Novak Djokovic: A part of me simply knew that is just a matter of time before I make great success again

Novak Djokovic appeared in Serbian talkshow ‘Dam Mozda Ne’ (Yes Maybe No). Here are some of Q/A from his inteview:

(This interview was taken before Rolex Shanghai Masters)

Q. This summer was good, three tournaments in a row and great success were for some quite unexpected, what were they for you?

Novak: A part of me simply knew that is just a matter of time before I make great success again, when I will once again put myself in a position to fight for a Grand Slam title and when I will be in a position to fight for World Number one. To be honest when I came back with the new-old team, my coach Marian and conditional coach Gebhard, we sat down in April of this year and talked about strategies and made both long-term and short-term goals. In that schedule, it was planned that somewhere around US Open I will reach my conditional best. To the pleasant pleasure for us all the peak of my form came at the time of Grass season. I played final in Queens, I won Wimbledon and that was a great turning point and something I desperately needed at that moment because for a year and a half I had oscillations in both the scores I produced and as a player, so I was trying to rediscover myself on the court. I had a surgery and took six months long absence.

Q. Will you tell us what was the biggest problem, because in 2017. at a press conference, you announced that you will not play until the end of the season. In Rio, we have seen that something is happening, that things are not under your control, what was the order of events?

Novak: Well, everything started with Roland-Garros, even though it was icing on the cake and a tournament that was so anticipated and for years I have been so close to winning it. I have lost in three finals, I think, up until 2016. I think that because of that anticipation and pressure that primarily I put on myself, and then everyone else, simply that surge of energy was so great, and pleasure of course, that it drained me. Emotionally, I did not have enough energy left in the tank to compete on a high level and I really thought that even though I have been listening to the stories of ex-champions, from the people that have been in the same shoes, that all went through those same situations, all of them were speaking about the fact that sooner or later you run headfirst into a wall. When you achieve all your dreams, you attain certain success, you get to that stage of your career where you simply ask yourself: What next?

Q. You lost motivation, what?

Novak: Yes, I thought that I will never reach that stage of mind but I was wrong. 

Q. You found yourself in a situation that it did not matter to you?

Novak: Yes.

Q. You lost the will to work?

Novak: No, no, no!

Q. What then?

Novak: People misunderstood that. There were even stories, even Boris Becker was telling everyone that I was not working hard enough, which was not true. I was putting the same amount of work as always, even more than ever because I simply wanted that through practice, through effort, find a new spark that I was missing so I could compete. I did not lack the passion for tennis, training or what not. I was practicing on a regular basis, I was disciplined as it was the case for my entire life and career. But simply when I would enter the court to compete when I would hear the judge call the score I would black out.

Q. How? What is that spark on the level of top athletes?

Novak: Well you know, I can not fully explain it because even I was not ready for it. It surprised even me. I was sure, knowing myself, that it will never come to that. Because I have never had any problems with motivation and inspiration. I never had any problems in pushing myself, simply, I know what my goal is when I am on the court. To prepare myself tactically, to know what to do in what way so the outcome of the match is the one I wish for.

Q. How long did it last?

Novak: Well now if I could turn back the time, and I do not like to that, because I have never regretted anything in my life, I believe that everything in life happens with a reason and that everything that happens is a lecture for us, which we should learn from. I really do not regret a thing and I would change nothing. That I could probably make some better decisions in certain moments, that is probably true. For example, after Roland-Garros, probably after the US Open that year, Rio came at an ideal moment, you mentioned the Olympic Games, I was at my peak then. I had won four Grand Slams in a row, I was World Number one, absolutely dominant, I have won a tournament in Toronto, one of the biggest tournaments, without losing a set, a week before Rio. Really pumped with confidence I came to Rio and two days before Rio I had a wrist injury. In those two days, I tried in every single way possible, with every single person from medical staff, doctors, orthopedics, to find a solution to enable me to be at my maximum.

Q. A wrist?

Novak: Yes, my left wrist that I have never before injured in my whole career.

Q. And?

Novak: And then, simply when it was all over, when I had a little bit more time to look back and think a little about everything, why did those things happen, and specifically that situation in Rio, I came to a conclusion by myself, though the people around me that know me really well agreed on it, was that I was going too fast, I wanted so much that I burned myself at the highs of my wishes. I have, in a way, digressed from that rhythm of planning, training, and optimal preparation, namely the formula that was working ideally, perfectly up until that moment. I stepped away from it because the Olympic year is always the hardest one in terms of the schedule. You have the same number of tournaments plus you have the Olympics that have a special meaning. 

