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An Interview With: Novak Djokovic

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Q. Can you talk about the depth in men's tennis right now and how that may differ from, say, a year ago at the US Open?

NOVAK DJOKOVIC: Depth in terms of...

Q. More quality players, more players who are able to win major events?

NOVAK DJOKOVIC: Yes. Well, I have been saying before that it's positive to see that there is a new generation coming up of young players who are challenging and also winning against top players in the big events and who are contenders for big titles. Raonic and Dimitrov are on top of that list, and they have been playing some really good tennis. They played semifinals of Wimbledon. So I'm sure that people who care about the sport and follow this support love to see new faces. The dominance of the top four players has been in this sport for a long time already, you know, last decade or so, so we didn't have many young players who were able to challenge for top spots and win Grand Slam titles. So this is something that is happening now, but it's still a long way to the Grand Slam title, you know. It's not something that, you know, can happen overnight. Of course it can. Nothing is impossible. But, you know, tennis has become more physical nowadays. It's a very demanding sport. You need to be playing consistently well on a high level in order to break into the top 5.

Q. What is the mental approach to a first-round match against an opponent you have never played?

NOVAK DJOKOVIC: Well, get as much information as I can on his game. Obviously his strength and weaknesses in the game and tactically to be prepared before I come to the court. Obviously it's never easy when you play against somebody you have never played against. He's a young player from Argentina, and, sure playing on the center court for him is a great experience. He has nothing to lose. So my team is going to do scouting as much as possible and analyze his game and try to prepare myself.

Q. Your wife travels with you throughout the year. With a lot of the lower-ranked players who can't afford to have family come with them, they are away from their kids, their partners, 25, 30 weeks out of the year. Have you ever felt what your life would be like on tour if you had to travel by yourself?

NOVAK DJOKOVIC: That's a good question. Well, that's, you know, one of the issues we have in sport is that players who are ranked, you know, 67th and lower are not able to afford unfortunately their spouses traveling with them. It's an effort, you know. It's really expensive nowadays. The airline tickets, the accommodation and everything, the prices are just going up. You know, it's not staying the same or not going down, you know. So of course that's why, you know, players are trying to get prize money raised in the big events. You know, for the top players I think we understand the struggling of the lower players and we understand it's not only about us, but it's about these guys who are trying to make a living and trying to break through the top 50 where it gets a little bit easier. Obviously I have been there, but when I was much younger. I was not married when I was 50 or lower ranked, so I cannot imagine having that. But it is what it is, you know. Everybody has some difficulties in life. It's our profession and it's something that obviously is a big part of our lives, but it's important to make the right balance. It's family life, and love is more important than work, you know, in my eyes.

Q. I have a question. It's kind of similar to the previous one. Many people who I interview, especially now, they tell me if they are happy in their private life it's just the way they prefer. Do you agree with that? Is that same with tennis like if you're happy? You were just married a while ago and you're expecting a baby, so...

NOVAK DJOKOVIC: It reflects, yes, it does. Definitely. You can't -- of course, you know, when you're professional you have this professional deformation, if I may say. Mentally you're doing your job and you have that game face on when you're in the court, when you're traveling. You want to do your job and win as many matches as you can, but obviously you cannot perform at your best if you have issues in your private life that are taking away, draining your energy. You're the same person on and off the court, and it's important to balance everything.

Q. Obviously you didn't have the sort of leadup preparation to the US Open. Lost pretty early in Canada and Cincinnati. How has your prep been the last couple of weeks and how you are feeling now on court after those losses?

NOVAK DJOKOVIC: I'm feeling better and better as the days go by. It's something that is encouraging me for this year's US Open campaign. Obviously I want to peak with my form in the US Open. Yes, I wanted to do better in Canada and Cincinnati. Unfortunately I wasn't even close to my best. But, you know, a lot of things happened in the last two months, and it was very emotional period. You know, I just felt a little bit flat on the court. I wasn't managing to find that intensity and the perfect mindset. But, you know, it's all normal. It's something that I'm experiencing for the first time, right? So I'm trying to talk as much as I can to, of course, first of all my coach that has been through similar experiences in his life more than one time (smiling). So I'm trying to get as much information as I can, valuable advices that I can use in my case.

