Novak Djokovic Interview: I Think I Have the Game to Challenge Rafa on Clay
Novak Djokovic Interview
Sony Ericsson Open – Miami
April 3, 2011
Final: N. DJOKOVIC d. R. Nadal 4-6, 6-3, 7-6
THE MODERATOR: This puts Novak at 24 0 this year and the fourth player since 1990 to win the Australian Open, Indian Wells, and Miami in the same year.
NOVAK DJOKOVIC: Thanks for the info.
Q. Is that your strategy now, to lose the first set to Rafa and then beat him? Just tell us how you turned it around. You seemed to really clean up your game.
NOVAK DJOKOVIC: As I said on the court, it was one of the closest and best finals that I have played ever. To be able to win against a great champion like Nadal is, of course he’s No. 1 player of the world, and at this stage he’s always playing his best.
I think it was very high level of tennis today. I think everybody enjoyed, even us playing. It was very close, and up to the last stroke we really didn’t know which way it’s going to go.
He did start better the match. I made too many unforced errors, and, you know, after half an hour, I was two breaks down and it was hard to get back. I started playing better towards the end of the first set, and that was important coming into the second.
I had lots of winners and I decreased the number of unforced errors coming into the second set, which was important to me. I wanted, you know, to make him play an extra shot, not give him a lot of free points, and try to get some free points out of serve, which wasn’t happening that much.
I had to work both of us had to work for each point in this match, especially in the third set. It was amazing final.
Q. Where did you find all the Serbians?
NOVAK DJOKOVIC: Which ones?
Q. Where did you find all the Serbians who cheered for you madly?
NOVAK DJOKOVIC: I didn’t find. They found me, I guess.
Q. Were you surprised by that?
NOVAK DJOKOVIC: Yeah, of course. Any support is welcome in this stage, especially in these very close matches. I think the atmosphere was amazing…
Q. Looked like near the end you may have been getting a little tired.
NOVAK DJOKOVIC: I didn’t finish my answer, but okay.
NOVAK DJOKOVIC: Okay, you can ask me now.
Q. You looked at the end to be getting tired. You were going to your box.
NOVAK DJOKOVIC: Look, it’s intense. You know, I’m an emotional player and I show my emotions. It’s part of me, so I do communicate with the box in some ways.
Look, there is not much they can help me out. It’s just my outer frustrations, or, I don’t know, when I win the point or, you know, just screams, whatever. But it helps me to focus better after.
You know, as I said on each point, I think each game we played in the third set especially was very close. I had a lot opportunities on his serve in the third set; he had on my serve in the second and third set.
So really fortunate to get through this match. For these matches, you really play this sport. You know, to play the final address, three and a half hours against the best player in the world, you know, it’s incredible achievement for me. So I’m very proud of today’s performance.
Q. How important do you think was the fact that you did what you did in Indian Wells, coming back from a set down in the finals? Is that some kind of galvanizing situation as well when you were in the same situation today?
NOVAK DJOKOVIC: I don’t think it affected today’s match too much, the one we played in Indian Wells. Maybe from the mental side slightly you have some advantage knowing that you won against your opponent that you’re playing against, you won against him two weeks ago. Not that much.
Because on this level really couple of points here and there decide a winner. So as I was saying before the match, I needed to play at top of my game in order to have the chance of winning against Rafa.
I think I’ve played on top of my level in the second and third set especially.
Q. How tough was the heat today, and how well did you hold up physically would you say?
NOVAK DJOKOVIC: I think it was obvious that both of us were slowing down towards the end of the match. It was a physical struggle, but I knew I needed to hold on, try to hold my serve, try to get to the tiebreak, or eventually have some chance of breaking his serve, which I had a couple times, 15 30, 30 All. But then he serves well, played well.
So we were both really mentally tough. When we needed play well and come up with big shots, we did. In the tiebreak, it was really anybody’s game. It was point by point, and until the last shot, you know, I didn’t know if I was going to win or not.
So it was incredible match.
Q. Did you realize you were two points from defeat in there, or were you concentrating so hard?
NOVAK DJOKOVIC: I wasn’t thinking about it. Trying to take one point at a time and try to focus and think about the strategy each point, what I need to do to win that certain point.
I wasn’t going that far with thinking.
