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VIKTOR TROICKI: 'I'm proud of having both Russian and Serbian blood!' Tennis player openly on Nadal, Federer and Đoković
Foto: Ana Panković, Privatna Arhiva

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VIKTOR TROICKI: 'I'm proud of having both Russian and Serbian blood!' Tennis player openly on Nadal, Federer and Đoković

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He was literally two points away from becoming one of ten best tennis players in the world. But he lost. That's life. This one defeat was a turning point in his professional career. In his private life, there were a few such turning points. The most important ones are called Irina and Darija. He is one of the people who can say that they are happy with their life

I was named after my grandfather Viktor, who I never met. I remember my grandma Irina well, of course, because she was taking care of me when I was a child. So, I was named after my granddad, and my oldest daughter was named after grandma. My father's parents came to Serbia in 1917, right after the October Revolution, as small children. My grandma was only three and my granddad was about six when they emigrated, like many other rich and respectable Russians back in the day. My grandma is from Rostov-on-Don, and my grandma from the small town of Tver, located east of Moscow.

Viktor Troicki
foto: Privatna Arhiva

I'm from Belgrade. I was born on 10 February 1986 and grew up in Dorćol. You know that thing when they ask you what your childhood was like, was it like this or like that? Well, I can say this: I had a great childhood! And I think that everyone remembers their childhood, no matter how old they are. I haven't yet reached retirement age yet, but I'm sure that I will remember my childhood then as well. I remember all the games I played with my buddies… We mostly played football and basketball. I started playing tennis as early as five, at my father's initiative. I didn't know anything about that sport. I took my first step at the 25 May Centre, and when I was seven, I moved to the Red Star tennis club, where I'm still happy to visit.

Novi Sad

So, what are the Troicki's doing in Serbia? What is their origin, that's what I get asked. My grandma and granddad met and married in Novi Sad, the city where my father Aleksandar was born. He got a BA degree in law there, and then came to Belgrade. It was here that he met my mother Mila, an economist, and originally from Guča. I'm proud of having both Russian and Serbian blood. Whenever I played in Russia, I felt sort of nice – it was there that I won my first ATP title. I have many nice memories from Moscow.

Viktor Troicki
foto: Profimedia

The family's black sheep

My great-grandfather was the most prominent expert in church law and a university lecturer, my granddad was an architect, and my father a lawyer. I used to make jokes for a long while that I was the family's black sheep, because I'm the only one who doesn't have a BA. I finished the Mihailo Petrović Alas Elementary. Initially, I was a straight A student, until grade five. Then puberty hit me, so I relaxed a bit. I couldn't stand physics and chemistry. That was a big bother for me. I was always good at math. I enrolled at the Secondary School of Sports, which I had to finish as an extramural student. I somehow finished the first grade as a regular student, but afterwards it wasn't going well. I think I'm still the school record-holder in the number of excused absences. In my second grade, I was always on trips and at tennis tournaments. When the first semester ended, they told me that I had to finish school as an extramural student. Recently I graduated sports management from Alfa University. Janko Tipsarević graduated from the same university. I knew that I would stay in sports, and it was here that I gained useful practical knowledge.

Good footballer

The first racket – a children's racket – I got as a gift. The magic and play started by me trying to hit the ball against a wall. I remember the first training session well. My first exercise was learning to juggle the ball and the racket. I liked it right from the start, and afterwards tennis became my life.

Still, for many years I trained football in parallel. I even wanted to quit tennis, but my father kept me in the sport. Eventually, I quit football, which seems to have been the right decision. All the kids and my buddies played football at the time, and no one knew what tennis was. It simply didn't exist in our parts then. I was a shadow striker, I scored, and my role model was Predrag Mijatović.

Predrag Mijatović
foto: Starsport©

Records that remain

Interestingly, let my CV record show that I was the first one to defeat Novak Đoković. We were children and played at a tournament for the under-10s. I remember it like it was yesterday, at the San Club tennis courts near Pionir. I was a year older than him, which is a great advantage at that age. It was Nole's first tournament. He was excited and under a lot of pressure, and I already had a few competitions under my belt. I beat him 9 to 0 then, but each next time I lost, at all junior tournaments. I managed to beat him just once more, when we became professionals, at a tournament in Umag.

