ONE IS arguably the best tennis player on the planet, the other an unknown teenager from the Leeds suburb of Wike.
But that has not prevented Novak Djokovic, winner of eight Grand Slam titles and finalist at Wimbledon, from forging an unlikely bond with 18-year-old Jonathan Gray.
The week before Wimbledon began Jonathan, regarded as one of Britain’s brightest young tennis prospects, was training at the National Tennis Centre in London when he was spotted by Djokovic.
The Serbian superstar was visiting the centre to film a video on behalf of one of his sponsors. Watching Jonathan in training, Djokovic was impressed. The two of them practised together for a while after which Djokovic asked Gray to appear with him in the video with shooting taking place over the course of two days.
“He seemed like a very nice guy,” says Djokovic. “We had a nice chat. He also talked with my team. He asked for advice. You could say that he was quite curious to know, to find out more. You could see that there is a big desire from his side to succeed and to get to professional tennis.”
Djokovic asked about Jonathan’s background and the teenager told him all about growing up and being a huge football fan, Leeds United. Before going their separate ways they agreed to keep in touch. Earlier this week the pair met up again ahead of Jonathan’s opening match in the boys’ singles event at Junior Wimbledon, with Djokovic playing the role of mentor to the young hopeful.
“He told me to be positive, to go for it, and to battle for every point,” says Jonathan who ended up losing a desperately close match 7-6 7-6 against Alberto Lim of the Philippines. “I think I did that, even though I lost. It was good to have him say that.” This Wimbledon is the last junior tournament that Jonathan, a former pupil at The Grammar School in Alwoodley Gates in Leeds, will be playing at.