Novak Djokovic will have his chance at history Sunday. The Serb defeated Roger Federer 64, 75, 63 to reach his first career French Open final and stand on the brink of completing that historic “Djoker Slam”.
Djokovic will meet rival Rafael Nadal for in a fourth straight Slam final. Nadal has the head-to-head edge 18-14 winning two straight this clay season and all 8 sets against Novak at Roland Garros. But Djokovic has won seven of their last nine, importantly getting the victory in three straight Grand Slam finals.
Here’s what Djokovic said after his third straight win over Federer, avenging a semifinal loss from a year ago:
Q. Was it a little difficult to keep your concentration at a level where you wanted today, considering the ebbs and flows of the match?
NOVAK DJOKOVIC: Well, it’s always an effort and it’s always a challenge, you know, to be focused and play, take the maximum amount of your abilities out of these matches.
That is the ask, you know. That is something that you need to do if you want to be a winner at the end of matches against one of your biggest rivals.
Q. The Australian Open final, what recollections do you have of that amazing final now, and what do you draw from that? And also wanted to ask you about the one shot which Rafa mentioned in his press conference, that easy backhand he missed in the final of the fifth set, if you have any recollections of that moment, if you know what I mean.
NOVAK DJOKOVIC: Well, it’s definitely the most exciting match I ever had in my career, you know. The longest for sure. You know, considering the fact that it was a final, it was just incredible historic match to be part of.
Obviously we both wanted to win and win the trophy, and in the end it had to be only one winner. But I thought we played an incredible match. And, yes, he did have his chances. Obviously that backhand that you mentioned, I think it was 32 or 42 up and 3015.
But that’s what happens at this level: couple of points and couple of mistakes decide the winner. It’s going to be quite different on Sunday because this is a different surface. It’s different circumstances.
You know, he plays always his best here in Roland Garros, and so I expect to do that as well on Sunday. I know that I have to be consistently playing consistently well on very high level in order to win bestoffive against Nadal here.
It’s an ultimate challenge. But, you know, I believe that today was the best match of 2012 Roland Garros for me, so I’ve raised my game when I needed to. I played really well when it was the most important, so that’s something that gives me confidence obviously before the finals.
Q. In the previous rounds you came out of some very difficult situations in this Roland Garros, and today especially in the second set again you have had a very tough second set. What happens in those moments? Like it’s as if you’re becoming a master in crisis management. What happens? Your concentration is like getting to its peak? What happens?
NOVAK DJOKOVIC: Well, it’s up and down. I think I would really want myself not to have the downs that I had in the beginning of the second set, you know, losing two times the serve.
But I regrouped, you know, mentally, and I came back. That’s really a positive, you know, especially when you come back from double break down. Against a player like Federer it is a success. You know, it is a great achievement.
But look, you know, I cannot allow myself to have that many ups and downs, especially the next match. You know, I know, I am aware of the intensity that I needed to play today and on Sunday, as well.
I’m not for the first time in that position. I have let’s say the experience playing semifinals and finals against these two guys so many times in the last five years. But never against Nadal in the finals here in Roland Garros, so it’s going to be a challenge.
Both of us want this title. We’ll see who will prevail.
Q. Can we have an answer in French for French radios, please? (In French.)
NOVAK DJOKOVIC: Yes, I understand.
Q. (In French.) This is your most important match in your career. What is your mindset? How did you feel?
NOVAK DJOKOVIC: (In French) Well, I’m happy with my game today. I think that today this was a very important moment for me. I played even better. It’s very important before I play against Nadal. It’s the first time I’m going to be with him in the finals here in Paris. I hope I’m going to play a good match again, and that the level I’ll play will be high.
That’s the best can I do at this moment.
Q. (In English.) The last three times you played Nadal in the Grand Slam final you came in with a winning streak against him, and this time it’s different. Do you feel like even though it’s on clay that the dynamic between you two has changed? And how?
NOVAK DJOKOVIC: Well, he won the last two encounters we had on clay in finals in MonteCarlo and Rome. Everything counts. I did have a little strange circumstances in MonteCarlo. But look, you know, I’m not looking for excuse. He was a better player.
You know, things change at this level, as I said. You know, I didn’t expect to win every match till the end of our careers against him, even though I won what, six, seven in a row?
But I won against him on clay last year two times back to back in eight days, and that’s something that is back of my mind. That’s something that can give me confidence, you know, I can think of when I step on the court with him on Sunday.
But obviously it is different because now it’s bestoffive. He has lost what, two matches in his career here? So that’s or one? (Laughter.)
