Review: Serve to Win by Novak Djokovic

Note: This is a guest post authored by Usama Sulaiman.

At first glance, Serve to Win appears to be made of the same material autobiographies are made of. Catchy title, a guy with a famous name standing smiling, ready and confident, all cement the idea of an autobiography. But if you miss reading the full title or if don’t read the blurb properly you might be led astray and end up having a book which is absolutely not what you expected.

--- In 2011, Novak Djokovic won a breathtaking ten titles, three Grand Slams and forty-three consecutive matches. Remarkably, less than two years earlier, this champion could barely complete a tournament. How did a player once plagued by aches, breathing difficulties and injuries on court suddenly become the number-one tennis player in the world? The answer is astonishing: he changed what he ate.

In Serve to Win, Djokovic recounts how he survived the bombing of Belgrade, rising from a war-torn childhood to the top tier of his sport. He reveals how changing his diet transformed both his health and game - eliminating gluten made him feel instantly lighter, clearer and quicker.

Now Djokovic has created a blueprint for remaking your body and your life in just fourteen days. With weekly menus and delicious, easy-to-prepare recipes, he’ll help you on your way to shedding extra weight and finding your way to a better you. ---

Serve to Win: The 14-Day Gluten-Free Plan for Physical and Mental Excellence
161pp | Bantam Press
Rating : 3.5/5

Serve to Win is the kind of book you should/shall find in the Health and Fitness segment rather than in Sports or Biographies in a bookstore. Obvious as it is from the blurb above, it talks about health and diet and fitness and shows you how to become the better version of you by asking you to change your eating habit for two weeks and seeing and experiencing the improvements yourself later.

The book starts with a little introduction by the author informing about how in 2010, when he suffered a terrible defeat in the quarterfinals of the Australian open, he was at the lowest low of his career and yet, just 18 months later, he was at the very top and realising his dream for good. But it is not all game technicalities and diet talk if you are thinking of that. The first chapter opens to the bombings in the dead of night in the neighbourhood of his hometown of Belgrade, Serbia. He recounts how NATO forces bombed the town for weeks and weeks, night after night and how lives changed all around him. He recounts how even in the face of destruction, people found a way to live life, found reasons to joke and smile, and for keeping their love for sports alive. He recounts how in a place where nobody knew or cared much about tennis, he kept working and working towards the realisation of his dream, which after many failures he did realise, and how his diet had a pivotal role in doing so.

Djokovic tells how he was introduced to a Gluten-free diet just like how he proposes it to you in this book. He took a fourteen day test and saw such definite and evident results that he never went back to his old diet. He stopped eating Gluten containing food, which as he explains, is the substance mainly found in wheat and other grains which makes food made from such grains doughy and holds them together and also the substance which if you are intolerant to (a lot of people are, to varying levels), can make you feel tired and drained and can affect your metabolism even when you are eating ‘healthy’ home cooked food.   

Novak paves the way for you to avoid Gluten, gives you motivation to do so, tells you what to eat (and when) and helps you understand your body well while he serves his dishes. The book shifts between his life events and advices, insights and information which he gives you in order to excel on the path to health renovation and revolution. The narration is fluid and doesn’t bore you, except for the recapitulation of how eliminating gluten proved one of the most rewarding things he ever did.

There are some nice things about the book that would make you feel good and maybe someday even draw you again to pick it up and read it again just for those things. But sadly, those things are not contained in the paragraphs which talk about gluten free diet. While Novak doesn’t leave anything hanging in there by giving you detailed information about what foods do contain gluten and which not and a list of recipes towards the end of the book and more importantly, a lot of enthusiastic encouragement which does fill you up to try the diet, the main reason for the book’s existence is not fulfilled. Which is to try and incorporate a Gluten free diet in your own life.

Like the book asked and as a responsible reader (and reviewer) I took the Gluten free challenge. I stopped eating wheat or any other grain in any form, didn’t take sugar unless feeling absolutely dying by the lack of it, excluded milk products and red meat. To give you a good overview, I stopped taking any form of bread, cookies, cereal, sugar and foods containing sugar like chocolates/sweets, milk, curd and other milk products, red meat, fried foods, packaged soups and juices, noodles, rice, and a whole lot many products which contained gluten for a good six days (after which I had enough). I live in North India, and if you’re an Indian, you can imagine what was there left for me to eat. Next to nothing. I was perennially hungry and since you can’t find a lot of foods suggested there in the book for Gluten-free living easily here, it is simply too much work to dig out gluten free foods for continuous practical implementation of the diet. Like Djokovic himself said, gluten is everywhere. Moreover, I realised (during and after those six days) that I am not much gluten intolerant, as I felt more weary during the diet phase than before and after it.

So to come to a conclusion, I would say that as a book, as a recount of a successful journey, Serve to Win is a likable read. You would feel positive and energetic just reading the book but when it comes to the incorporation aspect, keeping in view different ethnic, geographic and economic variation of the masses, it is hardly a ‘diet for everybody’, contrary to the writer’s opinion.

Serve to Win is like a swimming coach or a trainer who motivates you, tells you that you can really swim if you tried the technique right, shows you how he does it with elan and then goes ahead and asks you to jump straight into the deep pool, without giving you many swimming aids. You are thrilled. You want to do it. But at the same time, after the first dive in you realise it’s more thrilling an idea than the execution.

I would still suggest it to anyone who is in for a light read and/or who wants to try something new. Theoretically and practically. Although I liked reading the book, I give it 3.5/5 for the reason explained above.