Viktor Troicki, Novak Đoković
foto: Profimedia

Andre Agassi

Back then we both dreamed of becoming top tennis players. Nole even has this recording where he says he wants to become the best tennis player in the world. No one could know back in the day what sorts of results he would have. I dreamt of being like Andre Agassi. He was my role model, him and no one else. This was a pretty strong incentive for me. He ushered a new sort of fashion in the white sport. He behaved differently. He had his own playing style. I made an effort to wear his kind of clothes, copy his playing style, and use the same rackets. My entire family laughed at how much I copied him. I used to wear a bandanna, just like him, and shaved my head to look like him…

Viktor Troicki
foto: Privatna Arhiva

When I first met him, many years later, I was so excited I was lost for words. He approached me first. I was injured. We met in the locker room at Cinsinnati. It was his last season, and my first at the tour. Afterwards, we became close when he started working with Đoković. I could see he wasn't just a champion, but also a very nice person. I told him how fond of him I was.

Coaches

Since I arrived at Red Star, my first coach and, later on, advisor throughout my career, was Nenad Trifunović, known as Neša. He's been by my side practically since my childhood – we worked together for almost 15 years. Neša is like family to me. If it hadn't been for him, I certainly wouldn't have made it big in tennis. I'll never forget what he did. In addition to Nenad, my conditioning coach and physical therapist Miloš Jelisavčić has been by my side throughout my career.

Afterwards, Jan De Witt coached me for six years, and the last one was the Australian Jack Reader. He stayed with me even at the hardest of times in my career. He had better offers, but he stayed with me and showed that he was a great friend. He is considerably older than me, but he has always treated me like a brother. There have also been managers, but my parents made the greatest sacrifice.

Turning point

I started playing tennis at the worst of times. I was one of the best players in my generation. When I was 14, it was already a great financial burden for my parents, and the turning point was when I was 18, when I was among the ten best juniors in the world. Well, that's when most money needed to be invested. I didn't know whether I'd be able to continue doing tennis. My parents could no longer support me financially. I considered going to college in the US. My persistence allowed me to make a name for myself and get results even in the neighbouring countries. At challenges, I managed to get to the 300th spot, which is when Jan De Witt spotted me and offered a contract. I was 20 then.

Rodžer Federer
foto: Profimedia

I got a lot of tailwind during the match with Federer, which I played in Japan. I lost 7:6 and 7:6, but I realized that I could stand up to the best of them. It was my first ATP tournament that I qualified for. Before him, I kicked out Vicente, who was in the top 30 in the world. It was my biggest match until then. I managed to get ahead afterwards. When I look back, there were a few such moments. One of them is the victory in the decisive fifth match against France, in the Davis Cup finals in December 2010, over Michael Llodra, at the Belgrade Arena, when I brought home the title of champion and the popular trophy, the "Salad Thing". This was perhaps the most precious match in my career.

Defeats

The best placement on the ATP list was when I became the 12th player in the world. What's left is the regret that I didn't manage to enter the best ten, and I was one victory away from that goal. My fall ensued afterwards. At the 2011 Roland-Garros I played against Andy Murray in five sets, after a 2:0 lead. It was the fifth set, and I was at 5:3 and the lead of 30:0 with me serving. I was two points away from victory and the quarterfinals. I was that close. It happens to everyone. I couldn't withstand the pressure. I may have cried after the match, in the locker room, and felt bad for a long time. After this defeat, I went into a streak of bad luck. It was the hardest defeat for me, like a couple of years ago against the Russians in the Davis Cup. We played doubles, and in the decisive tie-break I missed a few easy volley shots…

Team Serbia

Since I brought up Davis Cup, I have to say that Novak, Janko, and myself could hardly wait to play for the national team. Friendships struck at tournaments continued into the national team. I shouldn't forget Nenad Zimonjić either. We won the World Cup in Dusseldorf without Novak, by winning against Germany. We have all had our share of hardship and remained friends. Janko is two years older than me, but now we get together almost every day. I've known Novak all my life. I don't view him as a great champion, although that's what he is, but primarily as a friend. We're relaxed. We were on a summer vacation with our families together. Janko and Novak are normal guys who like to spend time with friends.

ATP, ATP kup, Novak Đoković, Viktor Troicki, FIlip Krajinović, Goran Ivanišević, Dušan Lajović
foto: EPA

I remember well another anecdote wit Novak. We were kids. He was 19 or 20, and wasn't that well-known. He had just entered the top ten in the world. I remember that we were having dinner in Melbourne, after a victory at the Australian Open. There were a couple of us there. It was a street with many restaurants. You couldn’t go in anywhere because we didn't have a reservation. No one recognized Novak Đoković because he was wearing a shirt and pants. Someone suggested that we give him a ball to tap, because everyone would be sure to recognize him. Eventually, we managed to go in with the help of Serbian charm and resourcefulness.