Q. Special weight behind it of course.

Novak: : — And weight yes, so you have to prepare specially for them but you do not have the time because the Olympics always fall in that tight period of time between Wimbledon and US Open where you also have several more major tournaments. So, all in all, it was one major lesson for me. I should have probably ended the season right after US Open, maybe even after the Olympics, but I managed to prepare myself for the US Open, I played the finals, it is a superb result. But I remember that tournament really well. There I have squeezed the last atoms of that flame and that mental strength for competition. After that, I was like a deflated balloon and the only reason why I kept competing until the end of the season and to participate in tournaments was that Murray had gotten momentum and I was in danger of losing my number one spot, actually I have let others have an influence on me that I should continue. Deep down inside I knew I should have stopped.

Q. Did the people around you tell you to stop?

Novak: Some people around me were a great support, especially my wife and parents, they wereadamant that I should stop. However, no one can make decisions in my place.

Q. And when did you decide to stop?

Well I decided to stop the following year, that is the last year, and that was not my decision. It was the will of God and my body because elbow could not cope with the exertion anymore. Elbow is, of course, a problem that was there for two years.

Q. For that long, why? Were you afraid of going to the surgery?

Novak: You know what, when you are a professional athlete you have to deal with a certain amount of pain and you simply have to accept that fact. However, you exactly know and feel when that pain passes a certain limit and when it disables you from giving it your all. It started to happen to me at the beginning of 2016. I am against drugs, pills, et cetera. I always try to work on preventing instead of healing, as they say, better to prevent it than to treat it. 

Q. That is what our people say, yes.

Novak: — Simply in those moments when the season already started if I wanted to continue playing I had to make a decision. Either I take a break and entirely devote myself to solving that problem or I continue the season with anti-inflammatory drugs, I chose the second option. In a way, I know that was, in that specific moment necessary for me to continue with my game, but if I look at it back from where I stand now it was not a right decision for my health and, of course taking into consideration the order in which things progressed after that for a year or year and a half that followed I would have not made that decision. The break was necessary, sooner or later. It seemed to me in those moments to be later but it was quite close. Everyone that has taken anti-inflammatory drugs, especially as an athlete knows that is just a mask.

Q Did it help you or?

Novak: — It was just a mask for the causes.

Q. And the pain was still existing?

Novak: Yes, the pain… No! The pain was not there! The pain was subdued. The situation in my elbow was getting worse but I did not know it since I did not feel it in those moments. Pain is a signal that there is something happening inside of us which should be addressed. I did not look at it in that way and I learned my lesson the hard way.

Q. But, from what we understand it was a small intervention. It was not a massive surgery. It was a situation that other athletes face, other tennis players face.

Novak: It was my first, and hopefully last surgery.

Q. We hope so too!

Novak: I am not a fan of surgeries and knife. I know that in certain situations it is simply necessary and inevitable but I have tried in every way possible to avoid that. And then when I took my break in July 2017. after Wimbledon when I forfeited my quarter-final match I left the court. After a situation that is so painful and after losing the match, the way I ended my tournament leaves a bad feeling in my mouth, a feeling of dread in my chest and I am not a good company in those moments. But, in a way, I felt a massive relief and weight load fall of my back. Because deep down I knew that that moment was coming sooner or later and that it had to happen. Then when it finally did happen, when I was unable to hold a racquet in my hands then I realized that I was facing several months long break, for how long I did not know. They told me that I could maybe go back to tournaments after three months but I decided to take six months away from tournaments. Simply because I needed a little break and to recharge my batteries, emotionally and a little bit mentally. I needed a somewhat new start. I have then visited the best orthopedics in North America and around the world, and from Serbia of course. Everyone advised me that the surgery was not necessary.

Q Tell me, in that period, was there a moment where you said that you will stop with tennis?

Novak: Yes.

Q.: You said that? (shocked)

Novak: Yes.

Q. To whom?

Novak: To myself. (laughs)

Q. And anyone else?

Novak: To the people around me, yes.

Q. And what was the reaction of the people that are closest to you?

Novak: They were shocked. (laughs)

Q. Has anyone told you-

Novak: As a matter of fact, they were too shocked. They were stunned. I was not sure about what was coming out of my mouth. And every single one of us, regardless of profession or field of work, goes through those moments. This year, in the first part of that period, first two or three months following the surgery, I was going through a lot of thoughts and emotions that were not the brightest. I had to face them.

Q. What were the worst ones? What was the worst thing that you thought about? That you will never go back to the court?

Novak: The worst is when doubt is prevailing over faith and optimism.

Q. Over faith that you can do it, that you know you can do it?

Novak: Faith that I can do it and optimism that things should look positive.

Q. Is it important that you never doubt yourself?

Novak: Yes. I had those moments and I am not ashamed of them. I am not ashamed of my fragility.

Q. Was there anyone that always believed in you?

Novak: Yes

Q.: And that is?

Novak: My father, my mother, my wife.

