Djokovic has won more major titles — 23 — than any man in tennis history and the 36-year-old has not lost before the fourth round of a Grand Slam tournament since 2016. But any challenge he faces on court is incomparable to the obstacles he has overcome off it.
By the age of 23, Djere had lost his mother, Hajnalka and father, Caba, to cancer. Since then, he has persevered and played the best tennis of his life. Continuing to push forward, he has earned opportunities to show his talent on the world’s biggest stages, just like he will against Djokovic.
“I don’t want to go too sentimental or sound smart. Everybody has ups and downs and tough moments in life, but I think that’s how life is,” Djere told ATPTour.com. “Some are less fortunate than others. Some are more fortunate. Every person has their own story I’m sure.
“It’s important that you believe in your goals, your vision, yourself and you don’t let things or some other factors that you can’t control — or even sometimes you can, but didn’t go your way — affect you on your road to that goal… Just keep going no matter what.”
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As a countryman of Djokovic, Djere is well aware of what the three-time US Open champion is capable of. But he is not dwelling too much on who will be standing across the net.
“I will try and just prepare as for any other match. I think that’s the key and not to be stressed about who will be my next opponent, the guy who is probably the best of all time,” Djere said. “I will really just try to approach it as every other match, as the third round of the US Open. My goal is to go out on the court and fight for every point and play my best tennis. I think that will be the key against Novak.”
Djere does not remember the first time he met Djokovic, remembering seeing him in Grand Slam tournament locker rooms when he was a junior. But the first time they spent a significant amount of time together was in Dubai in 2015, when Djokovic invited him to play doubles together. At the time, Djere was outside the Top 250 in the Pepperstone ATP Rankings.
“I was very happy. It was a great opportunity. We did a few practice sessions, played the doubles. I also got a glance how does it look on the Tour at an ATP 500, which was altogether a really nice and useful experience for my future career,” Djere said. “I saw where I wanted to be and it also gave me some motivation to keep working hard and reach that level one day, which thankfully, I eventually reached.”
Djere has spent plenty of time with Djokovic over the years. From competing alongside one another in Davis Cup to sharing training sessions together, they have gotten to know one another well.
“In practices, the atmosphere is a bit more relaxed. He’ll feel more free to try some things that you maybe wouldn’t dare to try in a match,” Djere said. “But I mean, his focus and the intensity is pretty much the same in practice as it is in a match, and that’s something I am also trying to do.”
Last year in Belgrade, they met in singles action for the first time. Then the World No. 1, Djokovic needed to draw on all of his experience to win 2-6, 7-6(6), 7-6(4) after three hours and 22 minutes.
“Obviously he wasn’t in his best form back then. But again, I proved to myself that I can play with him and many other times also when I played Top 10 guys that I can play with those guys,” Djere said. “For sure they are on a different level, especially Novak. But I think I can have a good match with him. And he’s playing now much better than back then. So I will not rely too much on that experience last year. I will just try to focus on this match.”
Djokovic is well aware of what Djere is capable of. The 28-year-old won an ATP 500 title at Rio de Janeiro in 2019, dedicating the victory to his parents. He has climbed as high as No. 27 in the Pepperstone ATP Rankings and earned three Top 10 wins.
“He did have a lot of struggles with his family and private issues, had to endure all of that. So it says a lot about his mental resilience,” Djokovic said. “He’s, as I said, a very nice guy, very humble. Just very quiet. Just goes about his things, works as hard as anybody and tries his best.
“He’s really dedicated to the game. I really like him as a person and as a player, as well.”
Djere has played some of his best tennis in recent months. In Hamburg, he reached his second ATP 500 final before making the semi-finals in Kitzbuhel.
“The good game is the result of many, many hours of practice. And it’s hard work. And sometimes you also need a little bit of luck, a little bit of a push,” Djere said. “Now, I’m feeling great. I feel confident I am showing good tennis in the last couple of months. And obviously, when you have confidence, things tend to go much easier on the court.”