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Laslo Djere deserves your appreciation
A gut-wrenching past trails the Serbian, but he's found his way into the third round.
Published Jul 08, 2023
LONDON—A Grand Slam finalist, Top 10 regular and thriving on social media, Stefanos Tsitsipas might have more of the fans behind him at Wimbledon on Saturday than his opponent, Laslo Djere.
Yes, even though he just beat mammoth home favorite Andy Murray in another five-setter for the Greek this fortnight.
But spectators likely wouldn’t be rooting as vociferously against Djere if aware of the 28-year-old’s gut wrenching past. A past that has shaped his life—and perhaps tennis results.
By now, hardcore tennis supporters know that both his parents, Hajnalka and Caba, died of cancer. Mom Hajnalka passed away in 2012 after her colon cancer spread, and Djere lost his dad Caba—who introduced him to tennis—six years later. He, too, had colon cancer.
“And here I was, 23, without parents,” the Serb told the ATP in 2019, the same year he dedicated his Rio Open crown to his parents in a moving speech.
Perhaps less know that this year, Djere and his younger sister, Judit, suffered yet more grief when their grandmother died on the eve of the Australian Open.
Keen to win a match at Melbourne Park for the first time, Djere stuck around and overcame Belgian Zizou Bergs. Out of sorts, though, he subsequently exited to Grigor Dimitrov in 94 minutes.
“If I was in Europe, I would maybe cancel the tournament,” Djere told TENNIS.com after preceding Iga Swiatek on a tucked-away practice court in sunny, balmy southwest London. “But since I was there and I had a decent draw and I never won a match at the Australian Open, I really wanted it.
“Then against Dimitrov I was just way off in my mind. It’s a part of life I guess. Everybody goes through similar things.”
His voice trailed off.
When it was suggested to Djere that the personal tragedy he encountered differed from most his age, he acknowledged: “I mean, yeah. Maybe that stuff happens later in your life.”
Being among the world’s Top 100 is an incredible achievement but often downplayed since the focus tends to rest on Grand Slam winners and the like, especially among casual fans. But Djere’s ranking of 60th, as good as it is, seems disproportionately low for his tools. A heavy first serve and forehand can overwhelm opponents while he has variety—driving and, when required, slicing—on the backhand.
The 500-level title in Rio came on clay; Djere made a final on hard courts in Winston-Salem last year; and both of his losses on grass entering this Wimbledon came in a third set against grass-court titlists Daniil Medvedev and Alex de Minaur. So why hasn’t the softly spoken Djere, who reached 27th in the rankings months after the Rio success, been consistently higher?
Closing out sets and matches has been tough on more occasions than he would like. Djere told Serbian journalist Sasa Ozmo at the US Open in 2020 that given the ill health of his parents, he worries about his own health.
Has his traumatic past manifested itself in tight moments on court?
“If I feel anxious off court and I have to play a match, I’m not thinking necessarily about my parents on the court, but still from my private life or my personality, who I evolved to be, maybe I bring some of that onto the court,” he said.
“Or in my case, it’s easier to bring it onto court than maybe other players’ cases so that’s why I’m trying to work with a sports psychologist, just improving myself.”
In only a few examples from last year, Djere led Tsitsipas 5-3 in the first set in Acapulco. He lost 7-6 (7), 7-6 (4). He fell 7-6 (4), 6-4 in Halle to Karen Khachanov, having led 5-2—two breaks—in the first set. In Hamburg, Djere lost to Borna Coric from a set and 4-2 up.
The highest profile example came against compatriot Novak Djokovic in Belgrade. Leading by a set and break at 4-3, Djokovic rallied. Still, Djere edged in front 4-3 in a final-set tiebreak and then appeared to have a comfortable putaway—as much as it could be against the then-20-time Grand Slam winner. His forehand crashed into the net, though, and Djere didn’t win another point.
That three-and-half hour battle mirrored a slugfest of similar duration against Hubert Hurkacz in the first round of this year’s Monte Carlo Masters. From a set and 5-3 up, that one read 6-7 (5), 7-6 (5), 7-6 (5) to the Pole. A loss from match point up and not for the first time. Another came at Wimbledon last year against Alejandro Tabilo, although Djere forced a final-set tiebreak after trailing 5-2 in the fifth.
The aforementioned losses also show how tough his draws have been, of course, including at 250s. Besides Djokovic, Djere faced Carlos Alcaraz and Casper Ruud this year in Buenos Aires and Auckland, respectively. He beat Ruud and, in another example of his quality, extended Alcaraz to three sets in Argentina.
Four meetings with Top 10 regular Andrey Rublev have come in a less than 52-week stretch starting last July in Bastad, and Djere ran into a surging Nick Kyrgios on the grass last July, holding his own but again falling just short, 5-7, 7-6 (1), 7-6 (1) in Mallorca. The tiebreak setbacks in Spain were part of a stretch of losing 18 straight.
The streak ended in Winston Salem, where Djere turned the tables and saved match points twice en route to the finale.
If I feel anxious off court and I have to play a match, I’m not thinking necessarily about my parents on the court, but still from my private life or my personality, who I evolved to be, maybe I bring some of that onto the court.
This week has boosted his belief, getting the better of big servers Maxime Cressy—in a match that concluded on the covered Court 1 amid a pile up caused by rain—and Ben Shelton. He has prevailed in four of the five tiebreaks contested.
“I feel that now I’m on the right track and these two really close matches against great players, great servers on grass will definitely help with my confidence,” said Djere.
Djere played Wimbledon as a junior in 2013 and bettered Khachanov, Cam Norrie and Thanasi Kokkinakis on the way to the quarterfinals. A former junior No. 3, Djere has never held any disdain for grass.
“My seventh match tomorrow on this surface (this season), so it’s definitely helping to adapt to the court, to this surface, because it’s special. I feel quite comfortable on it,” said Djere.
He missed out on a maiden appearance at Wimbledon’s Centre Court when Murray lost—having already played on centre at the Australian Open and French Open—but will get a big showcourt nonetheless against Tsitsipas, Court 2. A stage, most everyone would agree, he deserves.