In 2010, Novak Djokovic was widely considered a superstar player in the world of professional tennis. Djokovic, 24, the former Austrian Open tournament champion and number three player in the ATP world rankings, was earning tens of millions of dollars annually, and was also being considered the most popular athlete in his home country of Serbia. Young, rich and successful, most people assumed that Djokovic had reached the pinnacle of his powers and the only place left for him to go was down. However, in a strange twist of fate, a dietary change in which Djokovic eliminated a food source believed to be imperative to athletic success helped propel him to shatter people’s professional expectations for him and reach levels of success rarely before seen.
Following a visit with his nutritionist, it was revealed to Djokovic that he suffered from a gluten allergy. Gluten is a protein composite commonly found in wheat products such as pizza and pasta, which helps aid a food’s elasticity, maintain its shape and provides a chewy texture. For people with gluten allergies, the consumptions of gluten-heavy foods can result in a range of health-related consequences, including: respiratory problems, chronic fatigue, osteoporosis, weight loss, constipations, abdominal bloating, depression, asthma, diverticulitis and Crohn’s disease.
Realizing the extent to which his gluten intolerance could complicate his system, Djokovic made the hard choice of eliminating all wheat products from his diet. This meant saying goodbye to most kinds of pizzas, pastas, cookies, cakes, bagels, bread and beer. Nevertheless, with this sacrifice Djokovic was able to gain a newfound element of power, precision and stamina to his tennis game by the time the calendar year turned.
By 2011, it was apparent that Djokovic’s newfound diet was paying great dividends, as he was demonstrating the best tennis form of his career. In January, Djokovic captured his second Grand Slam championship by winning the Australian Open for the second time in four years. The victory at the Australian Open would prove to be a foreshadowing to one of the most prodigious stretches of tennis ever played.
Over the course of the next 7 months, he won 43 consecutive matches and 6 straight tournaments. Djokovic would carry this momentum with him into the biggest tournament of the year, the Wimbledon Championships, where he easily dismissed his preliminary opponents on his way to the finals. This set up a showdown with the world’s number one ranked player and longtime rival, Rafael Nadal.
Nadal, the words number one player for over a year was the defending Wimbledon Champion and consensus best player in the world. Despite the accolades, Nadal proved no match for the new and improved Djokovic, who defeated the reigning champion in four sets. This marked the fifth straight time that Djokovic defeated Nadal in a tournament final and resulted in his overtaking him as the number one ranked player in the world.
In transitioning from a gluten-rich diet to one that is gluten-free, Novak Djokovic was able to transform himself from a great tennis player into a player that may eventually be remembered among the games immortals. In order to do so, he exemplified a discipline and will-power in his diet that is matched only by that which he dedicates to his dedication to tennis. The short-lived pleasures he may miss out on through a pizza slice or pint of beer are more than made up through his forever lasting championship gold.