Novak Djokovic couldn’t hold back his emotions on Tuesday following the loss of his “friend” and “mentor” Kobe Bryant.
After defeating Milos Raonic at the Australian Open to secure a place in the semi-finals, Djokovic opened up about Bryant’s shocking death in a helicopter crash on Sunday alongside eight other people, including his daughter Gianna, 13.
“I don’t know what we could say. It really caught us by surprise,” Djokovic told interviewer John McEnroe.
Continued the 32-year-old, “He was one of the greatest athletes of all time, he inspired myself and many other people around the world. I had that fortune to have a personal relationship with him over the last 10 years.”
“When I needed some advice and support, he was there for me,” said the athlete, starting to choke up and become emotional as he mentioned Gianna. “He was my mentor, my friend, it’s just heartbreaking to see what has happened to him and his daughter. It’s unbelievable.”
Djokovic also honored Bryant, 41, during his match, wearing a jacket that had “KB” — Bryant’s initials — emblazoned on it, as well as the basketball star’s two retired jersey numbers: 8 and 24.
One day prior, Djokovic had reflected on the pair’s friendship in an Instagram post.
“My heart truly mourns over the news today. Kobe was a great mentor and friend,” he wrote. “There are not enough words to express my deepest sympathies to the Bryants and every family suffering from this tragedy.”
The post continued, “May God bless you and your Gianna. Thank you for being there for me and inspiring the entire world. Thank you for showing all of us athletes how to compete and respect sport. Thank you for the greatest legacy you leave behind with us. I’ll never forget your smile spreading positive energy everywhere you went. You and your daughter will live forever ♾ in our hearts ❤️. RIP amico mio. Ti voglio bene.”
Djokovic’s tribute at the tournament was not the only one from an athlete.
The Australian Open’s Twitter account shared photos of Nick Kyrgios, 24, sporting Bryant’s Los Angeles Lakers jersey as he stepped out onto Melbourne’s Rod Laver Arena this week. According to CNN, Kyrgios was “close to tears” when making his entrance.
Kyrgios, while wearing Bryant’s jersey, also spoke to reporters after the match about his legacy.
“I never met Kobe but basketball’s practically my life, I watch it every day and I’ve been following it for as long as I remember … it’s tough, it’s horrible news,” he said, according to CNN.
“If anything it motivated me,” Kyrgios added. “If you look at the things he stood for and what he wanted to be remembered by, I felt like – if anything -it helped me tonight.”
Bryant and his daughter Gianna, nicknamed “GiGi,” were on their way to a youth basketball game in Thousand Oaks, California, with parents and players from the team when the helicopter crashed amid foggy conditions and burst into flames in Calabasas.
The crash also took the lives of Sarah Chester and her daughter Payton, one of Gianna’s teammates on the Mamba Sports Academy girls basketball team; Christina Mauser, a girls basketball coach at Harbor Day School in Orange County and a coach for the Mamba Academy; John Altobelli, the head baseball coach at Orange Coast College, his wife Keri and daughter Alyssa; and pilot Ara Zobayan of Huntington Beach.