Q. You recently got involved with Play Site, Smart Court technology. Can you talk about what you're doing with them and why you chose that company to get involved with?

NOVAK DJOKOVIC: Well, Play Site we hope is going to be the future of technology in tennis and all sports. This is the ideal scenario, but it's still early to talk about that. Of course it's just the beginning. You know, Play Site software is brilliant. You know, the people who have done it, came up with that software, are really very bright people, very intelligent, and they have been in the IT world for many, many years. Obviously the connection with tennis was that one of the IT people came up with the software. His daughter plays tennis so was watching, you know, tennis tournaments and observing how the Hawk-Eye system works. He wanted to try to make something better than that. We'll see. Obviously it's a long way. Hawk-Eye system has revolutionalized the game, and it's, in my opinion, a very positive step for tennis. Allows the players obviously to overrule the call and challenge. It's interesting for the fans. They get into it. They interact. You know, Play Site is very similar to that, but the difference is that it's not necessary for people to be present to operate the system. The system operates by itself. It's very sophisticated, and I'm very glad to be a part of that team. Hopefully we can have some success in the future.

Q. You played doubles in Toronto with Wawrinka. Is it completely out of question for you to play doubles at a major event?

NOVAK DJOKOVIC: For now, yes, because trying to focus on the singles, and because I'm aware of the fact that it's best of five, it takes a lot of physical and emotional energy to really play the tournament only in singles. Doubles would be probably too much to handle. The last time I played doubles in a major was I think Wimbledon six, seven years ago. Since then I haven't had that experience in a major because I always had high ambition in trying to get as far as I can and fighting for the title. If you want to go all the way through, doubles, you know, you need to be committed. And especially if you're playing with a doubles specialist, you know, you need to be responsible also for entering the tournament. I played with Stan in Canada. I played with him in Beijing last year. You know, we use doubles also to have fun, but also to practice our shots, to get as much feel for the conditions in a certain tournament. We had fun. You know, I think we are a good doubles team. Maybe one day if we decide to play a little bit more, who knows? Maybe we'll play the whole year, the whole season.

Q. Many of us in this room know what a momentous event of a first child can be. Do you think it will be as hard to focus on the tennis as ruthlessly as you normally would while you're here?

NOVAK DJOKOVIC: Well, that's a question I cannot give you answer to because I'm going to find out. I'm going to see how that feels. Obviously I talk with people who are around me who have children. As I said before, my coach and people who have been in similar situations like I am and how they dealt with that, how that has affected their careers, their mindset, their, you know, just overall life. I with no doubt have only positive and joyful feelings approaching fatherhood, and hopefully -- it's going to happen in less than two months. Then I'm going to enjoy it and try to take as much energy as I can, positive energy to, you know, after kind of transfer that to the tennis court. But without a doubt, life changes. You know, priorities change. My priorities, you know, my family, my wife, my future kid. You know, tennis is not definitely not No. 1 anymore.

Q. Rafael Nadal is not playing here this year. Do you ever reflect why he has to have so many injuries in his career? Quite a lot. Maybe because of his game style?

NOVAK DJOKOVIC: Well, probably. He has a very physical game. He slides a lot and spends a lot of energy on each shot. His joints, his body suffers a lot, and it's not easy. He's been playing this particular style of the game for over ten years on the highest level. He has won so many Grand Slams, so many tournaments. He has improved over the years on hard courts, and he has -- you know, hard court probably for his body and his joints is his least-preferred surface. But, again, he has found a way always to come back. After he has been absent from the tournament for seven months he has had the best year of his year in 2013. So I expect no less, you know, when he comes back to the tour to see him strong, to see him motivated. He he's a great competitor, a great fighter. As I said, I'm sure that if he had a small percentage of coming here and playing he would do that, because he just loves the game. I have a lot of respect for him. It's probably because his game style is so physical that that's why the body suffers a lot.

