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An Interview With.. Novak Djokovic | 2019 Australian Open (Pre-Tournament)


Q. What is it like to come here and almost feel like you’re playing a home match because of the support you get from the Serbian community? How much are you able to go out into that community in Melbourne?
NOVAK DJOKOVIC: Well, it’s great to be back. Happy New Year to everyone.

I’ve had lots of success in Australia in the past. I think it’s also due to that support that I get from the Serbian community, but also people internationally that come to support all the tennis players during the next couple weeks. It’s one of the four big ones, obviously, Grand Slams. They call it the Happy Slam for a reason. There’s a lot of good vibe, good buzz around the city. People of Australia love sport, nurture the sport values. They love their tennis, as well.

During this three, four weeks, you can see a lot of tennis on the TV, as well. Everybody follows it. So as a tennis player, obviously it’s a great honor and pleasure to be here.

Q. Inevitable Andy Murray question. Several of us watched your whole practice match the other day. Obviously you and Andy have had a pretty good relationship over the years. It looked at the time in that match you perhaps were going a little bit easy. You could probably see what was happening the other side of the net. Is that a correct reading, that maybe you were slightly holding back a bit?
NOVAK DJOKOVIC: I wasn’t, no. To be honest, I wasn’t. But I did see, it was very obvious for everyone, you saw it, you didn’t need to be on court to notice that he’s struggling, that he’s not moving as well as he normally does.

We’ve seen so many years of Andy Murray being one of the fittest guys on the tour, running around the court, getting always an extra ball back. I think to that extent, we are kind of similar. Our trajectory to the professional tennis world was pretty much similar. His birthday is one week before mine. We’ve grown together playing junior events. We played lots of epic matches in the professional circuit. Our games are quite alike.

Obviously to see him struggle so much and go through so much pain, it’s very sad and it hurts me as his longtime friend, colleague, rival.

I’ve nurtured very good relationship with him on and off the court. I’m proud to have that kind of relationship that will go on hopefully for many more years, regardless of whether we get to play against each other or not, whether he continues playing, whatever happens.

As I wrote in my post, I will carry beautiful memories from the court and off the court, as well, with him included. It’s just sad. As someone that has been through a major injury myself recently, I can probably relate a little bit to what he’s going through. I think his injury of the hips is something probably certainly far more worse than mine, my injury, because it’s obviously something that he’s been carrying for a while, for couple of years. He’s unable to, even after several surgeries, to get back to the desired level.

As an athlete, that’s probably the biggest obstacle and enemy that you can have: an injury. That’s something that takes away your ability to compete and to play the sport that you love.

So it’s sad for me, but for all sport, because Andy is a very respected and likable guy around the locker room. He’s a great champion. He’s a legend of this sport, without a doubt, multiple Grand Slam winner, two golds from Olympic Games, Davis Cup. He’s had it all.

Yeah, I mean, it’s really hard to see him going through those emotions, as well, on the court and off the court. In front of you guys the other day… He touched us all definitely. I definitely wish him a painless future in whatever shape or form that is, on or off the court, as well.

Q. Caroline Wozniacki is about to have her first shot at defending a Grand Slam title. You were in the same situation 10 years ago here in Melbourne. How special is it the first time? What memories do you have from 2009?
NOVAK DJOKOVIC: Well, Australian Open has been historically my most successful Grand Slam. Back in 2008, as you mentioned, it was my first trophy that I won, first major trophy, that obviously served as a great springboard for my career. It opened a lot of doors for me. It allowed me to believe in myself that I can actually win the biggest tournaments in the world, challenge the best players in the world.

To that point, obviously I was a youngster that had a lot of potential and talent, was kind of working my way up. But winning a slam is completely different. So that was quite a unique experience for me. I had a wonderful year, 2008. Almost reached the No. 2. I think I ended up No. 3 of the year. Started the year 2009 at No. 2. I have not won any slam for, yeah, two, three years. It took me a while to really make that breakthrough again.

The second time, it’s quite different from the first time. It’s obviously even more difficult because you get to experience the amounts of pressure and expectations from yourself and from others that you have not experienced before. But you as a Grand Slam champion will always stay a Grand Slam champion, so there is always going to be that kind of expectations behind you, from yourself as well. If you won it once, you always believe that you can win it again. So you’re approaching, I’m sure most of the players that are in this position, slams knowing in the back of their mind that they can actually win it again.

It raises expectations, which raises pressure, and you have to deal with that. But it comes with I think experience and time where you start to feel more comfortable, you start to embrace it more and accept it as part of your life.

Q. Over the past couple of years, Andy has gone from specialist to specialist, trying to figure out who to trust. Given your injury issues, can you relate to that aspect of his struggles?
NOVAK DJOKOVIC: That’s one part that I don’t really like about going through the injuries. If you don’t have someone that you fully trust medically, you have to kind of go around and try to look for the best specialists and experts.

