Novak Djokovic recounts the terror of the worst night of his life during 1999 Yugoslav War bombings

Jay Busbee

Compared to what Novak Djokovic survived as a young man, the pressure of a grand slam match doesn't even begin to compare.

Djokovic, now working his way through the bracket at the U.S. Open, recently published "Serve To Win," a guidebook to physical and mental health. And in that book, he discusses his life as a young man in Belgrade, where he and his family dodged NATO bombing runs. One night, the family fled their apartment during a bombing raid, seeking shelter. Djokovic tripped and fell to the ground, his family running on ahead of him.

"And then it happened," he wrote. “From behind I heard something tearing open the sky, as though an enormous snow shovel were scraping ice off the clouds. Still sprawled on the ground, I turned and looked back at our home."

What he saw next would stay with him forever.

“Rising up from over the roof of our building came the steel gray triangle of an F-117 bomber. I watched in horror as its great metal belly opened directly above me, and two laser-guided missiles dropped out of it, taking aim at my family, my friends, my neighborhood—everything I’d ever known … I didn’t stop shivering for the rest of the night."

Djokovic's family survived, and in some strange way the war helped sharpen his tennis skills. "I always try to remember those days in a positive, in a very bright way," he told 60 Minutes last year. "We didn't need to go to school and we played more tennis."

Djokovic, who was 12 during the 1999 bombing campaign, was enough of a tennis prodigy that he was able to leave the former Yugoslavia to hone his skills. He remains a hero in what is now Serbia, and the story of what he survived makes his success all the more impressive.

[Racket tip to ZagsBlog]