World No. 1 Novak Djokovic talked to the press Saturday in Melbourne and assessed his chances for an Open Era first 3-peat at the Australian Open and title defense.
Q. How do you feel your preparation has been this time compared to previous years?
NOVAK DJOKOVIC: So far so good. We haven’t changed by much the daily routines in preparing for the new season for the Australian summer. Generally it’s all the same.
I have the same team of people around me that are making sure that I’m prepared well, so I’m just looking forward to start playing here in the Australian Open.
Q. What do you make of your first round draw? Looks tough on paper.
NOVAK DJOKOVIC: The draw is something you cannot affect. It’s not in your hands so you just try to take one match at a time, focus on your next opponent, your next challenge.
I’m playing first round against Mathieu. Maybe he’s lower ranked at this moment but he was a top 20 player. He knows how it feels to play on a big stage.
There is no underestimating him, that’s for sure. I’m going to try to focus from the start.
Q. What are your thoughts on the Australians, like Bernard Tomic?
NOVAK DJOKOVIC: I believe their chances are always good. Lleyton, especially, who has so much experience playing in Grand Slams, he was the former No. 1 in the world, Grand Slam winner, played finals in Australia.
Last year before the Australian Open, everybody thought that he won’t be able to hold on physically best of five, but he managed to come to the fourth round where I played a tough four setter against him.
He’s proving everybody wrong. He’s a great competitor and somebody that a lot of players have a lot of respect for. I’m sure in front of his crowd he’s going to be extra motivated to do well.
On the other hand, Bernard, playing against him in Perth, watching him play the last few weeks, he improved a lot. Also he likes playing in front of his home crowd.
So their chances are always good. Just a matter of the day and how well the opponent plays also. Of course, the crowd support is always welcomed.
Q. You had almost a perfect year in 2011. One of the things you did a lot is win the first set. Last year it seems in important matches you might have lost the first set. Is that something you’re aware of?
NOVAK DJOKOVIC: Thanks for the information. I haven’t paid too much attention on that (laughter).
But, yeah, I maybe noticed in the last season I was coming back from being down more often than I did in 2011. Maybe that’s something that I was aware of.
But there’s nothing in particular that I have changed, except maybe just a little bit slower start. But I’m always obviously trying to start strong from the first point. So if it doesn’t happen sometimes, it’s by accident.
Q. After you won here in 2008, you played three years very consistently, No. 3 in the world. Was there anything that changed during those three years that allowed you to win the Davis Cup, have the great 2011, settle into the role as the world’s best player?
NOVAK DJOKOVIC: Well, there were a few particular moments that I would say were turning points. Probably Wimbledon 2010, since that tournament I started playing much better, more confident. The first six months of 2010, was going through a lot of health issues. Wasn’t able to do so many great results. I lost a lot of confidence, but managed to come back.
Davis Cup title came in the right moment. I believe that title, that feeling of sharing one of the biggest titles in our sport with my team for our country, in our country, was one of the best feelings I experienced as a tennis player on the court.
That was a great confidence boost and helped me to, afterwards, believe in myself, in my abilities on the court more. When I started that winning streaks in Australia, winning the second Grand Slam trophy in 2011, when you get such a great start of the year, then things are a bit easier, you know, mentally for continuation of the season.
Q. Speaking of Davis Cup, the big focus is on this tournament, but can you confirm you’re going to play in three weeks’ time?
NOVAK DJOKOVIC: Right now I can’t. I don’t know what’s going to happen in two weeks’ time, as long as I play in this tournament. I’m going to try to get as far as I can in Melbourne. The plan is to play Davis Cup for Serbia, yes.
Q. The heat is going to be a challenging situation like always. Is this the toughest Grand Slam physically?
NOVAK DJOKOVIC: Well, every Grand Slam offers something different. I believe in every slam, it’s special in its own way. You have to adjust to the conditions.
We have two Grand Slams on the hard courts here and New York also. Yes, Australian summer can be brutal sometimes with the heat. But it is the way it is for so many years. It’s not something that is a case from recent years.
I got used to it. I know how it feels like to practice, to play on the heat. You got to go with the flow.
Q. What do you know about Belgium?
NOVAK DJOKOVIC: It’s a beautiful country (laughter).
Q. Apart from that? Have you ever been?
NOVAK DJOKOVIC: I’ve been in Belgium, played junior tournaments in Belgium, under 16. A very long time ago.
