Terming him as his mentor, an emotional Novak Djokovic said Kobe Bryant was always there whenever he needed advice and shared a personal bond with the NBA legend who died in a helicopter crash.
"I don't know what we could say. It really caught us by surprise. He was one of the great athletes of all time," Djokovic said in an ATP video after he beat Milos Raonic on Tuesday night to book a semi-final clash against Roger Federer at the Australian Open.
"He inspired me and many other people around the world. I had that fortune to have personal relationship with him over the last 10 years.
"When I needed some advice, some support, he was always there for me as my mentor, my friend. It's heartbreaking to see and hear what has happened to him and his daughter," said the Serb, fighting back tears.
The 32-year old also took to Twitter writing a heartfelt message. "My heart truly mourns over the news today. Kobe was a great mentor and friend to me. You and your daughter will live forever in our hearts. There are not enough words to express my deepest sympathies to the Bryants and every family suffering from this tragedy. RIP my friend," the tweet read.
Bryant and his 13-year-old daughter died in a helicopter crash in Southern California on Sunday night, sending shockwaves through the sporting world and beyond. He was 41.
The Los Angeles Lakers legend was a five-time NBA champion and 18-time All-Star.