Suspension

The hardest period in my life was when I was unjustly suspended. I wasn't able to play tennis for a year. At the Monte Carlo tournament, I was selected to do anti-doping, after I lost a match in round one. First I gave a urine sample, and then I was supposed to do a blood test. Since I have a needle and blood phobia – I can't look, I have to lie down – I asked the doctor if it was possible not to do the test. I felt bad and had a problem with taking a blood sample, so I felt even worse. I fainted a couple of times, from taking blood samples. The head doctor told me that it was entirely OK and that I needn't worry. I was penalized afterwards by 12 months' suspension over avoiding the tests. In court, the doctor was saying the opposite, that she was warning me about how I could face the consequences and be suspended. It was just ridiculous. My coach was the witness. All the tests came back negative, only the procedure wasn't honoured. It was a specific case, which hadn't happened earlier, and the minimal punishment for missing the test was 12 months. It was my fault that I didn't have a blood sample taken and that I trusted the doctor.

Viktor Troicki
foto: Ana Paunković

Career break

Since the age of nine, everything in my life was subservient to tennis. There were no winter or summer vacations for me… My parents invested all their money in me playing tennis. After school, my school mates would stay longer, but I had to go to training. I missed school trips, children's birthdays… The effort has paid off. I had a different sort of growing up. In the past several years, I started getting injuries and poorer results. My back was giving me the most grief. I had no plan on how to end my career. At 35, I was already a father, and corona made travel more complicated, so the family suffered… Making the decision was easy. I decided that Wimbledon was going to be my last tournament. I haven't been playing tennis for three months now, and I like it. I've gained seven kilos. I've trained a bit with Novak and Miomir Kecmanović and played an odd match with Janko.

Federer

I'm good friends with most tennis players. I'm still in touch with some of them. For many years I've had the same coach as Marco Chiudinelli. He grew up with Federer, just like I did with Novak Đoković. They grew up together in Basel. Federer was already a superstar when I started playing at the Masters Series tournaments. Marco would always be with him in the apartment. He would always stay in a small room. This one time, I went over to hang out, and I remember they were playing PlayStation. Federer was playing tennis and he picked himself. I remember that he played some kind of training mode to improve his characteristics. I found this very funny at the time, and I couldn't believe it. Playing PlayStation and picking yourself!

Sleš
foto: Profimedia

Career break

Since the age of nine, everything in my life was subservient to tennis. There were no winter or summer vacations for me… My parents invested all their money in me playing tennis. After school, my school mates would stay longer, but I had to go to training. I missed school trips, children's birthdays… The effort has paid off. I had a different sort of growing up. In the past several years, I started getting injuries and poorer results. My back was giving me the most grief. I had no plan on how to end my career. At 35, I was already a father, and corona made travel more complicated, so the family suffered… Making the decision was easy. I decided that Wimbledon was going to be my last tournament. I haven't been playing tennis for three months now, and I like it. I've gained seven kilos. I've trained a bit with Novak and Miomir Kecmanović and played an odd match with Janko.

Federer

I'm good friends with most tennis players. I'm still in touch with some of them. For many years I've had the same coach as Marco Chiudinelli. He grew up with Federer, just like I did with Novak Đoković. They grew up together in Basel. Federer was already a superstar when I started playing at the Masters Series tournaments. Marco would always be with him in the apartment. He would always stay in a small room. This one time, I went over to hang out, and I remember they were playing PlayStation. Federer was playing tennis and he picked himself. I remember that he played some kind of training mode to improve his characteristics. I found this very funny at the time, and I couldn't believe it. Playing PlayStation and picking yourself!

Viktor Troicki
foto: Privatna Arhiva

But, let me finish the airplane story. I've had similar experiences with Nole on some trips. I remember that there was a great party on a flight. We were singing and dancing. Someone was playing the guitar, and it was great, without going into details.

Nadal

Now… I told you that I didn't have a photo with anyone, and then I told you that I did in fact have one with Mike Tyson. I remember now, I also have one with Nadal. Both a photo and nice memories. We were in the finals, playing against each other in Stuttgart. He is my age, but we didn't know each other as kids. Rafa was so good that already at age 15 he started playing at professional tournaments. This tournament was on a grass court, and the winner was supposed to get the latest Mercedes in addition to the monetary prize. He won, and that is just argh… Why wasn't I better?? Why didn't I win?

Rafael Nadal, Viktor Troicki
foto: Profimedia

After the tournament, he was also gifted a private flight to London, as we were going to a tournament in Queens. He was a nice guy, so he invited my coach and myself, to keep him company. We talked for a long time then. He has a passion for yachts. Afterwards he showed me what cars he owned. I asked him, "Do you actually need that car at all?" I saw what he had in his garage, and I felt even worse, because he wasn't going to drive any of them. It was worth 180,000 euros at the time. Rafa is a great guy, a great champion, and a fair player. He'd always say hi whenever he saw me. I only have good things to say about him.

