Djokovic Changed His Health Regimen After the Death of Jelena Genčić
- Novak Djokovic became militant about his diet, health, mental well being, and post- match recovery in the wake of his first coach Jelena Genčić losing her battle with breast cancer.
- He eliminated gluten, sugars, nightshades, caffeine, alcohol, and meat from his diet, while cold water was out too because of its tendency to slow down digestion.
- Breast cancer has claimed the lives of a number of famous female tennis players, including Wimbledon champion Jana Novotna who passed away in 2018 at the age of just 49.
It was Genčić who gave Djokovic his start, and Genčić who inspired Djokovic to recalibrate his life both on and off the court in 2013 with her tragic passing from breast cancer.Read More
Genčić lost her life while Djokovic was competing at the French Open, just two months after she told her star pupil her dream to see him win that very tournament.
Djokovic’s coaches decided that he would not be informed of her death because he had a match that day, and when he was told the news after winning that match he canceled all press so he could mourn in private.
“Jelena was my first coach, like my second mother,” Djokovic said after his next match. He then said that he had an obligation to winning so that he could honor the woman who helped make him into a superstar athlete.
“I’m trying to focus my thoughts on the nicest memories, as I said, that we had and spent the moments together. The things she taught me, you know, and the conversations we had and the drills we did on the court, all these things, you know, bring a smile to my face,” explained Djokovic.
“When somebody close passes away, their spirit will always be with you, because it’s in your mind. So I know that her spirit will be always with me on the tennis court, because this is what she always loved to do. It’s her favorite place in the world, and I’ll make sure that her legacy continues.”
He also noted that his coach had been out on the court with students just two days before her death.
A relative unknown outside the world of tennis, Genčić was a former professional tennis player who discovered some of the greatest athletes to play the sport, including Monica Seles, Goran Ivanišević, Mima Jaušovec, Iva Majoli and Djokovic.
She would pass away before seeing that become a reality in 2016, but in the aftermath of her death, Djokovic became even more focused on how his new off-court behaviors could help him achieve his tennis goals.
He snacked on manuka honey for its antibacterial properties, practiced countless forms of meditation, and in a move that drew some scrutiny from the tennis community began using a hyperbaric chamber for his post-match recovery. The machine was not banned at the time, but was certainly not encouraged by the governing body of any international sport.
The results were remarkable, as evidenced by the fact that Djokovic won six grand slam titles in the 10 years prior to Genčić’s passing, and 13 in the eights years since she lost her battle with cancer.
Today we also celebrate @jelenadjokovic, Tara, my mom, Jelena Gencic and all of the incredible women in my life and around the world ❤️ thank you for all you do and who you are ❤️❤️❤️ #InternationalWomensDay pic.twitter.com/hvEzmqkFE1
— Novak Djokovic (@DjokerNole) March 8, 2021
This health regimen also marked a shift from the start of his career, when Djokovic became infamous for his lengthy medical timeouts and calls for the trainer. It had become such a problem by 2008, that Andy Roddick had this to say in a post-match interview at the US Open ahead of their quarterfinal meeting:
Roddick: Isn’t it both of them? And a back and a hip?
Reporter: And when he said there are too many to count …
Roddick: And a cramp.
Reporter: Do you get a sense right now that he is …
Roddick: Bird flu.
Reporter: A lot of things. Beijing hangover. He’s got a pretty long list of illness.
Roddick: Anthrax. SARS. Common cough and cold.
That was then, and now the 34-year-old Serbian is set to tie Rodger Federer and Rafael’s Nadal’s Open-Era record of 20 grand slam men’s singles titles with a victory over Italian Matteo Berrettini.
Djokovic already holds the record for most weeks at number one, the most elite titles won, and by defeating Nadal at Roland Garros this year became the first man to complete the career Grand Slam twice. He also has a winning head-to-head record against both men.
A win on Sunday would also leave just one superlative left to chase – the title of greatest tennis player of all time. To claim that he would need to find a way to best Serena Williams, who he has just eked by in weeks at number one. He would need to stay on top for another full year through to tie her record of 186 consecutive weeks in the top spot.
Djokovic is also looking to join Nadal and Williams and his old coach Andre Agassi as the fifth player to have won the Golden Slam. That is when a player has won all four grand slams as well as Gold at the Olympics. Unlike those three, however, Djokovic is hoping to do this like Agassi’s wife Steffi Graff did in 1988 when she held all four titles and the Gold in the same calendar year.
Grief Is a Journey
Losing a loved for any reason, including cancer, can cause immeasurable pain. Allowing yourself the time and space to mourn is essential, and one place to start can be seeking out independent support resources such as therapy.
In an earlier interview with SurvivorNet, Camila Legaspi shared her own advice on grief after her mother died of breast cancer. For her, therapy made all the difference.
“Therapy saved my life,” says Legaspi. “I was dealing with some really intense anxiety and depression at that point. It just changed my life, because I was so drained by all the negativity that was going on. Going to a therapist helped me realize that there was still so much out there for me, that I still had my family, that I still had my siblings.”
“When you lose someone, it’s really, really, really hard,” says Legaspi. “I’m so happy that I talked to my therapist. Keep your chin up, and it’s going to be OK. No matter what happens, it’s going to be OK.”
In another earlier interview with SurvivorNet, Doug Wendt shared his thoughts on the grieving process after losing his wife, Alice, to ovarian cancer.
“We’re never gonna move on, I don’t even think I want to move on, but I do want to move forward,” Wendt said. “That’s an important distinction, and I encourage anybody who goes through this journey as a caregiver and then has to face loss, to think very carefully about how to move forward.”