Q. What do you already know about your first opponent in the tournament?

NOVAK DJOKOVIC: Well, I don't know much. I was just answering that question before. I know he's, you know, one of the youngsters from Argentina and that he's very quick on the court. He's a clay court specialist. He had his best results on clay. I watched some videos of him playing Roland Garros against I think Roger this year. I watched him on several other occasions. So I'm going to, with my team, try to prepare myself tactically as best I can. It's obviously always tricky to play against somebody I never faced before. And playing on the center court, as I was saying before, for Schwartzman will be a unique experience. He definitely has nothing to lose. I'm going to try to use my experience playing many matches on the center court and get a win.

Q. You spoke a moment ago about Rafa's physical style and his injuries. How would you describe Roger's style and his durability by contrast?

NOVAK DJOKOVIC: Well, I think it's obvious that Roger has a different kind of movement and different kind of game from Rafa. Myself, as well. I would rate my game and my movement physicality closer to Rafa. I know we do a lot of slides and so forth, so it takes a lot of energy to do that. Where, you know, on the other hand you have Roger who sometimes plays so effortless and so smooth. But, again, that doesn't mean that he's not spending any energy. Of course it's not easy, because the game has become more physical nowadays. Especially on the Grand Slams. It's not only physical energy that is necessary to be on high level. It's also emotional. It takes a lot of effort emotionally and physically to be on top of your skills and game to perform well.

Q. What do you make of his streak of appearing in majors, 15 years straight, 60 straight majors?

NOVAK DJOKOVIC: What can I say? It's an incredible achievement. Everything he does is remarkable. I have lots of respect for everything he does.

Q. Novak, over the last two months you have been saying it's been emotionally draining. Does that affect your expectations at all going into this tournament? Are you still the favorite here?

NOVAK DJOKOVIC: No, it doesn't. I have high expectations for myself. I always have. Especially at this stage of my career where I feel like now is the time that I'm at my peak physical strength. I want to use this time of my career as much as I can to win as many matches as possible. Obviously I know I'm not the only one that has this kind of mindset, optimistic mindset. There are many players who are fighting for the same trophy. This is the last Grand Slam of the year, and this is where you want to play your best. This is where all the attention of the tennis and sports world come to. It's going to be a long two weeks' journey for all of us, but I was getting ready for it and looking forward to it.

Q. A lot of people want to see maybe the most open Grand Slam since Rafa will not be here. Is it similar for you?

NOVAK DJOKOVIC: Well, of course. I mean, when Rafa is not around it changes because he always has been a favorite in every Grand Slam for as long as he was in the top for last seven, eight, ten years. Definitely the tournament and the tennis is losing when they don't have Rafa in the tournament. But in the other side, we have all the best players in the world present in New York for the last Grand Slam of the season. I'm sure people will see a lot of great matches. Favorites? You know, I leave it to the people to really judge who is the 1, 2, 3, or No. 4 favorite. Really I'm not thinking about it. I know that there is one thing for sure: everybody is starting from scratch. Everybody starts from Monday. Whoever ends up on Monday with the trophy is the winner. It's very open. I think nowadays the competition level is higher because you have players who are ranked around 15, 20 in the world who are working very hard who have developed their skills, and the quality of the tennis that they are playing is higher than, let's say, five years ago, in my opinion. That makes it harder for top players to win this tournament.

Q. Younger than you and Andy, have had a tough time breaking through. What do you think is the main reasons that they haven't done that yet?

NOVAK DJOKOVIC: I think the biggest reason is the fact that the game has become more physical. My coach, Boris, has won his first Wimbledon when he was 17. Today it's very difficult to repeat something like that with a game that is today comparing to the one 20 years ago. It has changed significantly from the physical perspective. So you have to develop your body, and it takes some years to get to the stage where you can actually feel that you are complete.

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