Q. You are perfect this year in your matches, 3 0 against Federer and 3 0 against Rafael Nadal. Regardless of the standings, do you feel like you the best player in the world right now?
NOVAK DJOKOVIC: I know I had the best start of the season, no question about it. It’s the best four months in my life.
But it’s only the start of the season. I think it’s a bit early to talk about getting that top spot in the rankings. It’s still quite a big difference. Rafa is, you know, definitely the best player in the world now.
If I want to have that shot, the No. 1 ranking, I need to play consistently well throughout the whole year. We all know that clay court is his favorite surface, and obviously somewhere where he plays his best.
But this is going to give a lot of confidence boost for the upcoming clay court season, the wins that I had on the starting tournaments of the year.
Still, this streak is incredible that I have, and I want to keep on working hard and try to get more success. So right now, the rest is something that I need most, because, you know, it’s been very successful but very exhausting and long four months of the year.
You know, then the clay courts come where I haven’t had a lot of success last years. So maybe that’s my chance it really try get some success.
Q. Are you surprising even yourself? Are you surprised you’ve been able to win this many matches in a row against good players?
NOVAK DJOKOVIC: If you told me I would have 20 something wins in a row at the start of the year, I would take it, definitely. I didn’t expect that.
But it’s been couple of months with hard work and really dedication from every member of my team. We know that in the long run we want to make me as better player on the court, physically, mentally, emotionally, and this is what I feel now. It’s paying off, all the work we put into.
So it’s great to see that, and I just want to keep on going.
Q. You talk about the mental aspect. There has been a little bit of lack of toughness in the past for you. How proud are you that you overcame that, and did it today against probably the toughest mental player out there?
NOVAK DJOKOVIC: That makes my success even bigger, No. 1 of the world now, as you said, one of the fittest ones around. He and Roger are extremely mentally tough players. They don’t give you a lot of free points, and seems like they always lift their level of performance towards the end of each event, especially in the big ones.
Results show that the last five years. They’ve been so dominant on big events. To be able to win such a close match against somebody that’s strong mentally and physically as Nadal is a great achievement.
Q. What have you learned about yourself through these wins? Must be some surprises there in terms of how well it’s gone. Anything about yourself that you surprised yourself with?
NOVAK DJOKOVIC: Um, you know, nothing special, to be honest. It’s true that I didn’t expect to be unbeaten this year so far in the season. But as I was saying, it’s something that I do for my life. I dedicate 100% of my time to the sport.
I knew when I was in a little crisis last year for six months that if I put in the hard work, I know that I have strokes, I know I have quality, I just need to be patient and my time will come. This is what’s going on now.
Q. It’s been amazing seeing you today, and I have to tell you everybody is always talking about you being an emotional player, and you just said it yourself. But what’s great to see today is you’re an emotional player with a brain. So you had some amazing shots. Like you said, a game plan. You could see that your brain was working on the court 100%, so I was so proud to see that.
NOVAK DJOKOVIC: On this heat it’s really hard, yeah.
Q. It’s coming more and more in every match. What do you think about that? How did you comment?
NOVAK DJOKOVIC: Thank you for your monologue and very nice words. It’s very hard to answer on that, except that, you know, if you’re thinking about your brain in such heat. (Laughter.)
Q. Everyone knows you’re a power hitter, but the dropshot lob worked out pretty well today. Is this part of your future strategy against Rafa?
NOVAK DJOKOVIC: I cannot rely on that strategy, to be honest. He’s such a fast player. In some moments when he’s far back from the baseline it’s a good shot to play. I guess couple times it was successful; couples times it wasn’t.
Q. If you were to play the same match two or three years ago against Rafa, do you think you would have wilted in the heat? Do you think you would have been complaining? How do you think the game would have gone compared to today? How are you different?
NOVAK DJOKOVIC: Look, with time, it’s logical that you have more experience, that you have a physical ability to go through these matches, you have the endurance to get far, and you have you have to believe on the court, you know.
In the end, it’s all mental. We’re both physically fit. Of course, it was obvious that we were kind of dropping down with energy towards the end of the match. But, you know, in these moments against players like Rafa who is a big champion, you’ve got to believe you can win. That’s all. It’s all about self belief and stepping in and trying to take your chances if there is any.
Q. When did you start believing that you could?
NOVAK DJOKOVIC: I always believed. It’s just that it’s a process of learning. You know, you can’t always expect to play your best. You can’t always expect to win.
