Nenad Zimonjić Wimbledon Champion

Exclusive interview with Britić by Stan Smiljanić

Congratulations on winning Wimbledon, the world’s most prestigious tennis tournament. Has it sunk in yet?

“Of course this is the biggest achievement for any tennis player including myself. In the last few years I’ve been playing really well and quite consistently at Wimbledon. I was in the finals twice already and the third time was lucky - I’m really happy we got through it.”

Serbian voices were cheering you on in the final. Do you hear that kind of support everywhere you go?

“Yes, there is always somebody - it doesn’t matter where we are – Australia, United States or somewhere in Europe. It’s quite common now to see flags or somebody cheering you in our language.”

You actually broke your left wrist in the semi-finals.

“It was one of the toughest moments for me. I felt it was going really well then in the middle of the fourth set (we were 2-1 up) I fell after I ran for some lob and right away I felt that something was wrong, that I broke something. I hoped at the time that it wasn’t so bad that I could not continue. It didn’t matter how much pain it was as long as I could somehow manage to play which is what happened at the end.

“The next day I had an X-ray at the hospital and they said it was a fracture of the radius. We found a way to tape my hand and use antiinflammatories and painkillers (although I couldn’t take as many as I wanted otherwise my reactions wouldn’t be as good). That helped a bit but still I was going through pain, sometimes more, sometimes less - you only have such an opportunity just once or twice in the finals. I felt that even in those conditions I played one of the best matches in my career.”

Pound-for-pound, Serbia is today the world’s top tennis country. Can anyone explain this phenomenon?

“Not really. I would say it is down to individual talent not a system. Ana, Jelena, Novak and myself were on our own with the support of our family and practising outside of the country. Only Janko really started training in Belgrade but now in the last few years he is also trained by foreign coaches. There is a lot of talent in Serbia but we don’t have too many good coaches who can lead you all the way to the highest points of professional tennis. Hopefully that will change and after I finish my career I would like to help someone who loves tennis and shows potential to train at home in Serbia with good coaches. I would love to pass the knowledge I have to future generations and at some point open a tennis academy where everyone can come and train.”

Are you conscious of an ambassador role at a time when our people are going through bad media attention?

“You always try to represent first of all yourself and then secondly your country, and of course, your family. If I can help our people in that matter that is always nice to hear— I try to be the best at what I do which is tennis, to be number 1 in the world at some point; together with Novak, Ana and Jelena with their singles careers.”

What it is like to dream a seemingly impossible dream during the hardships of 90s Serbia?

“That was probably the toughest part of my career. My sponsors had to give up when we had sanctions and the embargo - they had no financial support they could give me and I was left pretty much on my own for 5 years without a coach. I was trying to find a way of playing in club matches or tournaments trying to get through the stages. I got support from my family but it was really, really tough. To go through that and to make it in the end to win a grand slam, to win Wimbledon, it is really an accomplishment for me.

“It’s a big deal that I made it in doubles but when you first become a tennis player you want to play singles. I had some good results but because of the situation I had to make sure I continued playing. I never had enough money to travel and to play tournaments and that’s how I had to make a decision. If I had better conditions, maybe better support, at that time I think I would also have had quite a good career in singles. But now I am trying to make as much as I can in doubles and win as many tournaments as possible. So far in men’s doubles I’ve won 22 finals and played finals besides; in mixed doubles I’ve played three finals and won three Grand Slams.

“Also I played for Serbia for as many years as I could (although this was impossible from 91- 95 with sanctions and the embargo). I’ve either played for the national team (for 3 years I was captain) or tried to help in every way I could. In the end it became too difficult to do both, since I was still playing professionally but maybe at the end of my career this is something I could do again and help Serbian tennis in the future.”

Congratulations on your marriage this year! How did you meet Mina?

“It was coincidence - my father and her father worked together in the same company as civil engineers so it was unfortunate that we couldn’t meet earlier because her father passed away a few years before we met. We met through a mutual friend and since then we’ve been always been connected, either on the phone or spending time together and in May we got married. Actually, she is pregnant now and we are expecting – the due date is January 4th but since they are twins they might come a couple of weeks earlier. We both really can’t wait to become parents and make our family a little bit bigger.”

What’s on your iPod?

“A lot of different music. Since I was a kid of 8 years-old, with my brother Igor, I’ve been listening to U2, Dire Straits, then later Seal. Also instrumental music Jean-Michel Jarre, Vangelis and Ennio Morricone and also the music from back home where you have Balašević, Riblja Čorba, Bajaga, Prljavo Kazalište.”

Tell us something surprising about yourself.

“I was skiing at two and a half years old. My father taught me.”

At 32 you are proving that the best is still to come. What are your ambitions?

“First of all try to make the best of my career whilst I’m enjoy it and while I can still compete at a high level. Obviously the family - to be a good father and a good husband, and in the end to pass the knowledge and experience I have in tennis to young kids in any way I can.”

What message would you like to give to Britić readers?

“It is really nice to see our people all around the world when I travel. They stay connected in societies, through Church and like you’re doing now with the magazine trying to keep our people together. I think that is important, even if some of them do not live in Serbia. For us athletes like tennis players or other artists it is always nice when we hear support from our own people so please keep it up and try not to forget your background, where you come from.”

Thanks Nenade, good luck with the births and let’s keep in touch.

Nenad won the title this year with Daniel Nestor who was coincidentally born in Belgrade. Nestor plays for Canada and lives in the Bahamas, the Wimbledon win completing his a full set of Grand Slam titles. Their opponents were Jonas Bjorkman and Kevin Ullyett to whom they conceded only one break point during the entire match. Despite Nenad’s broken left wrist they forged ahead in the third and fourth set to victory. Nenad and Daniel have since gone on to win the Tennis Masters Cup in Shanghai ranking them now World No. 1 for men’s doubles.