- Associated Press - Saturday, July 2, 2011

BELGRADE, SERBIA (AP) - What’s your goal in tennis?

“To be a champion!” snaps a 7-year-old boy holding an oversize tennis racket with a baseball hat turned backward.

The lively kid with bushy hair from an old video aired on state TV is Novak Djokovic, who has reached his first Wimbledon final. Even if he loses Sunday’s final against defending champion Rafael Nadal, Djokovic will fulfill his lifelong dream by reaching the No. 1 ranking on Monday.

Serbia celebrated after Djokovic defeated France’s Jo-Wilfried Tsonga 7-6 (4), 6-2, 6-7 (9), 6-3 Friday to secure the No. 1 spot and a place in the final.

“This is one of those moments where you can’t describe it with words,” Djokovic said after he dropped to his knees to kiss the Wimbledon grass. “You remember all your career, all your childhood, everything you worked for that comes true now.”

The 24-year-old Djokovic has traveled a hard and lengthy road from his Balkan childhood on Mt. Kopaonik in southern Serbia _ where his parents once owned a pizza parlor _ to be officially the best tennis player in the world.

“Everything came (down) to hard work and lots of sacrifice,” said Niki Pilic, a former Croatian tennis star and Djokovic’s former trainer.

“Of course, there is undeniable talent, brains, psyche, the real state of mind, iron will, great discipline, but also the ability not to fly too early,” Pilic said. “Simply, Novak has all of that. If he missed even one of those elements, he would feel like carrying lead on his feet.”

Djokovic has attributed some of his toughness to growing up in war-ravaged Serbia.

Along with Ana Ivanovic and Jelena Jankovic _ both former No. 1-ranked women _ he has managed to overcame Balkan wars in the 1990s and a limited tennis infrastructure to rank among the world’s best.

As children growing up in Belgrade, Djokovic and Ivanovic trained at a club that used an empty swimming pool as a makeshift tennis court. The two had to cut short their practice sessions and run into bomb shelters when the Serbian capital was targeted by NATO jets during the 1999 war over Kosovo.

Djokovic often says his patriotism drives him. Partly for that, he is ranked the most popular personality in Serbia who _ according to opinion polls _ could easily win the country’s presidential elections if he decided to run.

Djokovic led Serbia to its first Davis Cup title in December. He has described the victory as the highest point of his career. Since that win, he’s gone 49-1 and defeated Rafael Nadal in four finals.

“I’ll never forget the day that 4-year-old boy came to my tennis camp,” said Jelena Gencic, Djokovic’s first coach. “I asked him what does he want to become when he grows up. Without hesitation, he said: ‘The No. 1 racket (player) in the world.’”

When Djokovic won the match against Tsonga, the people in the Serbian capital were shooting in the air and dancing on the streets.

“The Serbs for a moment forgot their worries, shouting for Djokovic in his historic climb to the number one place in the world,” state Tanjug news agency said.

More celebrations are planned for Sunday after the Wimbledon final _ if two-time Australian Open champion Djokovic wins.

Not that many Serbs have doubts about the result.

Nevenka Jovanovic, a Belgrade university student, spoke for many Serbs: “Tomorrow will be another historic day.”

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