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Novak Djokovic: Serve to Win


Originally published on: 20/08/13 00:00

Part-autobiography, part self-help book with some recipes thrown in for good measure, Djokovic’s book, “Serve to Win”, offers an insight into how changing his diet transformed his health, and consequently his game.

Describing his Australian Open quarter-final defeat to Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, when he battled illness to lose 7-6(8) 6-7(5) 1-6 6-3 6-1 as the lowest moment of his professional career, Djokovic reveals how a Serbian doctor diagnosed his dietary problems from the other side of the world.

By sheer coincidence Dr Igor Cetojevic, was watching the match over eight thousand miles away at his home in Cyprus. The nutritionist recognised Djokovic’s symptoms and guessed his breathing problems were the result of an imbalance in his digestive system.

Fast forward 18 months and Djokovic, leaner, stronger and 11lbs lighter, simultaneously fulfilled his lifelong ambition of winning Wimbledon and becoming world No.1, all because of a change in what, and how, he ate.

From humble beginnings in Serbia, where “tennis was as obscure a sport as fencing”, Djokovic describes how his family survived the NATO raids in a Belgrade bomb shelter, practising on broken concrete on the site of recent bombings.

From the six-year-old who diligently packed his bag with “everything a professional would need: racquet, water bottle, rolled-up towel, extra shirt, wristbands and balls” for his first lesson with Jelena Gencic, Djokovic’s diet has changed drastically from days of grabbing a slice of pizza from his parents’ restaurant in the little mountain resort of Kopaonik.

Unlike many of the top players, Djokovic does not count calories. He is now so in tune with his own body, he just eats as much as his body tells him to.

Meeting with Dr Cetojevic during a Davis Cup tie in Croatia in the summer of 2010, Djokovic reveals how the nutritionist demonstrated his intolerance to gluten by holding a piece of bread against his stomach, which noticeably weakened him: “I realised the bread I was holding against my stomach was like kryptonite. I was ready to make some changes”

Further, more scientific, tests confirmed Dr Cetojevic’s suspicions, and he convinced his client to go gluten-free for a fortnight.

Having grown up on pizza and bread, Djokovic battled cravings, but within days he felt invigorated. After 14 days, Djokovic reintroduced gluten into his diet, and the bagel he ate made him feel sluggish and dizzy: “I felt like I’d spent the night drinking whiskey!”.

At that moment Djokovic promised: “Whatever my body told me, I’d listen”

Djokovic, who also cut out dairy, didn’t just change his diet, he transformed how he thought about food.

It was no longer just fuel for the body, but information. Djokovic explains that the biggest change is not what he eats, but how he eats and shares his golden rules, which include eating slowly, giving the body clear instructions and focusing on quality rather than quantity.

Djokovic, who cooks his own meals himself, insists that weight loss and increased energy enabled him to become world No.1 and urges readers to try his 14-day gluten free plan, with the bigger picture in mind.

“I never imagined that my new eating habits would make me feel so good,” says Djokovic in his final chapter. “Make the changes. Enjoy the process. But don’t let the changes be your goal. Let them be your gateway to bigger, better goals.”

We have got two copies of “Serve to Win” to give away. Make sure you get your hands on the October issue of tennishead (out September 25) for your chance to win. Subscribe to tennishead today to get your copy of tennishead delivered direct to your door.


Tim Farthing, Tennishead Editorial Director & Owner, has been a huge tennis fan his whole life. He's a tennis journalist and entrepreneur as well as playing tennis to a national standard. He also helps manage his local club and volunteers for his local tennis organisation. He's a specialist in content about the administration of professional tennis and tennis coaching for all levels.