That says enough, I mean, about his quality on this court. I lost to him I think here I think maybe three times. I haven’t won a set against him in this court. You know, all the facts are on his side.
But, look, you know, I feel different nowadays. I believe I’m at the peak of my career. I’m playing the best tennis of my life in last year and a half, and I should use that, you know. I should use that as a confidence boostance [sic] and try to get my hands on title. Why not?
I have won against a great player today. First time I find myself on Sunday in Paris. Let’s see what I can do.
Q. Roger Federer said that Rafa was clearly the favorite for the final. Do you agree?
NOVAK DJOKOVIC: Well, I just mentioned all the facts, so you can say that he’s a favorite, definitely.
It’s a final, so, again, I think it’s unpredictable what’s going to happen because we are top two players, and we have played so many times last year and a half in so many finals.
He is a favorite because of all the facts that we just mentioned. But I believe in myself. I think I have a chance.
Q. What’s the difference between, say, controlling a match and points on grass and hard courts against Rafa than it would be on clay, which you’ve done a very good job with obviously on the other surfaces?
NOVAK DJOKOVIC: Yeah, because here you get an extra ball back. It’s a slower conditions, which obviously suits him better. The ball bounces a bit higher for his topspin that he plays, you know, on this surface. It works at his advantage.
But between, you know, I think the conditions on the center court here in Roland Garros maybe comparing to other clay court events that we have, like MonteCarlo or maybe Rome, I think they are a little bit faster.
So that can maybe work in my favor. But you can always expect him to play on a very high level, you know. He doesn’t have much flaws in his game on this surface, so I need to step on the court believing I can win.
I mean, that’s the only way really I am aware of the differences in the surface. But I’ll try to make to have a right mindset and believe.
Q. I don’t want to insist so much on Rafa being the favorite and so on, but I would like you to give us a number, like the final is 50/50, 60% for him…
NOVAK DJOKOVIC: I have to disappoint you. I’m really not good with numbers. I’m not good with percentages. (Smiling.)
Q. Can you just talk about the historical importance of this match? I mean, for both of you there is a lot on the line.
NOVAK DJOKOVIC: Well, there’s a lot on the line. It always is when you’re playing finals of a Grand Slam.
Obviously, you know, considering the matches that we played against each other in last 15 months, you know, we expect another emotional match, another big challenge for both of us, fighting for one of the four biggest titles in our sport.
So there’s always that on the line. And of course the other side, for me personally, is that I have this golden opportunity to, you know, make history. This motivates me, you know. It really inspires me.
You know, I’m really grateful to be in this position, obviously. And look, you know, I’ll try to prepare for that match and get my hands on that trophy if I can.
Q. Can I ask you how much your grandfather is still in your thoughts? If you don’t mind me asking. How much of a motivation and inspiration kind of his memory is during this run?
NOVAK DJOKOVIC: Well, he’s always in my thoughts, you know, in a very positive way.
You know, I overcome the sadness that I had, you know, in that period during MonteCarlo tournament and afterwards. Life goes on, and remember good moments. Yeah, it was nice to see most of my family today there, even my cousins from Geneva. They all came. It was really nice to have my box full with the closest ones.
Q. Just go back to the motivation. You were talking about being motivated to make history. When Roger was beating you in finals and Rafa was beating you in semifinals, did you ever think, One day I could actually eclipse them and do something that they haven’t done, which hasn’t been done in our sport?
NOVAK DJOKOVIC: It’s very hard to find anything they haven’t done and achieved, you know, both of these guys. But if there is one thing they haven’t done and I can do, I would be very happy.
But I’m not thinking about that, you know. It’s not about really, you know, okay, prestige or whatever, being better than one person. I’m thinking about myself, my career, and just trying to win every match that I play on.
And obviously I had a lot of doubts, you know, in last couple of years if I can really overcome the big challenge of the two strongest players in our sport, most dominant players in our sport.
I’ve matured, you know. I got stronger over the years. You know, it’s because of them, as well, you know. They made me a better player. This is I think the beauty of today’s tennis in this moment, is that we make each other better players and better persons on and off the court.
So it’s, you know, it’s nice to see that.
Q. When you prepare for a very important match, either with your entourage or yourself, do you sometimes watch videos of another match you’ve done with this player and analyze the situation and say, I should have done this or I should have done that? Do you sometimes use video?
NOVAK DJOKOVIC: Yeah, sure. We do have a different ways of preparation. That’s one of the ways to prepare the strategy, yeah.
Q. Do you intend to do this for the final?
NOVAK DJOKOVIC: Well, I will keep my own routine, yes. Yes.
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