I accept every day of my life spending on the court as something new to learn and trying to take the best out of it and move on as a better player, better person. It’s normal. I’m still only 23, 24, so it’s still early stages of my career.
Q. You started out the match looking very relaxed, and Rafa on the other hand looked a little bit nervous.
NOVAK DJOKOVIC: Uh huh.
Q. How much has your intuitive nature on the court gotten better? Do you feel much more intuitive?
NOVAK DJOKOVIC: Well, he had the better start, so I don’t know if I was more relaxed than he was, because he was 5 1 after half an hour. So he definitely was playing better in the first set.
But, you know, I believed that I could come back, and I knew that I am in this moment playing the best tennis of my life, so I needed to rely on my qualities and try to step in.
Obviously when you have a high level of confidence, which I do at this moment with so many wins, then it’s easier to go for some shots.
Q. What are you doing now that will help you in the clay court season, do you think?
NOVAK DJOKOVIC: Well, as I said, now it’s rest for couple days; Monte Carlo is just a week away. There is not much time really to rest, because you have to prepare as well.
But I really have a great team. I have really the best team of people around me. We’ll come up with a strategy to recover and to get ready for clay.
Q. Are you a better player from last year, do you think?
NOVAK DJOKOVIC: Yeah, of course. Of course.
Q. What’s your play schedule?
NOVAK DJOKOVIC: It’s Monte Carlo, it’s my home tournament, Belgrade, Madrid, Rome, and French Open.
Q. Mary Carillo suggested the other day we could be see a trivalry of you and Rafa and Roger. Do you see it that way, or do you think maybe you and Rafa have kind of separated yourself a little bit from Roger?
NOVAK DJOKOVIC: No, I don’t think Roger is separated. He’s still up there. You know, it’s obvious that he still wants to come back to the No. 1 of the world and he’s hungry for more success. Of course he’s not going to just pull back from that.
He didn’t have the best start of the season, but he was still in most of the tournaments semifinals, finals. So he’s definitely going to be one of the contenders for the top spot in the rankings in the end of the year.
If you want to call it trivalry or rivalry, whatever you want to call it, I don’t know. I just try to focus on what I do. Of course Roger and Rafa are the two biggest rivals that I have, and of course there are many more players out there are able to play great tennis. We cannot forget about them. Murray, Soderling, Roddick, the Spaniards.
The clay court season is coming, so it’s going to be interesting to see who’s going to play some good tennis there.
Q. 2009 you played really well on clay actually. The match today was very similar to a couple you had in Rome. What do you have to do on this surface to beat Rafa, if you meet him in a final again?
NOVAK DJOKOVIC: Well, I have never done that, so…
If I do have an opportunity to play him on clay, obviously I have to be aggressive. Clay is the slowest surface that we have, and it’s surface that suits him best. Over the years, he’s been the king of that surface and a guy to beat. He hasn’t lost last years on clay. He comes up always with his best game on the clay court tournaments.
So if you want to win against him, I guess you got to step in, believe, and you got to play your game. I think I have the game to challenge him on that surface, and I showed that in 2009. I think we had some great matches in Monte Carlo, final; in Madrid, semifinal, so it is possible.
It’s just as I said, as this match is, it’s couple points here and there that decide a winner.
Q. Along your great ability Linda Robertson of the Herald wrote last week about that the Serbian players are these wonderful extroverted players and impressions and jokes. Is there a chance that you’ll always let that humor funny side of you be shared? If so, I was wondering if you’re going to ever be doing again some of your impressions of some of the great tennis players?
NOVAK DJOKOVIC: Well, everybody has a different personality. My personality is like that. You know, I like to have fun on and off the court. I am fortunate to have the people that I care about and that I feel good with spending time, traveling on the tour.
It’s important for me to have the people that I can relax with, that I can share my issues from the private life or whatever, things that are bothering me, not bothering, success, achievement. I have the family there, brothers, girlfriend.
I have many people who really want the best for me, and I care about them. So it’s that human relationship that is really important, you know, to have off court, especially a relationship that’s going to bring you a lot energy, positive energy on the court.
This is how I have been living and working for last couple of years of my professional tennis life. Somebody else likes to be more professional and serious. You know, I like to joke around sometimes. It just depends from a person. So I will definitely continue on doing what I was doing until now.
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