Bryant visited the US Open last year, and at the time, in his own interview with ESPN, he reflected on one specific conversation he had with Djokovic about overcoming hurdles such as an injury and adjusting to the games of rising stars while getting older.
“He was going through a process of, ‘Physically, I’m not where I used to be. How did you adjust and change your game?’” Bryant recalled. “We talked about it for a while and having the acceptance of an athlete to say, ‘I’m not what I used to be.’
“Novak’s my guy. We have a relationship. We’ve had a relationship for a long time.”
Djokovic posted a video in December of himself training in a gym with football star Cristiano Ronaldo. Both men were leaping up in an attempt to touch their head to a piece of string as if they were going up for a header.
“He was basically teaching me how to jump. He is considered as one of the greatest football, soccer players of all-time, obviously. What I love about that guy is his work ethic and his constant need to improve. He’s such a professional,” Djokovic said. “He’s got at home all these recovery devices and things. He’s always trying to find a way how to be best in the world and make a huge mark not just in his sport, but all sports. He’s a beast, he’s an unbelievable athlete. We trained together that day, and it was a great experience.”
Djokovic takes all of these interactions very seriously, seeing an opportunity to not just spend time with some of the best athletes in the world, but to also learn from them as he tries to improve his game.
“To be surrounded with the people like Kobe and Cristiano is obviously a huge pleasure and honour for me. When I’m next to them, I turn into a student. I try to have my ears wide open and listen to what they have to say and ask questions,” Djokovic said. “I’m not afraid to ask questions and they are not as well. I think that’s a great way of exchanging some experiences and things that maybe you could use in your sport, in your life, in your career. It’s just amazing to share those life stories with them.”
Djokovic faces No. 14 seed Diego Schwartzman in the fourth round of the Australian Open on Sunday.