An Interview With.. Novak Djokovic (Qatar ExxonMobil Open, Round 1)

N. DJOKOVIC/J. Struff

7-6, 6-3

THE MODERATOR: Questions, please.

Q. Congratulations. Why do you think the start was tough for you? What was bothering you the most in the first six games?
NOVAK DJOKOVIC: Well, just got I guess — had to get more time to get the engine started I guess. It’s first match of the year. You never know how you’re going to start.

As well as you have trained in the preparation period and the days prior to the tournament, really is different when it’s competitive play, when you start the official match and the crowd is there.

So it changes things mentally. I mean, I was a bit flat on my feet, and Struff, credit to him for playing aggressive, hitting the serves well, and ripping ball from the baseline. Also things were coming in, so that resulted in a 1-5 deficit.

But I stayed composed because I knew, I believed that I could find the rhythm, start reading his serve better, and that’s what happened.

Yeah, I mean, certainly I can play better. But, again, it’s first match of the year; I know that I can’t be at my top the very first match, but I believe that the process is right.

Q. Anything that has been troubling you in the past six months?
NOVAK DJOKOVIC: Thankfully not. It’s all good.

Q. Besides the victory, what are the positive points you get from that victory today?
NOVAK DJOKOVIC: The victory itself. Finding a way to win the match where you’re not playing as well as you want to, the opponent is hitting hard and playing well.

In these particular circumstances, you just need to find a way. I’ve been in these situations before many times in my life, and I think the experience of knowing what to do, you know, in what particular moment helps.

So, you know, there are positives. I was returning very well from 2-5 down. To the end of the match the return was quite well, going well. Serves, in the important moments, in tiebreak, serving good. So, there are positives to take.

As I said, I just focus on the process of continuing my training each day and getting myself in a better shape as the tournament progresses.

Q. Can you talk a little about the addition to your coaching team, Dusan, and what he brings to the team?
NOVAK DJOKOVIC: He brings a lot of calmness for sure. He’s quite a calm guy. But he’s also somebody that understands the game very well. He was playing singles and doubles. I think he reached semis of Grand Slam doubles, and he’s been on the tour as a player and a coach for a long time.

I’ve know him since I was five, six, seven years old. We grew up in the same tennis club. He was at the time the best player we got in the country, we had in the country. He was always treating me very friendly, always kind, helpful, always available for any advices.

I think that relationship that we established at that time kind of carried on all the way to this moment. We feel very close. We are more than friends. We feel like we are family. It’s great to have him on board, because we work together in 2012 I think and ’13, and then several years we didn’t.

Then last season he was in Miami for tournament and now he’s back as a second coach in the team officially. So I’m really glad, because I have that friendly relationship with him and also the professional relationship. It’s well balanced. Him and Marián get along very well. So keeping things very simple.

Q. (Regarding rivalry with Federer, Nadal, and Murray.)
NOVAK DJOKOVIC: I think with Rafa that rivalry is really something special. The amount of matches that we played against each other in some, you know, obviously Grand Slam finals, especially the one in Australian Open that went almost six hours. That’s one of the highlights of our rivalry back in 2012.

I mean, each of the rivalries with these three guys is particular in its own way. I think in the last, you know, 15 months there is more rivalry between Murray and myself that dates back many years ago. I think we played against each other when we were 11 for the first time.

Each of those three guys has made me a better player as well in the process. I had to figure out the ways to win against all of them, especially Nadal and Federer at the time when I was making my breakthrough. It was couple of years that I was in doubt whether or not I could break the dominance of these two guys.

I had to work really hard and figure out ways to improve and get better and be able to win against them in big tournaments. That’s what started to happen. All these guys have definitely influenced my evolution.

Q. Talking about Andy, yesterday during his pre-tournament conference he said that you are his toughest, strongest opponent for this season. You feel the same about him? Is he the man to beat in 2017?
NOVAK DJOKOVIC: Well, he’s No. 1 in the world. Undoubtedly he’s the man out there. You know, now we have the return of Nadal and Federer that we cannot count out in any circumstances because of their history and results and the quality of players that they are.

Surely the way 2016 went, you know, it’s kind of expected because of the season that Murray and myself. We are kind of main rivals. But as I said, I don’t want to focus the attention only on one player, because other players deserve the attention as well.

Especially because it’s beginning of the year; anything can really happen. Let’s see how it goes in the first months and we’ll take it from there.

Q. Happy New Year. Back in the day, way before your time, I think it was just Borg and Vilas that had coaches that traveled with them. McEnroe, Connors, everybody was alone. I’m curious, sometimes there is a saying there are too many cooks to stir the pot. Is that a fear? Do you have to work that out in your mind? Seems like it can possibly get confusing.
NOVAK DJOKOVIC: You’re right. It’s a very good question. I can only answer it from my perspective because everybody is different obviously as individual athletes. I find the role of a coach important because you have the point of observation, I guess, and the perspective of analysis of your game outside than just yourself.

Many times you cannot really see things technically or tactically concerning your game, so that’s somebody that’s obviously tracking that and following you and giving you their input.

You can’t compare those generations then and now. I mean, it’s quite different. The tennis is different. The technology, the racquet is different. The game is faster.

I think there are things that are just different. It’s incomparable. But in the end of the day, everybody, you know, does what they feel like doing. For me, I like to have at least one coach that can give me that perspective, somebody I can discuss with about my game and things that I need to work on.

Because there is always something to work on. As good as you feel, confident as you play, every day is different. Certainly there are tournaments that seem perfect for you. You know, you’re not dropping a set, winning the whole tournament, feeling great.

But trust me, each day — even in the warmups, if you miss a ball you start questioning that shot or not. Everybody is different. There are periods when you need that voice in your ear more than some other moments when you need things simple and quiet.

So that’s obviously I would say a juggle and trying to balance that out, figure it out who you really are and what you really like and what you want from yourself and people around you.

So that’s why I can only speak from any perspective.

Q. I wanted to ask you about pressure. If you look at last year and you split it into first six months and the next six months and now looking into the new season, has your perception of pressure changed during that period? Are you doing anything new in particular to deal with the pressure?
NOVAK DJOKOVIC: Well, you know, I obviously have my ways to perfect my I guess state of mind. It’s a constant work, daily work, if you want to call it that way. As much as you train your muscles in the gym or jogging or playing shots, I think — at least that’s my philosophy and approach. You need to dedicate as much time to your character building, to your mental ability and capacity and strength.

So I do have my exercises and ways trying to balance myself as a player, as a person.

But we talked about it before. I like holistic approach in life. I believe that things are happening off the court as well in private life definitely affect you as a player. So somehow you need to try to optimize everything, try to kind of face all the circumstances in life professionally, privately that are out there as challenges, tests, and as ways to get better, to move on as is stronger are more mature person and player.

But I guess everybody has a different filter. I feel like because of the nature of our profession, we travel so much, we are on the tour ten, eleven months traveling, training. It’s very demanding sport.

You need to have something that relaxes you, something that keeps your mind a little bit off the tennis as well. Sure, the work is important, perfecting your game, but then you need to balance that.

You know, it’s always necessary.

FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports

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