2004: We kept yapping to anyone who would listen that this kid (only 17) was going places. The one with jet-black hair and a wicked cross-court backhand.
2012: After numerous marquee trophy wins and being the world number one, Nole Cakes makes TIME magazine's 100 Most Influential People in the World.
Novak Djokovic became the world’s third-ranked tennis player on July 9, 2007. For the better part of the next four years he was the sport’s top doormat. First Roger Federer and then Rafa Nadal would regularly wipe their feet on him en route to major titles; nine times they stomped him in Grand Slam events.
Djokovic’s renowned sense of humor — he’s a great mimic of his fellow pros — must have helped him. But while he yukked it up, he also upped his training regimen and refined his exquisite baseline shotmaking. No one has a more lethal backhand down the line. He got mentally tougher too. Last year Djokovic reached No. 1 in dominating fashion, winning at the Australian Open, Wimbledon and the U.S. Open and dispatching both nemeses. He started 2012 by beating Nadal in a five-set, nearly six-hour epic for the Australian title. “It’s the result of the really hard work that I put into it,” says Djokovic, 24, now a national hero in his native Serbia.