Q. They always believed?

Novak: Absolutely!

My brothers, my team. I really am extremely grateful to the people that surround me because of their support, especially from an early age from my parents. The pillar of family and of our house was always our mother. She carried four men on her back and father was a bull in every way and he laid out the path for me. He enabled me to fulfill my dreams and do sports that I love.

Q. There is this story about how you and your wife went to the mountain near Marseille, you walked, you hiked, and on that mountain, a fire ignited. After that, the things turned over mentally. When you are on the court and you gesture like this, to your head, what does it mean?

Novak: My wife, after her second pregnancy did not have enough time for herself. She was not in form, so to say. And she hiked with me, she climbed on a really steep mountain for three or four hours. And it was a great experience that strengthened our relationship. That day was really special, that trip overall which lasted five days, not just the mountain, certainly. That climb was special and it brought some kind of fulfillment of pride and strength and on the other hand that journey, that we took in private, that we did not have until we became parents, was more than necessary. We went to the south of France.

So that was, if I can choose one moment, probably that moment was the greatest turning point.

Q. The strength, passion, and flame were back?

Novak: Completely. Everything came back in a package.

Q. We were talking about that comeback, that support. While we were having our conversation in the background the scenes from the three last tournaments were rolling, and what we found interesting and what I suppose really has a great meaning for you is that for the first time your son has witnessed your success at Wimbledon.

Novak: Yes. The only time, for now.

Q. What did it mean to you? He is four years old?

Novak: Almost four and by Wimbledon regulations no child under the age of five can attend the match. Officially on big courts, court number one and Central court where I was playing. However, they have done it last year for Federer when he has won, they allow it and they make an exception after the ceremony, after the last match, if you are in the final they allow you to bring your child.

Q. To whom it meant more, him or you?

Novak: Well, I hope that he will remember it but it definitely meant a lot to me and it inspired me greatly.

Q. Novak, now here is an interesting story about parenthood, about a child. You were really not a specific kid, everything was subordinated to you. Your parents spoke about that, your brothers. You were always the center of the world. Everyone adjusts to the needs of an athlete of the highest level. What happens when you become a parent when you get a child? Does the center of the world shifts or not?

Novak: The world turns upside down completely. The world you have known up until then and that was centered around you, and I was really lucky that people around me have faith in me and support me during my whole career and I tried to not change my team much, to spend time with the same people. I was with Marian, GG, and Miljan for ten years and we had so much success.
Of course, my parents, my family, my wife, people close to me. Everyone supported me and everyone worked towards enabling me to have the best possible results on the court. So that I can be happy, responsible and healthy. Then you simply realize, I was truly curious before becoming a father and I asked for advice from every single parent I know, especially my father who is an established father, what does it mean to be a father, what kind of feeling is it, what emotions and feelings will I face, so I can more or less get to know that situation. Everyone agreed on one thing and, more or less, told me the same and that is that you can not prepare yourself for that. You must experience it so you can feel that emotion. They were right, it is indescribable. At least for me as a parent, when we became parents a new dimension of love was unlocked inside of us, happiness, joy, the meaning of life.

Q: And what about the structure of your life?

Novak: Well, how can I say it. In the simplest way possible, I come back from my practice, I leave my racquet behind and I do not think about tennis anymore. Simply by entering my home, I know that I take off my tennis player suit and suit up in my parent suit and do every possible duty and work I have.

Q. For how many days in a year are you traveling?

Novak: That is a good question. I do not know the exact number but it is surely more than six months.

Q. You are away for six months. What does your family do then, do they follow you?

Novak: They do, half the time. Not always. Let’s say the longest ones, we as tennis players we do not travel intensively in a week, we do not change three or four locations around the world. We travel as we did recently to New York and stay there for three weeks. Given that Grand Slams last for, in the best, case two and a half or three weeks, you come half a week or week earlier to prepare and adapt to the conditions because they are the most important tournaments. In the best case for you, if you make it to the finals, you spend three weeks at one tournament. Multiply by four Grand Slams and that makes it twelve weeks. Just for Grand Slams. They never traveled to Australia with me because that is too far but they are there for every other Grand Slam. Indian Wells and Miami, two more tournaments that last a month they also come to these.

Q. Does it disturb the life of one little boy that should go to kindergarten, who should have friends? Where does your son have friends?

Novak: Yes, that is exactly the reason why we are in this stage of our lives, that transition where we are trying to juggle with things and try to find the best possible solution for our kids. They are the most important and everything else is secondary. You know what, for me as a father it is of utmost importance to spend quality time with my children, the same goes for my wife. I am infinitely grateful to her because she is exceptionally understanding of what I do. She provides me with great support and tries to organize both the life at home and on the road so that I am able to have that quality time every day, however big amount of time, with my children.


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