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Novak Djokovic: From war to Wimbledon

The 1999 bombing of Serbia lasted almost three months, but a young Novak Djokovic made the most of it. With school closed, Novak played tennis all day, and all night he huddled with his family in a basement bomb shelter. And always he was dreaming of Wimbledon. This Sunday on 60 Minutes, Bob Simon is there when Djokovic returns home - Wimbledon trophy in hand, a young man whose dream has come true in a country that desperately needed a hero.

The following is a script from "Novak Djokovic" which aired on March 25, 2012. Bob Simon is the correspondent. Draggan Mihailovich, producer.

We want our athletes to amaze us, our entertainers to amuse us. But one guy who can do both? Doesn't happen very often. Novak Djokovic kicked off the new tennis season in January by winning an epic final in the Australian Open against Rafael Nadal. It took Djokovic five hours and 53 minutes to do it. Last year, he won three Grand Slam tournaments. Seasons don't get much better than that.

From his earliest days on the circuit, he not only wowed the crowds with his ground strokes. He had them howling over his on-court impersonations of other tennis stars. But not everyone was laughing. Some of those champions were asking: Where did this clown come from? The answer: Serbia; a small Balkan country, whose only claim to fame or infamy in recent decades has been the brutal role it played in the wars that broke up the former Yugoslavia. So when Novak Djokovic won the Wimbledon title last July, it was a gift to the nation.

And the nation took to the streets to greet Novak Djokovic when he brought the trophy back to Belgrade. It seemed all of Serbia emerged from years of darkness to salute someone who made them proud.

Novak Djokovic: It was amazing. I felt that all the city was on the streets. It was, it was incredible, incredible...

Bob Simon: You know why you felt that? Because all the city was.

Novak Djokovic: Because it was.

There were multitudes on the bridges. On the ground, there was brandy.

[Novak Djokovic: This is the city!]

The central square of the city was teeming with joy, 100,000 people. Novak was hailed as the most glorious Serbian hero since...well, since a very long time.

Novak Djokovic: It was like a paradise. It was like a dream. Your people are waiting for you in the square. You realize your two biggest goals in life, your dreams to win Wimbledon, to become number one in a couple days' time. I mean, I could not ask for more.

Novak couldn't have asked for more from his 2011 season. He captured the U.S. Open last September to accompany titles at Wimbledon and the Australian Open. To begin the year, he won his first 41 matches, one of the best starts ever recorded.

Novak Djokovic: It was incredible. It was historical. It will be in the history books. I'll remember it as best six months that I ever had.

He rocked the sport's royalty -- Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer -- and unlike them, he seemed to be having fun.

That a player from a small, war-torn country with little tennis tradition could become the game's superstar? Who could have seen it coming?

Novak Djokovic: In my case, I can sincerely say nothing is impossible. I started at a times when they were really critical times for our country. And when I was saying I want to become number one of the world and I was 7, 8 years old, most of the people were laughing to me. Because you know, it seemed like I have one percent chances to do that. And I've done it.

Novak's dreams began on a mountain top. It was here at this modest ski resort that a tennis court was built one summer, across from the pizzeria his family ran. Jelena Gencic was running a tennis camp there and spotted this kid watching from the fence. She handed him a racket and, within a few days, she knew...

Bob Simon: Did you think he could be a champion?

Jelena Gencic: Yes.

Bob Simon: Right away?

Jelena Gencic: Right. And I told to, to parents, "Listen me. Your child is a golden child."

Bob Simon: A golden child?

Jelena Gencic: He will be the best in the world.

Bob Simon: And he was six and a half then?

Jelena Gencic: Five and a half. They couldn't believe. They were in shock.

Young Novak became a phenomenon. So much so that at age seven he was invited on Serbian national TV.

He said his goal was to be number one in the world. He was dead serious. On visits to his coach's house, Novak admired the national trophies she had won as a player. But his visions had already gone far beyond her trophies, all the way to Wimbledon.

