After watching Novak Djokovic save four match points and come back to defeat Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in this year's French Open quarterfinals, two things appear to be true. First, The world's number one player is not yet the best player in the world on clay. That title still belongs to Rafael Nadal until proven otherwise. Second, Djokovic is incredibly mentally tough. Mary Carillo called him, "The best player at saving match point that I have ever seen."
Unlike most 12-year-old tennis player's, Djokovic was not preoccupied with complaining about not "Playing up," as child growing up in Belgrade. He was more worried about avoiding mortar shells dropping on his head as NATO forces ran 500 combat missions over Serbia each day. The challenge of staying alive as a youngster has given him a healthy and fearless attitude as an adult.
I think it's reasonable for every parent to want their child to be put in a healthy, productive, positive environment, but that does not mean that it be stress-free. Facing and overcoming frustration, disappointment and adversity, with calm and grace, is an inevitable part of life and tennis.
Protect an infant from germs and they fail to develop a healthy immune system. Protect a young player from challenges and they will never learn to manage the crisis situations that great tennis players like Novak Djokovic relish.
Steve Kaplan is the owner and managing director of Bethpage Park Tennis Center, as well as director emeritus of Lacoste Academy for New York City Parks Foundation, and executive director and founder of Serve &Return Inc. Steve has coached more than 1,100 nationally- ranked junior players, 16 New York State high school champions, two NCAA Division 1 Singles Champions, and numerous highly-ranked touring professionals. Many of the students Steve has closely mentored have gone to achieve great success as prominent members of the New York financial community, and in other prestigious professions. In 2017, Steve was awarded the Hy Zausner Lifetime Achievement Award by the USTA. He may be reached by e-mail at StevenJKaplan@aol.com.