The way it works is like anything else in life: different specialists have different opinions, and you go from one to another, then finally you have to make a call with your team. You have to bear, so to say, or accept the consequence of that call. Sometimes you get lucky, I would say, sometimes not so much, and you lose time. Then you get even more frustrated because you feel like you maybe haven’t made the right call.

So I can in a way relate to that. I haven’t gone into so much depth and details in conversations with Andy on which specialists he visited and so forth. But I can imagine the whole process has been quite challenging for him.

Q. Political question. The ATP player council last night, I understand there was a 5-4 vote in favor of change in the position of ATP president. As chairman, can you tell us why you think there’s an appetite for change there?
NOVAK DJOKOVIC: I don’t know where you got that information, a 5-4. Those informations are completely confidential, so I can’t speak about anything that we spoke in that room.

Q. Do you think there’s an appetite for change, whatever the numbers were?
NOVAK DJOKOVIC: As I said, the decision hasn’t been made on the president. He’s still president. He’ll remain president till the end of his term. Whether there’s a renewal or not, it’s going to be decided in the next period.

Q. On the prize money debate at Grand Slams, the prize fund has gone up by 14% this year, more than doubled over the course of the last six years. Do you think the players are now getting a big enough slice of the pie?
NOVAK DJOKOVIC: Of course, we’re satisfied with what has been happening with slams in general, particularly Australian Open, not just prize money but just facilities, all the improvements we get to see and experience. Big credit, positive impressions go to Craig and everyone from organization who have done a great job.

Yeah, we continue to talk to Grand Slams. It’s an ongoing discussion. Fortunately some people, maybe some media as well, just comes across this information as it’s me, as part of the council, some of the top players that are fighting for more money for ourselves, which is not true at all. I have to mention that because we are focused on distribution, equal distribution, and we are focused more on the earlier rounds, last rounds of qualification, first several rounds of Grand Slams, getting more job opportunities and increasing also the number of tennis players that can live out of this sport.

One of the things from yesterday’s general meetings that is kind of echoing in my ear is that there’s this, so to say, conviction of people generally in sport, including us, that only a hundred players can live out of this sport. That’s something that ATP is definitely, us as players, part of the council, are trying to change. We’re trying to increase the number of players that are able to travel around the world, not just cover expenses, have the full team, have a decent living out of the sport that they play.

I think a lot of the attention and the focus is on the top players, how much are the winners of Grand Slams earning, which is a very significant sum of money, absolutely. Last year the US Open has announced obviously huge additional money towards the winner’s sum. But I think it’s important to try to focus more on the earlier rounds, kind of expand that field.

Q. With Andy’s announcement the other day, a lot out of the outpouring from players is people that appreciate him from the women’s side, a level of respect that he didn’t always feel from most of the men. What do you think the men can do in general so that Andy is not seen by them as such a unicorn of unique respect, that it can be more of a universal feeling of respect they get from the men’s side?
NOVAK DJOKOVIC: I mean, just we should be more respectful of each other. That’s it. I think there’s not much to say about. We are all part of the same boat. We are all part of the same sport. We should respect and cherish each other because we all contribute to the sport that we love. We all try to create a platform for all of us to thrive on.

That’s something that Andy was doing really well publicly. He was very supportive of the women’s tennis. It doesn’t surprise me that there’s a lot of support from the women’s side towards Andy. For sure, we want to see that more.

Q. Do you think things like the player council appoints Sergiy Stakhovsky, one of the most negative and critical people towards women’s tennis in the sport, sends a message that it’s not a priority for the ATP in terms of that message? Because you couldn’t appoint a more negative person than Stakhovsky.
NOVAK DJOKOVIC: You can always focus on the negatives. Sure, there’s always a person or two or three that in the past has stated something that is maybe not appropriate. Sergiy has been very involved and contributing a lot to the politics in tennis in a positive way, trying to represent a lot of players, especially that are ranked between 50 and 100. He contributed a lot to the challenger level improvements. So there are a lot of positives about him.

Certainly you pointed out the negative. I can’t say much about that. But he’s one of the 10 players in the council. There’s a lot of positives to point out, as well.

Q. As president of the council, are you comfortable with Justin Gimelstob continuing with his role as an ATP player representative while awaiting trial on charges of assault?
NOVAK DJOKOVIC: Look, I am comfortable, as all of the council members, because that’s what we decided in our meetings and conference calls that we had in last couple of months on that topic. Obviously, that’s an ongoing process and trial. Those are all now allegations in the moment.

If he is not proven guilty, he stays innocent, or he’s proven guilty, that’s a completely different situation for us and we have to address it.

Now he’s been there and he’s been someone that has always fought for the players’ rights and represented players in a great way. That’s highly respected amongst the players, that’s for sure, because he’s one of the guys that’s been longest on the board, involved in tennis as a tennis player, coach, someone that really has a lot of enthusiasm and energy obviously.

I can’t say more about his trial because I don’t know. I’m not eligible. I’m not in a position to talk about it. I will let authorities deal with that, and we’ll see what happens when we hear what’s the end line.

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