Where Djokovic once trained, basketball now holds court

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The year was 1993. Belgrade had just been stripped of hosting the World Basketball Championship. It had been preceded by the falling apart of the Yugoslav federation and the subsequent economic sanctions.

Around the same time, at the Yubac basketball camp, situated 1200 feet above sea level on Mount Kopaonik, Zoran Visic along with other coaches worked tirelessly with a brood of kids, to find fresh hope in the sport. At a facility roughly 600 feet above them, a former Serbian tennis and handball player Jelena Gencic declared that she'd discovered hers. A six-year-old named Novak Djokovic.

"We had our camp in Brzeće," Visic, who took over as coach of the Indian women's basketball team eight weeks ago and saw them through to a Division A promotion at the Asia Cup on Saturday, tells ESPN. Between 1994 and 2012, the 61-year-old Visic also served as the head coach of nine professional women's teams.

"Word of a boy from the top, handpicked and training under Jelena at a camp 600 feet above ours soon reached. He was tipped to be a big name."

It was not until Djokovic had stepped into his teens, though, that Visic met him. "You could tell that he was mentally very strong. For a 12-year-old boy he was remarkably focused."

The former world No. 1's parents Dijana and Srdjan Djokovic ran a pizzeria across the court where Gencic conducted a summer tennis camp, and young Djokovic would religiously watch from behind the courts, pressed against the fence, before being asked to join in.

Serbia, the tiny, strife-torn Balkan nation which always preferred team sports like football, basketball and volleyball over the loneliness of individual disciplines like tennis, found kids joining Yubac in rising numbers towards the latter half of the 90s. Over time, the facility became overcrowded and they shifted to a higher range on the mountain. It was also the time that Djokovic moved out of Kopaonik, to train at the Pilic academy in Germany.

Now, Visic says, the court that spawned the first Serbian male tennis player to be ranked No. 1 in the world, is largely used for basketball practice.

"We have three basketball courts where we train, which also extends to the court where Novak started out. We don't like putting down the nets on his court unless we really have to. But if someone wants to hit a few balls on it, we're more than happy to allow them."

Visic hasn't met Djokovic in close to two decades now but the 12-time Grand Slam champion's stirring trek to the peak of world tennis, he says, never came as a surprise.

"For me, you know, he was always the boy from the top."