Hugs, a guru and a favorite tree: Novak Djokovic's unusual route to the top

MELBOURNE: A strict vegetarian diet, a spiritual guru and family hug sessions are not methods used by most athletes, but they have helped Novak Djokovic Become one of the most feared tennis players on the planet, and perhaps the best in history.

The enigmatic Serbian has distinguished himself by his willingness to resort to the unusual, from hyperbaric chambers to meditation and to the Spanish guru Pepe Imaz, a former official player whose philosophy of love and peace drives his teachings.

Life has been a journey for the Serbian star, who grew up in Belgrade, devastated by war, and practiced in a disused pool, but is now in the Monte Carlo Millionaire Playground, with a record $ 140,228,279 in Prizes to his name.

Djokovic faced questions about its durability at the beginning of his career, after a series of retreats for reasons ranging from a toe blister to heat problems in 2009 Australian Open , when he was defending champion.

But now it's more steel than snowflake, as it turned out when he won last year's record, almost five hours, Wimbledon final, & the 2012 Australian Open final, the longest Grand Slam decider in history which stretched to 5hrs 53mins.

With 16 Grand Slam titles under his belt, and showing no signs of slowing down, Djokovic seems ready to beat the great Roger Federer & Rafael Nadal , the only men ahead of him on the all-time list, at the end of his career.

While Switzerland's Federer & Nadal of Spain come across as straightforward characters, Djokovic is the most complicated member of tennis's Big Three.

His daily routine, as related to the New York Times last year, involves getting up before dawn with his family, watching the sun rise & then doing hugging & singing sessions, & yoga.

The father-of-two has dabbled in various diets, including gluten- & dairy-free, & is now a proud "plant-based athlete" -- the subject of a Netflix documentary, "The Game Changers", for which he is executive producer.

"Hopefully I can inspire other athletes that it is possible to be plant-based & to recover well, to have strength, to have muscles," said Djokovic, who has been vegetarian for four-and-a-half years.

Rather than celebrating his Australian Open wins by partying, Djokovic, a seven-time winner in Melbourne, climbs a fig tree in the city's Botanical Gardens.

"I have a friend there, a Brazilian fig tree, that I like to climb & I like to connect with so that's probably my favourite thing to do," he said, according to reports.

Djokovic broke through for his first Grand Slam title at the 2008 Australian Open , but it would be another three years before he took control of the sport, embarking on a 43-match winning streak at the start of 2011.

Between 2011 & 2016, Djokovic won 11 of the 24 available Grand Slam titles & reached another seven finals, freezing out the likes of Federer who won only one Major in the same period.

The wheels came off rather suddenly for Djokovic in late 2016, when he went into a slump & then, suffering from an elbow injury, ended his 2017 campaign after Wimbledon .

In the same period Djokovic became a close follower of Imaz & appeared on stage with the spiritualist in a two-hour video featuring meditation & long discourses about the human soul.

This, according to some observers, fits a pattern where Djokovic has restlessly turned this way & that in search of perfection -- a goal he alluded to in Melbourne, where he plays Dominic Thiem in its eighth final on Sunday.

"When I was younger I would get frustrated & impatient with small things in life, but that's how you learn," he said.

"You can't be a perfect tennis player & human being from a young age. That's why we love this beautiful thing called life."