The Jewish Mind Behind Novak Djokovic's Success
Israelis behind new king of tennis reveal secrets of his success.
One of the oldest clichés around claims that “behind every success, you can always find a Jewish mind”. While this statement is usually quite close to reality, in the case of Novak Djokovic, the new king of world tennis, it is amazing just how true it really is.
This past Sunday the Serbian tennis player provided the fitting cherry atop the cake of his already incredible season – after beating Rafael Nadal in the Wimbledon final, he achieved the No. 1 world tennis ranking on Monday. Yes, the amazing Djokovic is ranked higher than Nadal and Roger Federer.
“Nole” has now spent a number of years at the top of the tennis world, and numerous Israelis can take backstage credit for his amazing success.
The Hakshuri family, for instance, who made the initial contact with Djokovic early in his career. Agent Amit Naor, who was Novak’s man behind the scenes during his first years on the Tour. And of course, Ronen Bega, who was his fitness coach until 18 months ago.
Kfir, a life-long tennis player, designs and constructs what is known in medical terms as orthotic insoles and orthopedic prostheses. His technique called Dynamic Motion Control (DMC), meaning control while in motion, if you will, is patented worldwide. Tamir began his career by manufacturing prostheses for leg amputees but then, thanks to his great interest in sports, he decided he would like to work with athletes.
Today, after an extended relationship, Tamir Kfir is like a member of the Djokovic family. It all started some five years ago when Djokovic’s Israeli contacts brought the injured Novak to Israel to be treated by physiotherapist Rafi Virshuvski.
All of these figures were by Djokovic’s side at various points in his career, they all came and went. But the one who came and stayed from the first moment they met is Tamir Kfir. The Israeli, owner of a company bearing his name, developed special insoles just for Djokovic, insoles that, if you ask the tennis great himself, deserve much greater credit in the story of his success.
“Rafi asked for my help, to see if I could try to cure Novak’s injury”, Kfir recalls. “We decided to prepare a separate set of insoles for each playing surface, hard court, clay and grass. A different type of insole for each surface.” And the rest, as they say, is history.
Tennis world’s leading 'slider'
It has made so much history in fact, that after winning the Australian open recently, Djokovic threw nearly every item he had into the crowd, but when he took off his shoes, he remembered to hang onto one of the best kept secrets to his great success – his insoles. When he was asked about it at the press conference afterward he replied, “You caught me. That’s the secret to my footwork."
One of Djokovic’s signature moves on court is his amazing split. This defensive move allows him to reach nearly any ball. “His big breakthrough came last year”, recalls Kfir. “I met with the family and his entire coaching staff and it was decided that he should become the leading “slider” in men’s tennis.
“Initially, when Novak would do it, he had pain in the exterior of the soleus muscle, small ankle sprains, but the insoles allow him to do it and now not only is he a Michael Jordan, he’s also the best defensive player on the Tour and the best offensive player on the Tour as well”.
Djokovic’s insole man tells of the significant change he has gone through: “Nadal, for example, exhausts his opponents with his returns, but his backhand is mediocre and he doesn’t have the slice of a top ranked player. With Novak you see how he aims his legs into the slide fearlessly. And not only does he do it on clay or grass, he even does it on hard court surfaces.”
Approached by Nadal, but stayed with Novak
Kfir, who provides insoles for some 40 of the world’s top 100 ranked tennis players and for the Serbian Davis Cup (men) and Federation (women) teams, also works with the leading basketball clubs in Israel (Maccabi Tel Aviv, Hapoel Jerusalem, Gilboa/Galil) and Europe (CSKA Moscow and Panathinaikos, among others).
One of the obvious questions is how others, who are aware of the secret weapon Djokovic has in his shoes, have not turned to Kfir to try to balance things out. “Nadal’s people approached me at one point”, Tamir reveals, “but I decided not to work with them but rather to stay with Novak as a sign of my appreciation and loyalty. We’re family. His parents love me as if I was one of their own.”
What can you tell us about Novak the regular guy, off the court?
“He’s amazing, it's an experience spending time with him. He’s intelligent, nice and has a great sense of humor. Not to mention his incredible impressions. He even does a good impression of me.”
What is his most prominent attribute?
“His sense of purpose. He was ranked No. 3 in the world for a long time and showed us all just how determined he was to reach his goal to be the world No. 1. Many players break after being in the same position for a long period of time. He kept fighting until he achieved his goal. He waited for his breakthrough and succeeded. Now his big challenge is to stay there for a long time, like Federer and Nadal did before him.”
Does Novak like Israel? What does he say about us?
“He likes us very much and thinks we are similar peoples. In the political context, with all the wars and problems, and also as far as the warmth of the people.”
Fitness trainer Ronen Bega, who is currently in the US, also has nothing but warm words for his former trainee. “Novak is a great guy and a fitting role model for any kid who wants to succeed in this sport sometime in the future.” So there is nothing more for tennis fans such as us to do than sit back and continue to enjoy role models like Djokovic.
This article is reprinted with permission from Ynet.