My cars

Shall I talk about my cars? I like driving and I like cars. I bought a car from the first money that I made. And what a car it was! It was a Yugo. Afterwards my mom bought me a Paul, and then I bought me a new Audi A3. Afterwards I bought an apartment. I used to drive fast, but I'm no longer in a rush to get anywhere. I've paid for a lot of tickets, a real lot… I have slowed down. I still hold the record for getting to Zlatibor from Belgrade, but I'll won't tell you the time. That means prison, not the newspapers.

Female tennis players

This is a newspaper headline! Let me tell you about how I lost to a female tennis player! And what a female tennis player it was. I know many male and female tennis players, but of them all, I'm closest to our girls. I was lucky to have grown up with Jelena and Ana, who were ranked first in the world. I never played mixed doubles with them. However, I used to play with Jelena as a child at the Red Star Stadium, and she beat me. She was 10 or 11, and she easily destroyed me. She made no mistakes. However, she didn't have a chance afterwards. But you don't forget that defeat.

National team manager

I never planned on becoming the national team manager for the Davis Cup. It was a great honour for me, as I was elected by my colleagues. This took place during my transition. I like my new job. I have a great deal of experience. I have seen it all as a national team player. I think I can help them there. I took them to an ATP cup for the first time. We weren't lucky enough to qualify for the semi-finals, and we didn't win two medals at the Olympics. I've learnt a lot from this, and keep learning every day.

Viktor Troicki
foto: EPA Bianca De Marchi

The plan is to work with Novak Đoković at the Academy. We're making a team at the moment. I'll soon be starting to do that too. Next year we will make everything official, because Nole wants to make it top-notch – the best tennis academy in the world.

What after Đoković

We have great tennis players: Filipa Krajinović, Dušan Lajović, Laslo Đere, and Miomir Kecmanović. However, people got hooked on champions and the best in the world. It's not likely this would happen in the next 100 years – having a player like Novak Đoković. Perhaps never. We're not aware of what we have. and that these results are unreal.

On love

I have to talk about that too? Isn't this enough? About girls? Let's not mention the exes, hahaha! We can skip a thing or two! OK, here goes: I fell in love for the first time in grade one or two of elementary school. It was nice, but meeting my wife was spontaneous. I was in preparations on Mount Kopaonik, and she had a shoot for the cover of a car magazine. We started talking, but she was… how do I put it… reserved. On the next day I ran into her by accident. Later I met her a few more times. She gave me her phone number only after seven months! That's probably why I took the bait and wanted to get to her.

Viktor Troicki, Aleksandra Troicki
foto: Damir Dervišagić

Births of children

I was there for both child births, I waited for the call. We knew when the first birth would take place. She went to the hospital in time. I had arrived from Queens in order to be with her when Irina was born. We celebrated for two days. She gave birth in the evening. The first evening she spent with her closest friends, and on the next day with the entire family and acquaintances. I remember I had a lot to drink. After the celebration, I got on a plane, it was Sunday, and I was on my way to London. I played round one at Wimbledon against Janko. He had been preparing for the match there, and I arrived after two drunken nights. I remember him telling me that he was most afraid of me, because that's when I played the best. I don't even remember how I beat him. I did it. He forgave me for that defeat. I had nothing to lose and played a merry sort of tennis.

With my second daughter Darija, she was due in ten days. She woke me up at two in the morning, because she had a stomach ache. I told her, "Aleksandra, lie down, don't panic, and sleep." However, her mother – my wonderful mother-in-law – persuaded us to see the doctor. We went to the hospital. I was convinced that we'd be going home when she walked out. However, the doctor ran out of his office screaming, "Get ready for a birth! It's urgent!" I found that strange and quick. We had another boisterous celebration. As for planning, when people ask me that, I say that I plan nothing. We have two daughters, and I would like to have a son too, but… I don't know.

Irina Troicki, Viktor Troicki, Aleksandra Troicki
foto: Printskrin

The next goal

My goal is to live in Belgrade. For a full 20 years I was away from my loved ones. The reason why I agreed to work with the Đoković family is that I can be in my city, with my people. I'm happy with having a job in Serbia. My plan is to be here in ten years as well, heading the most successful tennis academy in the world.

Viktor Troicki
foto: Ana Paunković

Kurir/ Ljubomir Radanov

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