Naomi Osaka’s Opponent Has a Not-So-Secret Weapon: Novak Djokovic

Olga Danilovic has never experienced an atmosphere like the one that awaits her at Arthur Ashe Stadium for her second round match on Wednesday at noon at the U.S. Open against defending champion Naomi Osaka. But her mentor certainly has.

Danilovic, a qualifier ranked 145th, has been mentored and inspired from a young age by the 20-time Grand Slam champion Novak Djokovic, a compatriot who has quietly offered support to many young Serbian players, even as he chases a spot atop the pantheon of men’s tennis history.

“When you talk to him you think, ‘OK, now I’m going to beat everyone after talking to him,’” Danilovic told Tennis.com earlier this year. “His energy and dedication and his passion to play and work is something that pushes you to be better.”

After winning his first round match on Tuesday night, Djokovic said Danilovic was “pumped” to get the opportunity to follow his footsteps onto the court at Ashe stadium.

“She was asking me about how it feels to be on the big stage,” Djokovic said. “Of course, you can say something, but then you really need to experience it. Hopefully she can use that to her own advantage, the motivation and inspiration, to be at the biggest stage to play against one of the best players of the world.”

Danilovic, 20 broke into the WTA Top 100 after winning the Moscow River Cup in 2018, when she was only 17, becoming the first player born this century to win a WTA title, but she struggled to win consistently.

Djokovic emphasized that Danilovic was still “really young.”

“She’s got the goods,” Djokovic said. “She’s really, really strong, fit, tall, lefty; don’t have many good lefty servers in both the men’s and women’s game. I think it’s quite an advantage. If she’s serving well, she can do damage to a lot of players.”

What Danilovic is missing, Djokovic said, was experience.

“The more matches she’s winning on this stage, the more comfortable she’s going to feel,” Djokovic said. “So, yes, we’ve been speaking a lot. I’ve been trying to help her out as much as I possibly can, her team, her family, with guidance on and off the court, some advices.”

Danilovic has plenty of athletic experience in her family, although not in tennis. Her father, Sasha Danilovic, was a star shooting guard in European basketball leagues in the 1990s, and played for two seasons in the N.B.A. He is now the president of the Basketball Federation of Serbia.

“She’s got the great genes for sport,” Djokovic said Tuesday.

Djokovic watched Danilovic’s second-round match at the Australian Open courtside earlier this year.

“I noticed at the very end,” Shelby Rogers, Danilovic’s opponent in that match, said. “She definitely won the cheering squad award today, I’ll tell you that.”

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