Thousands give Wimbledon king Djokovic hero's welcome
Updated: 2011-07-05 10:27
Novak Djokovic greets supporters upon arrival in Belgrade, the capital of Serbia, July 4, 2011. [Photo/Agencies]
Supporters flash the three-finger sign, a traditional Serbian salute used by sport fans to celebrate victories, in front of the Serbian flag to cwelcome Novak Djokovic's back from Wimbledon in Belgrade, July 4, 2011. [Photo/Agencies]
BELGRADE - Some 100,000 Serbian tennis fans gave Novak Djokovic a royal reception in central Belgrade on Monday after the 24-year-old arrived home to celebrate winning his first Wimbledon title.
Djokovic, who leapt to the top of the ATP rankings in the process, was greeted by a deafening roar as he arrived in an open-top bus which took hours to reach the Serbian parliament square from the airport.
Traffic on the main motorway ground to a halt as fans got out of their cars to salute Serbia's most popular athlete, whose entire family paraded alongside him on a giant stage where rock bands entertained the crowd.
"This is absolutely unbelievable and I owe all of you eternal gratitude for this reception," an elated Djokovic said as he held aloft the trophy he won with an emphatic four-set win over Spaniard Rafa Nadal in Sunday's final.
"The time has come to bare all my emotions to you and all I can say is that you are the best in the world because only Serbian fans can throw a party like this.
"You have made the happiest day of my life even better and I dedicate this trophy to you," said Djokovic, who will lead Davis Cup holders Serbia in their quarter-final tie away to Sweden next weekend.
"We have a soul that is second to none and with the team event coming up, I can promise you we will do everything in our power to win it all again," he added.
Djokovic and his two younger brothers then joined rock, pop and folk bands on stage in singing local chartbusters, as fans lit flares and waved Serbian flags.
Some of them produced banners taunting Nadal, who relinquished the world number one spot to his fierce rival. "Are you watching this from Madrid, Rafa, and keep practising that backhand of yours," said one of them.
The frenzy culminated when Djokovic and his family engaged in a traditional Serbian folk dance as fireworks lit the skies above Belgrade on a warm evening.
"Young people are here in droves because they look up to this extraordinary young man and draw inspiration from his accomplishments," said former Davis Cup coach Radmilo Armenulic.
"He is a role model and a true champion, finding the strength and willpower in his family and close friends, which is the best way to keep your life on the rails.
"As for his game, I am in no position to give him any advice because he is so superior on the court," said Armenulic.
Former handball international Igor Butulija added: "As a former top-level athlete I know how much more difficult it is to reach the top as an individual, hence Djokovic's triumph must stand as the most remarkable achievement in Serbia's history."