Novak Djokovic and wife Jelena may be the golden couple of the tennis world, but their decades-long romance has much humbler beginnings than you’d expect.
The Serbian tennis champion met Jelena Ristic at high school in the late ’90s, where they bonded over a shared interest in tennis and became friends.
They didn’t start dating until a few years later, in the early 2000s, and had their first date at a sports bar in Monte Carlo where Novak was playing tennis.
“Us getting together was like science fiction almost,” Jelena said of the romance that blossomed between them, via Hello! Magazine.
“I was a student barely getting by, and he was a very young tennis player who also had no money to spare on expensive trips.”
She was studying luxury brand management at the prestigious Bocconi University in Milan at the time, so their romance was long-distance at first.
“Airplanes were, at the time, something utterly out of our reach,” Jelena said. “We contrived and devised these plans; how to meet, how to make our relationship work.”
After graduating, she moved in with Novak in Monte Carlo and continued her education at the International University of Monaco while he was working his way up in the tennis world.
He had gone pro in 2003 and won his first major titles a few years later, but it was actually Jelena’s job that put a strain on their relationship when they moved in together.
The Serbian native had gotten a temporary job at an oil company and was spending so much time at the office that she barely saw Novak around his training schedule.
“At a certain point, Novak told me, ‘Darling, we cannot go on like this,'” she said, via People.
So she left the job, going on to become the National Director of the Novak Djokovic Foundation (NDF), which she co-founded with his family in 2007.
The charity supports disadvantaged children in their home nation of Serbia by providing access to early childhood education, kicking off the couple’s humanitarian work.
That was the same year Novak won his first Masters titles, his first Major final and finished the year ranked world No. 3, breaking into the top three for the first time.
Jelena could often be spotted courtside at his games and though Novak acknowledged how tough his life could be on her, he was always glad to have her by his side.
“It can be very stressful to run with the wolf [his nickname]. I know that she doesn’t enjoy it at all times. … I love her, she’s my great support,” he once said.
He continued smashing records on the tennis court while Jelena obtained a Masters degree, before getting engaged in September 2013 after eight years of dating.
They wed in a lavish ceremony at Aman Sveti Stefan, a seaside resort overlooking the Adriatic Seas in Montenegro, in July the following year.
Novak and Jelena said “I do” just weeks after he nabbed his second Wimbledon win, but the only thing he cared about on their wedding day was his stunning bride.
“Seeing her for the first time in her wedding dress, smiling and walking towards me… She looked like an angel,” Novak said, via Town & Country Magazine.
“I was trying to be present in that moment and memorise it. I was focused on her, and her smile, and our baby. It really was a perfect moment.”
That’s right – he said baby. Jelena was already pregnant with their first child when she walked down the aisle and later confessed she was “very nervous” on the day.
“Everything seemed a blur. I was seeing him through tears and immediately started crying when I saw him,” she said.
“I was just so happy and probably being pregnant makes it quite difficult to control the emotions. I am so blessed to have him in my life. I couldn’t ask for a better partner than him.”
They welcomed their first child, a son they named Stefan (perhaps in homage to their wedding location), in October 2014.
Daughter Tara was born just a few years later in September 2017 and Novak marked the special family milestone with an emotional Instagram post.
“As a man, I have to send my love and admiration to every single woman out there for going through so much pain and effort to create life, to bring life and raise a human being,” he said.
“What a blessing to have an opportunity to be a parent! Jelena and Tara are my angels, and Stefan is a proud big brother who wants to take part in baby chores.”
Now a family of four, the Djokovic clan are a close knit and relatively private bunch, preferring to stay away from the spotlight when Novak isn’t on the tennis court.
Jelena regularly shares surprisingly normal family snaps to social media, showing that despite her husband’s meteoric rise to sporting fame, they’re still a down-to-earth duo.
She’s now the global CEO of the Novak Djokovic Foundation and director of Original Magazine, an online blog that creates community content for the NDF.
Meanwhile, her husband continues to break records with a racquet, marking his 23rd Grand Slam title when he won the French Open in 2023.
In a moment of celebration, he ran to the stands to share a passionate kiss with his wife, who he marked nine years of marriage with that same year.