Novak Djokovic: I was dreaming about Wimbledon. I was visualizing Wimbledon. And as a kid, I remember I took a little improvised trophy that I think I made from the little piece of plastic. And I kinda lift that trophy and I said in English, "Hello. My name is Novak Djokovic. And I'm a Wimbledon winner."

Jelena spent hours and hours working with Novak on the court. But she wanted her prodigy to have more than a forehand and a backhand.

Bob Simon: You also played classical music for him.

Jelena Gencic: Yeah, of course.

Bob Simon: And read him poems.

Jelena Gencic: Of course.

Bob Simon: By Pushkin.

Jelena Gencic: Of course.

Bob Simon: Was this going to help his tennis or just to make him a better human being?

Jelena Gencic: A better human being.

Novak Djokovic: I had to know at least two languages. I had to listen to the classical music because it calms me down, calms my nerves down. I can be more...

Bob Simon: Did you enjoy it then?

Novak Djokovic: I did. And I still do.

The tennis court served as a haven for Novak because the country he had been born into, Yugoslavia, was coming apart, quickly and violently.

Bob Simon: Did you realize that when you started climbing the tennis ladder that your country was falling down?

Novak Djokovic: Yes, yes, that was the period that nobody likes to remember.

Yugoslavia split into separate countries. The world blamed Serbia for the bloodshed. The country's leaders were accused of war crimes. In 1999, as the conflict spread to the province of Kosovo, the Americans and other NATO countries bombed Serbia for 78 days and nights. The Djokovic family took shelter in Belgrade.

Novak Djokovic: We were very scared. Everybody was very afraid because the whole city was under attack.

They sought refuge here, in his grandfather's apartment. Novak took us there.

Novak, his grandfather, parents, two younger brothers, aunts and uncles -- all lived in this two-bedroom flat during the blitz. The building had a basement. When the air raid sirens sounded, they retreated there, which was as close as they could get to safety.

Novak Djokovic: This is where practically we stayed right, right here, right inside.

Bob Simon: How many of you?

Novak Djokovic: Phew...everybody who could fit here, they came. You know, and there was no really limitation.

Novak says the family spent every night in the basement for the first two weeks of the bombing.

Bob Simon: But you continued playing tennis?

Novak Djokovic: I continued playing tennis every day.

Bob Simon: And did you lose your focus at all?

Novak Djokovic: At the first couple of weeks I did. I did, yes, I have to say. Because we were waking up every single night more or less at 2:00, 3:00 a.m. for two and a half months, every single--

Bob Simon: Because of the bombing?

Novak Djokovic: Every single night, yes. But the best thing about it, you know, I always try to remember those days in, in a positive, in a very bright way. Let's say I, we didn't need to go to school and we played more tennis. So, for us, that was something that we remembered the most.

Bob Simon: So in a way...

Novak Djokovic: Yes...

Bob Simon: ...the war helped you become a champion.

Novak Djokovic: In a way.

Bob Simon: It made you tougher.

Novak Djokovic: Yeah, it made us tougher. It made us more hungry, more hungry for the success.

There are still some scarred buildings in Belgrade, but for today's Serbs they could be ancient ruins. They want to reinvent themselves as trendy, friendly Europeans. And this is the nation's new face. Wherever you go in Belgrade, you can't avoid him which is exactly the way Serbs want it to be.

Bob Simon: The president of Serbia has said that you are the best public relations the country has ever had.

Novak Djokovic: That's a lot of responsibility.

Bob Simon: Do you feel the pressure?

Novak Djokovic: I feel the pressure.

Bob Simon: You know, I don't think Federer feels that he is carrying the...

Novak Djokovic: But...

Bob Simon: ...prestige of Switzerland on his shoulders. But Serbia's counting on you. You're carrying Serbia on your shoulders.

Novak Djokovic: But, it's because we have a harder way to succeed in life as Serbs because of the past that we had and because of the history that we had. We have to dig deeper and we have to do much more in order to be seen and to be spotted.

