Djokovic’s stunning retirement reveal
FIFTEEN-time grand slam champion Novak Djokovic has revealed just how close he went to giving away his tennis career after injury derailed his 2017 tennis season.
The 31-year-old superstar received the Laureus Sportsman of the Year Award ahead of French football World Cup star Kylian Mbappe, F1 star Lewis Hamilton, marathon world record breaker Eliud Kipchoge, Croatian footballer Luka Modric and NBA royalty LeBron James.
But it was Djokovic's comeback from an injury-ravaged 2017 season to win two grand slams that stole the award.
Between 2011 and 2016, Djokovic won 11 of the 24 grand slams, including holding all four titles at the same time - from Wimbledon in 2015 to the French Open in 2016.
However, a tough start to 2017 appeared to weigh on Djokovic and ultimately he split with his longtime coach before skipping the US Open due to an elbow injury.
It was an injury that caused him to miss the back end of the 2017 season and it took some time for the Serbian superstar to get back to form following elbow surgery after being knocked out of the Australian Open in the quarter-finals.
While accepting his award as the Sportsman of the Year, Djokovic admitted it was his wife Jelena who had helped him back after his darkest moments.
"I would like to thank my wife for taking time and for presenting me in a different light and I think that the rare occasions we can share our personal journeys and who we are behind the curtain and I think you've done it much better than I would do it," he said.
"Your support has been tremendously significant to me in those moments when I was questioning everything, when I was going through my doubts and dilemmas whether I want to keep on playing tennis. And yes I did think about leaving tennis and I did think about everything else and I just didn't find myself in a good balance in life at that point.
"I did feel like I let myself down when I had surgery - you were right - and it took me several months to find that purpose, find the meaning again."
Since returning to top form, Djokovic has won Wimbledon, the US Open and his seventh Australian Open - dismantling Rafael Nadal in the latter.
Jelena was in the crowd as Djokovic addressed her directly to thank her.
And Jelena has been a constant support, even when not attending events.
The world No.1 said he had to overcome plenty of mental battles to return to the top of the tennis world.
"I've had to do a lot of inner engineering as I like to call it, especially in the last 15 months, coming back from a major injury and having surgery and being very impatient and anxious to come back," Djokovic said.
"And then being on the verge to leave the racquet aside and now I'm standing in front of you and reflecting on that journey, it seems like a fairytale story but it tells me one thing. In those moments when you're facing adversity and feeling challenged, you should look inside because that's where the answer lies.
"I did not understand that fully. I had heard that before but I think when I went through this journey I understood what this means and I now know where I can always find strength and motivation to keep me going."
The Laureus Sports Awards honour the individual and team achievement in sport.
American gymnast Simone Biles won Sportswoman of the Year for a second time, on the back of the 21-year-old's historic achievement last year in adding a fourth all-around world championship to her full-to-bursting medals cabinet.
Tennis had a golden night as women's world No.1 Naomi Osaka - who like Djokovic added the Australian Open to her breakthrough grand alam success the US Open - became the first Japanese winner of a Laureus award, the 21-year-old taking the World Breakthrough of the Year gong.
Winning the Comeback of the Year award, American golfing great Tiger Woods was rewarded for his return from years in the wilderness - due to injury and personal problems - to win the Tour Championship and go close to adding to his 14 major titles in the British Open and the PGA Championship.
Mbappe may have missed out on the main individual award but he along with his World Cup winning teammates collected the team of the year prize.
Longtime Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger received the Lifetime Achievement Award for revolutionising English football in the early part of his more than two decades in charge of Arsenal.
- with AFP