Djokovic's little brother fails to make his Marko
The name is the same and the game is not dissimilar, but it soon became clear here yesterday that Marko Djokovic still has some way to go before his tennis can match his older brother's.
Five hours before 24-year-old Novak Djokovic, the world No 1, began his quest for a fourth successive title at the Dubai Duty Free Championships by beating Germany's Cedrik-Marcel Stebe 6-4, 6-2, his 20-year-old brother, the world No 869, had a rare chance to make his mark on a major stage when he opened the tournament against Kazakhstan's Andrei Golubev.
Watched by his brother and their parents, Marko had his moments, breaking in the first game and going 3-1 up, but once the world No 143 had put his tentative start behind him he ran out a comfortable 6-3, 6-2 winner.
"I didn't play my best, but there was a lot of pressure," Marko said after his third defeat in his three matches so far on the main tour. He said he thought it was the mental strength of the players on the ATP Tour that separated them from their counterparts on the lower-level Futures circuit.
"It's not that different from Futures tennis. There are a lot of players in Futures who are playing really good, top-quality tennis, but not mentally."
Novak was world No 3 when he was Marko's age, but the younger one's career has been dogged by injury. Marko had wrist surgery at the start of last year and was out of the game for 10 months. He was given a wild card here – it clearly helps to have family in high places – and is aiming to return next year with a high enough ranking to play in the qualifying tournament. He would need a remarkable 12 months to achieve that.
Marko spends as much time as he can with his big brother. They have trained together in the off season for the last three years and they recently shared a skiing break in the Serbian mountains, where they grew up. This week Marko is staying with Novak in the Burj Al Arab, the iconic Dubai hotel where the organisers put up the top players.
Although there are plenty of material benefits to having a brother who is world No 1 – "Financially I have all I need and I can get all the coaches and all the practice I want," Marko said – there is also a downside. "There's a lot of pressure," he said. "Everybody expects you to be like your brother."
Like Novak, Marko attended Niki Pilic's academy in Munich. At junior tournaments, the biggest crowds would inevitably be watching Marko. "Normally there are only parents and coaches watching, but maybe 100 people would watch my matches. It was tough when I was younger, but I got through it."
Opponents are always keen to claim a Djokovic scalp, which is no doubt the same for 16-year-old Djorde, the third of the brothers, who is said to be a particularly good prospect. "They try more," Marko said of his opponents. "There's a big difference when they play against me and when I see them playing against somebody else."
Marko described Novak as "my idol", but that does not stop the brothers from being competitive. Marko could not say who was the better footballer or skier, but said he usually beat Novak on PlayStation. As for tennis, the gulf between them was seen in Novak's win over 21-year-old Stebe, the world No 72. Although the Australian Open champion looked rusty in his first match for a month, the result was never in doubt.
Novak said afterwards that it had been easier to play than to watch his brother. "It's hard because people compare him to me," he said. "I think he's going to be good. He has potential obviously – and it's in the blood."
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