Novak made sure he was spotted at the 2007 U.S. Open. After his quarterfinal victory, he impersonated some of tennis's top stars in front of 20,000 people. A comedian's dream.

His impersonation of tennis ace and beauty queen Maria Sharapova was a hit. New Yorkers ate it up.

Bob Simon: How did Sharapova react after you impersonated her?

Novak Djokovic: She was laughing.

But he really brought the house down with his imitation of Spanish star Rafael Nadal's pre-match gyrations and a habit he has with his shorts

Bob Simon: Did Nadal think it was funny?

Novak Djokovic: At the start, not so much.

But after awhile, people became more fascinated by Novak's antics than by his tennis.

Novak Djokovic: I mean, I'm serving four all, 30 all, important match. And a guy goes, "Hey, Novak, do the impersonation of Sharapova. We like that. This is too boring." You know, make me laugh." I haven't done it in, in, lately. I haven't done it.

Bob Simon: Why not?

Novak Djokovic: I don't wanna get anybody offended. That's, you know, in the end.

Bob Simon: You don't wanna get anybody offended.

Novak Djokovic: No, I don't.

Bob Simon: Hang on, now.

Novak Djokovic: I know, I know. I know what you wanna say.

Bob Simon: You're impersonating Nadal taking his shorts out of his butt and you don't think that's gonna offend him?

Novak Djokovic: I didn't want to get him offended twice.

Novak is having a love affair with the camera and will do anything for it -- like standing on the wing of a plane as it takes off. Yes, that is Novak wing-walking in a commercial for Head, his racket maker and sponsor.

Bob Simon: Why did you do that?

Novak Djokovic: My mother asked me the same thing.

Bob Simon: I bet she did.

Novak Djokovic: It was crazy. It's one of the craziest things I've done in my life for sure.

We followed Novak to Bulgaria, where Hollywood was waiting -- a small but killer role in this summer's The Expendables 2.

His ground strokes were literally lethal now, against terrorists.

[Producer: When you finish with the tennis career, you know where to come...]

The offers have poured in since Novak became number one. To get there he had to vanquish two legends, Nadal and Federer. For four years, he just couldn't beat the guys who had dominated the sport.

Novak Djokovic: There was no self belief on the court.

Bob Simon: Lost your confidence.

Novak Djokovic: When I played against them.

Bob Simon: What was it?

Novak Djokovic: I get afraid from winning. You know, I just...

Bob Simon: Get afraid from winning?

Novak Djokovic: Let's put in a simple way. I had too much respect for them.

That stopped last year. He beat Nadal and Federer 10 out of 11 times. All season, everything clicked. His first serve was not easy to return. His returns were even more remarkable. He got to balls no one thought possible, sliding on hard courts and contorting his body like a yoga master. When he beat Nadal for the Wimbledon championship, he had achieved what so few humans ever achieve. He had fulfilled his childhood fantasy.

Bob Simon: Did you think about that child when you won Wimbledon?

Novak Djokovic: I did. When I finished the match, when I ate the piece of grass, I had the flashback of my whole childhood, what I've been through. Memories, first tennis courts that I grew up on, the days spent in Belgrade. It was beautiful.

A couple of months ago, Novak revisited one of those memories to meet someone he hadn't seen in years, His first coach, Jelena Gencic.

Jelena Gencic: We dream so long time...

He was with the woman who'd first seen who he was. And he wanted to share something with her...that Wimbledon trophy.

Jelena Gencic: Ahh.

Novak Djokovic: This was...

Jelena Gencic: Our dream...

Novak Djokovic: The trophy, the trophy which we were standing in front of the mirror and lifting up improvised trophies and dreaming of holding this one, one day...

Jelena Gencic: Come in, come in...

Novak Djokovic: I always wanted to do this (hoists trophy). Her trophies...

Jelena Gencic: And your trophy.

Novak Djokovic: But not any trophy. The one. The one is here.

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