Janko Tipsarevic: Mastermind with a difference

Published by Vivienne Christie

As he constructs his comeback from injury, Janko Tipsarevic is also sharing his wisdom with developing players; Getty Images
Masterminding a comeback to his former top-10 heights after an extended injury absence, Janko Tipsarevic is also drawing on his hard-gained knowledge and experiences to deliver an innovative tennis mentoring program. 

To label Janko Tipsarevic a “mastermind” has never been a stretch. Famous for his love of quotes and literature – he has Fyodor Dostoevski’s “Beauty will save the world” tattooed on his left arm – the Serb is also a high school graduate and completed Sports Management studies at Belgrade University.

Lately, though, “mastermind” has taken on a different meaning for the 34-year-old. “I believe very often that I’m much smarter for myself than I am for others,” says Tipsarevic, who is carefully constructing a comeback from the leg and foot injuries that necessitated seven surgeries in a five-year period.

A return to the tour at Australian Open 2019 marked Tipsarevic’s first event since the 2017 US Open. But if that’s been frustrating for his tennis career, it’s been helpful for his many side projects, including further development of the Tipsarevic Academy.

“I took a year-and-a-half to build brand-new hotels, new courts, new restaurants, new everything,” Tipsarevic tells Australian Tennis Magazine of the world-class facility, which initially opened in Belgrade six years ago. “I was involved in tennis, but I was keeping my mind busy with work.”

It was an important focus, given the many challenges that accompany the physical difficulties of returning from injury. “One of the most dangerous things if you miss something in life (is) that you don’t replace that empty void with any other kind of work,” Tipsarevic adds.

“This is the part where people get into deep depressions and unhappiness in life. I was able to avoid that by focusing on my work.”

There was also another important project capturing Tipsarevic’s attention. This week, he commences the “Succeed with Janko” mastermind program, in which developing players can learn first-hand through Tipsarevic’s interactive online mentorship.

“I feel I have something to share and this is not because I was continuously successful,” Tipsarevic notes. “I feel that this message has much more merit because I was also unsuccessful and understand the mindset that you need to have in order to eventually become successful. “

That Tipsarevic is prepared to draw from the difficult periods of his career points to the healthy dose of realism that’s always accompanied his achievements. With the Australian Open 2001 boys’ title among the glittering milestones that saw the Serb become a world No.1 junior, big things were predicted of the crafty competitor; and while there are four ATP titles and a pair of Grand Slam quarterfinals (the 2011 and 2012 US Open) on his record, Tipsarevic also speaks openly about the challenges of meeting those lofty expectations.

“We’re not going to talk about the forehand, backhand and playing only. This will obviously be one of the Mastermind (sessions) but we want to touch a lot of lot of different subjects,” said Tipsarevic, who explains that goal-setting and scheduling, overcoming adversity, building resilience and developing a high performance mindset are among themes that will be explored on the four-week program.

“There’s a lot of very interesting topics and subjects that we will come to discuss and I feel I have a very, very loud message to share.”

Tipsarevic’s hard-gained experiences make those messages all the more powerful. Asked to name any elements of his career he’d tackle differently if that was possible, the Serb explains how he’d “start living the tennis way of life way earlier.”

“A common mistake, which I see so many times especially with young athletes, is that they don’t practise so hard,” he points out. “They see tennis as something which they do for a significant amount of time for (only) one day, two hours, one hour or three hours. And then tennis as a way of that huge part of their life stops being a part of their life, because after that they just forget about it.”

That’s especially true given the many potential distractions for today’s young players. “One of the biggest challenges is definitely social media, I feel that the young players feel that they can become famous and successful through the magic doors of social media,” says Tipsarevic, who notes a worrying trend emerging in some young players.

“This slogan of ‘less is more’ or ‘I’m not working more, I’m just working smarter’ is actually very dangerous if these young minds don’t have the right guidance or the right goals. I believe that these two things are very, very challenging and much, much more challenging for young players these days than when I was young.”

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Fortunately, overcoming extreme challenges could well be a Tipsarevic speciality. In only the fifth event of his comeback from injury, the former top-10 player returned to a first ATP-level quarterfinal in almost three years at Houston.              .

Quick to acknowledge the tremendous support of his family – including fashion designer wife Biljana Sesevic and five-year-old daughter Emili – and his coach Dirk Hordoff, Tipsarevic has also learned the value of tenacity. “I honestly think that in order to be successful – not only in tennis but in life in general – you need a lot of persistence,” he insists.

Passion is also a quality that’s clearly not lacking. “I truly believe, is that the universe around us sees when you dig deep, so miraculously, if you dig deep in any aspect of your life, other aspects of your life open up,” says Tipsarevic. “It doesn’t necessarily mean that you dig deep in a particular field that this particular field will reward you, but I am a big believer that life by itself will reward you.”

Tipsarevic’s high-energy approach can also deliver rewards for those around him. Fiercely determined to give back to the sport, the Serb sees a high-profile coaching role in his future. “I love tennis so much. I see myself doing this for the continuation of my life,” he stresses.

With his own playing career still a focus for now, delivering the “Success with Janko” program online provides a perfect balance. “Once I stop playing tennis, I will definitely devote my time into coaching, teaching and helping and mentoring others,” he says.

Many would suggest that’s already occurring – and whether it be through his innovative program or in the qualities Tipsarevic demonstrates on tour, developing players would know they are learning from a mastermind.

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