An Interview With… Novak Djokovic (Round 3, Shanghai Rolex Masters 2016)

Q. I want to ask you about something else. You rejoined the ATP Player Council, of course. There has been talk in tennis about the future maybe that tennis needs to speed up to attract the younger generation. The WTA CEO spoke about this. Eric Butorac when he left said that tennis needs to go into this direction, he feels. Can you share your thoughts on the subject?
NOVAK DJOKOVIC: Well, I would partly agree with that, because one thing that is difficult in terms of product placement on the market — and by “product” I mean tennis and tennis matches, especially for the TV rights — is the fact that you never know how long the match is going to go and when it’s going to be played.

So you have to guess many times. Second, third, or fourth after 11:00 matches before you can go three hours or 50 minutes. So I think in terms of finding some kind of frames where we can at least know approximately when we are playing would be much better to place the product in market. So in terms of that business perspective, I would agree.

But yet again, you know, I have heard stories about shortening up sets, playing up to four. I have seen many exhibition matches and tournaments being played up to four. Then you have the IPTL League testing out the know ad/no let kind of rules, introducing the timer between points.

So I think we are moving towards that direction, and you could sense that. But, you know, some of the rules are, you know, worthy of consideration, from my consideration. Some are not.

So I guess we all have to come together and figure out the way we want to improve and evolve, because everything else is going in that direction. All the sports, if you see, are doing everything they can in order to get their sport to highest possible level and fulfill their potential. I think tennis has yet to fulfill its full potential. I think we are at a good state at the moment, for sure, men’s tennis, no doubt about it, but we still have a lot of room to get better.

Q. You started well in the first set. 4-Love up. Then it got a little more complicated because Vasek raised his level or because you lost a little bit from your side, or what happened after that?
NOVAK DJOKOVIC: Well, I thought it was a great quality of the tennis today from both players. I was very pleased with the way I have played from the first to last point. I don’t think I have dropped my level at all. Only one game when I dropped my serve in the first set on 4-1.

Other than that, I was very pleased with the performance. Didn’t face any break points except that game when I dropped my serve.

And on the other side, Vasek was serving very well. It was really hard to read his serve. He was hitting the spots beautifully. He was putting a lot of power in that. Just when I needed to, you know, to read his serve and play well, I did. It was enough: one break in both sets.

Q. As one of the elders of the tour, what do you make of a performance like Nick Kyrgios’ yesterday?
NOVAK DJOKOVIC: I haven’t seen what he has done, to be honest. But I heard.

Q. And what did you hear?
NOVAK DJOKOVIC: Well, I haven’t heard great things. But, yeah, we’re kind of used to it when Kyrgios is a context of conversation. Not many great things are spoken about him lately.

I’m sorry to hear that, because I share the opinion of many players and many people in the tennis world, that he’s one of the greatest talents that the game has seen lately and he’s got a huge potential, huge game.

I mean, he’s been doing well. He’s around 15 in the world, so you’ve got to give him credit for that. But on the other hand, he obviously has life lessons to learn. He’s still relatively young, so hopefully that’s gonna happen.

Q. Just a side question. Listening to your post-match interview, it seems like you have become more and more comfortable with Chinese. You pick up more of the terms. How did you pick up those terms, and are you becoming more and more comfortable with the language?
NOVAK DJOKOVIC: Well, to be honest with you, I got a little bit lazy because the last couple of years I have been repeating the same phrases I have learned before. So I have to step it up and learn some more phrases, more words in Chinese. But I have been trying.

I actually like languages, I like linguistics. I like to, I guess, pay respect to the nation which I’m visiting. As a guest, I feel like it’s always respectful towards and appreciated towards the host nation to at least speak a few words.

I have, in addition to that, an amazing fan club here in China. Not just me. Many players receive presents and receive kind of support that we don’t get to see around the world. So they deserve it, at least.

Q. If I can ask you a little bit about Taylor Fritz, I think you’ve practiced with him quite a few times and everything. First year on the tour he’s pretty solidly into the top 100. Almost made it to top 50. Kind of assess his game. Are you surprised or impressed that he’s gone so far so quickly?
NOVAK DJOKOVIC: I’m not too surprised. I’m impressed with the way he has climbed up the rankings. You know, he very quickly got to top 100. And now, you know, from my personal experience, I know that that’s — when you go through that kind of trajectory on your way up to the top of the men’s game, you have couple of, I guess, biggest transitions and ice breakers, we call them.

One of them is when you reach the top 100, and then to actually get to top 20, 30, it’s quite condensed there and you have got to win some matches. Today’s ranking point system is not so much in favor as it used to be to young players and players coming up.

So you really need to, you know, win big matches, get to the final stages of ATP, you know, 250s or 500s in order to significantly make a step towards the top of the rankings.

But he’s been going in that direction, and I see that he’s working hard. He’s committed. He likes the game. So all good things, you know. All good signs.

Q. There were a couple of reports in the German press last week I just want to check. Are you still working with Boris?
NOVAK DJOKOVIC: Yes. Well, yeah, we are still working, yeah.

Q. What tournament will he…
NOVAK DJOKOVIC: Well, for now the plan is the rest of the season, what’s left, indoor tournaments. Yeah.

Q. Rafa in Beijing said he lost the confidence on his forehand. Yesterday he said kind of the same, that he needed to find again the rhythm and confidence on it. You’re one of those top players like him who has “the” shot that we think you will make even eyes closed in the dark. Can you explain what happens when these shots start missing and how is it possible for you to…
NOVAK DJOKOVIC: Yes, well, it does happen. Does happen many times, actually, many days that you don’t get to feel so comfortable on the parts of your game or shots of your game that you consider is your biggest advantage or let’s say a weapon in your game.

You know, you’re human and every day is a different day. So every day you get to feel a bit different mentally, maybe sometimes you’re a bit slower on your legs which then consequently influences the actual shot. Balls, the bounce. Surface, is it dry, is it humid, is it warm, is it cold. It all actually influences the hitting point, the rhythm, the swing. All these things have to be taken in consideration, because, you know, on some surfaces you find that striking zone and being comfortable on the court better than maybe some others.

I’m sure for Rafa that’s clay, obviously. And maybe some surfaces where it bounces higher because he plays with a lot of spin. Where it doesn’t bounce as much he maybe struggles more.

But look, you know, it’s Rafa who we are talking about. You know, he’s going to — if he says he’s struggling, you’ll be sure that he’s putting another few hours a day of hitting that forehand and trying to perfect it. So I’m sure he’s going to get back his rhythm.

Q. Just to check about Boris, for the rest of this season and then what’s the arrangement for next season?
NOVAK DJOKOVIC: We still haven’t talked about it.

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