Ulises Badio (Gálvez, Santa Fe, 43 years old) has been Novak Djokovic’s physiotherapist and trusted man on his team since 2017. In Turin, where he monitors the Serb’s health “24 hours a day”, he talks to AS about his work and his relationship with him. “He’s not from this planet,” says the Italian-Argentine.
-How did you end up on Djokovic’s team?
-I started working for the ATP in Rome, between 2011 and 2012, so every time he came we saw each other. I knew the team he had before. As a physiotherapist, since I was younger I had very clear goals, and my dream was to work with a number one. I had had relevant offers, but I always said no because I was waiting for that moment. The years passed until 2017 arrived and Novak asked me to treat him. There began a more daily relationship, but without anything closed. Then he told me to go with him to Roland Garros and until now.
-What was it like to enter the environment of a star?
-As with all things, I wanted to see what it was about, because it was a new world. In fact, I started when he had run out of a team, because he had made that decision (before the Mutua Madrid Open 2017). I entered without knowing the rules that existed in its surroundings. I did know how to work and what my specific role was on a professional level, but not what my role was within the team. Since it was just the two of us, a strong connection was established and we got to know each other very well from the beginning. There was a very important connection.
-You are a professional, but at first did the responsibility weigh on you a little?
-The responsibility with a tennis player like Djokovic is 200%, because when you touch an athlete like that, of such a high level, at any moment you can be one second away from doing him harm. You have to know his anatomy and your profession, just as he knows his body. It was important to have had vast experience in the professional field and, furthermore, for him to be a little more alternative and holistic. I studied Chinese medicine for many years. This experience of mine in other fields was good for him.
-And did it make you connect even more given Djokovic’s interest in that world?
-Apart from holism (doctrine that advocates the conception of each reality as a whole distinct from the sum of the parts that compose it), he has a very particular life story, just like me. I don’t know if that brought us closer together, but it did help us to have a very special sensitivity on a daily basis and to be very open mentally when making a decision or doing a type of therapy. That is, in large part, what has led us to stay together.
-Is what you do a kind of mixture of physiotherapy and other practices such as meditation?
-We unite everything into something very global, body and mind, with a spiritual sense, not so much of religion, there he has one and I have another. This makes us two very spiritual people who meditate and have our space to learn. We spend a lot of time alone together and we create a connection without words. In fact, I work silently with him a lot.
-What is your method?
-Starts the day before a tournament or match. I have to know how he is going to sleep, all the things he needs, preparing his electrolyte drinks, what he should drink that night before, his diet… I have to have all this control and when the day of the game arrives I ask him how he is. It’s a 24-hour job with him. I can’t spend four hours treating him and then go and see him before playing. I have to follow him at every moment, even when he is sitting, to see what his posture is, or to know how much water he drank or how much he ate, or if he spoke for a long time with a person on the phone, because any slightest detail can upset him in a moment. game. That’s the external part. When I treat him physically, comes the part in which I have to work on a manual level with therapy so that he is in optimal condition. It is a machine, a Ferrari, as I call it, and it always has to be screwed down to the millimeter.
-Is its famous elasticity innate or is it worked on?
-On a scientific level it could be something structural and genetic, that your parents or your family could already have a basis, but I have also confirmed that it is due to the intense work you have done. I remember that in 2017 he asked me if in my opinion it was good to continue with that elasticity or not work on it so much. I am a physio who greatly highlights the importance of stretching (extension) and how fundamental it is, because it makes the difference when the player has to reach a ball. That elasticity means that Novak has this way of playing today. Normally, we do elongations and extensions about four times a day.
-Injuries are often caused by stress, is that where that mix of work with the body and mind comes from?
-There are studies that show that when the athlete goes out on the field, the people who encourage him cause stress and subject him to continuous tension, which often causes muscle injuries to occur depending on the psychological state of that person. He may have been treated very well and then something happens to him. That’s why he works on a mental level, on a proprioceptive level (relating to proprioception, the unconscious perception of body movements and position, independent of vision). He must be aware of his muscles, take care of himself and eat correctly.
And aside from this, how is Djokovic more personal?
-It is a difficult question, because we would have to spend a long time talking. But he is a very intelligent person, very spiritual. That makes us have a connection that I call yin and yang, because within one there is black and white. Novak is a very good person, very sensitive, who perceives all the details. And he is never satisfied, that’s why he is a champion.
-The atmosphere in the team from the outside seems very good, to what extent is that important?
-The atmosphere is like luck, it doesn’t just come, it is created. This is what we have and feel in the team, an ability to want everyone to be well, to have an alignment of positive energy every time we enter the field with a smile. Before Novak arrives, the rest of us talk in case there is a problem. And then we have some codes of respect, we greet all the people, the opposing team, and if we say a stronger word during the game, it stays on the field, we never take it outside.
-Do you think the image that Djokovic has as the bad guy in the movie is unfair?
-I think this not only for him, it happens to all of us in life. Before seeing someone as the bad guy in the movie, just look at yourself. Whoever is free from sin, let him cast the first stone. You talk about a person when you don’t know him and this often makes me feel bad, because if they attack him, I take it as something personal. In any case, knowing him, it can even be a good thing to be yelled at and told everything, because he can transform it into strength. You learn from that and not take it as something negative and go against anyone, but turn it into a positive.
After beating Hurkacz, Djokovic said he hoped to play tennis for at least two more years. He then clarified that he was not thinking about retirement. How long do you see him for?
-He is an extremely unusual person, someone who is not from this planet. I have done things and therapies to him that I had never been able to practice with other athletes. The other day a footballer called Zlatan came (Ibrahimovic) and asked Novak how old he was: ’34’, he replied, and Novak explained that the best moment of his career was when he was 35. At night, when we were working, I said to Novak, ‘Do you realize Do you realize that you are 34 and that next year could be the best?’ It is important for him to know that he still has many years ahead of him, I think four or five at the highest level.
It will be the best ever…
For me it already is. In the years that I have been with him we won many tournaments and, above all, many positive things in life. If God wants and we continue together, I want that: to be well and earn much more.