Novak Djokovic had to take the court on Thursday only hours after learning his grandfather, Vladimir, had passed away in Belgrade. The world No. 1 took to the practice courts to warm up for his match in good spirits, but learned of his grandfather's passing via cell phone. French television captured him leaving the court crying with his team trying to console him.
I think everyone would have understood if Novak chose to withdraw from the tournament and return home to be with his family, but he soldiered on, and with his emotions still raw for everyone to see, he beat Alexandr Dolgopolov 2-6, 6-1, 6-4 to book a spot in the quarterfinals of Monte Carlo. He celebrated the win by looking skyward and then broke down in tears as he packed up his bag to leave the court.
Djokovic understandably skipped his post-match press conference, and the ATP released the following statement:
"Novak Djokovic would like to ask for your understanding. As you know, he lost his grandfather today just before the match, and it was very hard for him to play. After he won, he just felt totally exhausted physically, mentally and emotionally."
Djokovic has been outspoken about the influence of his grandfather, to whom he recently dedicated his Miami title.
"I wanted to dedicate this title to my grandfather Vladimir, who is always sending me lots of positive energy. He is my hero and a fighter. He thought me since I was young to never give up. So Miami is all for you grandpa!"
During the NATO bombing of Belgrade in 1999, Novak and his family hid in the basement of his grandfather's apartment. You can also see him with his grandfather talking about those scary times in the 60 Minutes special CBS aired a few weeks ago.