PARIS, May 30 ― Serbia's Laslo Djere will face Japanese star Kei Nishikori in the biggest match of his career today, only six months after the death of his father and mentor.
The world number 32, who turns 24 on Sunday, has powered up the ATP rankings since the start of the year, having been outside the top 90 in January.
But that only tells half the story for Djere, who was left without a parent when colon cancer took his father in December, just as it had his mother when he was only 16.
When Djere lifted his maiden ATP title in February at the Rio Open, where he defeated 2018 Roland Garros runner-up Dominic Thiem in the first round, it was an emotional occasion.
“I want to dedicate this title to my parents ― I lost my mum seven years ago and my dad two months ago. It's due to them that I am who I am today, I hope they are watching me now,” he said at the trophy presentation.
Djere has gone from strength to strength since, reaching two more semi-finals as well as the last 16 of the prestigious Madrid Open.
Now he is seeded at a Grand Slam tournament for the first time, and he has made the most of it, reaching the third round with impressive straight-sets wins over Albert Ramos-Vinolas and Alexei Popyrin respectively.
It will be far more difficult against Nishikori ― a 10-time Grand Slam quarter-finalist ― but he will do all he can to make his parents proud.
“I miss my dad's text messages after matches, and I miss my mom's love and support. Life would be easier with them,” he told atptour.com last month.
“But I know that my time will also come. We are not here forever, not one of us, and I just want to use the time while I'm here in a positive way and do as much good as I can.
“I will see my parents again, whether I want to or not. But while I'm here, I just want to make sure I give all that I can and make them proud.”
Serbia's most famous sports star, world number one Novak Djokovic, was among those to hail Djere after his Rio title, thanking his compatriot for his “transparency in sharing his emotions about his parents”.
Djere said that he received plenty of support from his tour rivals at the difficult time.
“The response since I first shared my story has been overwhelming.
“People, including my countryman Novak Djokovic, supported me on Twitter and others shared nice words in person, including Nick Kyrgios, who, the first time he saw me in Indian Wells, came up from behind me and gave me a big hug.”
Now, the 31st-seeded Djere will face one of the world's best players in his first-ever third-round Grand Slam match, but he knows he has nothing to lose.
“Good has come out of my struggle. I know my purpose in life. I have to play tennis and continue the work my family started with me 20 years ago,” he said. ― AFP