Q. Are you a beer drinker?
NOVAK DJOKOVIC: I am not a beer drinker. But I’ve heard you have the best beer. I would lie if I didn’t try, so I tried your beer. It’s very good. And you have great tennis players, obviously. Especially women’s, Justine Henin and Clijsters, the champions. Best in the world.
I think you have four or five guys that are around 30 to 50 in the world at this moment. It’s going to be tricky. Davis Cup is a very unique competition. You play for your country. There is a different feeling to it. Also you are in a team competition, so it doesn’t depend only from you, your result, what you do on the court. You also have to play well in order to get selected to play the matches, singles, doubles. It’s going to be interesting.
Q. You’re going for three in a row here in Melbourne, which hasn’t been done in the Open era. Why do you think that is difficult to do that here?
NOVAK DJOKOVIC: That’s a good question. From my personal experience, I like playing here because it’s after probably five, six, seven weeks of break with no official tournament. So you get time to recover, regroup, recharge your batteries mentally, physically, try to get ready for the new season with four, five weeks of good practice. You come here fresh. You’re motivated and inspired to play some good tennis.
In my case, has been working well. This is my most successful Grand Slam. But this Grand Slam is also known for a lot of surprises, players who have been reaching the final stages who are not expected to, especially in the last six, seven years.
We’ll see. We’ll see. The Australian Open always brings something interesting.
Q. How do you feel about Rafa not being here this year? Is it disappointing for the tournament? Given that marathon you played last year, is it a bit of a relief for you?
NOVAK DJOKOVIC: Yeah, it is definitely a loss for the tournament, for tennis, for sport in general not to have Rafa playing still on the court. It’s been, what, seven months since he’s played his last official match.
I mean, I know him really well. We grew up together in a way. He’s a year older than me. So I know that he’s a great competitor, somebody that never gives up, fights till the last moment. And he loves this sport. I’m sure if he felt he was ready enough to play this tournament, best of five in the Australian summer that can be brutal and difficult to play, then he would come. He probably felt he needs more time to recover. I wish him a speedy recovery.
Q. You say there’s been surprises here. In the majors for the last three or four years there’s been four guys, now three guys. Do you see that continuing this year or can you see that monopoly being broken a little bit?
NOVAK DJOKOVIC: Well, I think we cannot predict anything. It’s individual sport, so it only depends from you. Anybody can have what Nadal has at this moment. That’s why you have to be so committed and professional for daily routines. Small details matter for long term, the preparations you do, the practice, the recovery. If you are injured, you’re off the tour. Your ranking is going down.
It’s probably expected that the three of us, and Nadal of course, would still be main candidates to win all the major titles. But, you know, I wouldn’t underestimate Del Potro, Tsonga, Ferrer, Berdych, anybody who is in top 10. I’m sure there’s new young players coming up like Tomic, Dimitrov, Raonic.
I don’t think it’s nice for me to predict that us three will be champions of all Grand Slams this year.
Q. You have a new racquet coming out.
NOVAK DJOKOVIC: Yes.
Q. It can be quite dangerous to change racquets at certain times of the year. You did pretty well with your old one. Are you using your old frame for this tournament or are you already using the new racquet?
NOVAK DJOKOVIC: No, I tested this new racquet. For me personally, there are no big changes in dimensions and the distribution of the weight. I mean, I’m extra careful about the racquet. It’s the most important tool for a tennis player.
But Head has been doing a fantastic job in developing, being creative with their years. They come up with the Graphene, which is the strongest and lightest material on earth. It also helps optimize the weight through the racquet.
As I said, it’s an individual sport, so every tennis player has different demands, different desires how the racquet should look like, how it feels in their hands.
I feel comfortable with this racquet. It gives me control and speed. It’s suitable to my style of the game.
Q. Do you feel more relaxed or more pressure coming into the Australian Open as the defending champion?
NOVAK DJOKOVIC: I feel this is a point where everybody starts from the same line, so I don’t really put myself in a position to have more pressure than the others have, to be honest.
I’ve been faced with this particular kind of pressure, defending the title in major events, a few times. So I know how it feels like, what I need to do. As I said, I’m trying to keep it very simple, take it day to day, see how far I can go.
Q. Have you noticed a change in Andy Murray’s demeanor since the Olympics and New York?
NOVAK DJOKOVIC: He has a shorter haircut (smiling).
NOVAK DJOKOVIC: No, I mean, look, he has become a Grand Slam and Olympic champion. It’s something that not many players in the history have done. He’s great. I mean, I think mentally something switched in his head and he just started believing much more in his abilities, even though he was always a great player, always was a contender to win a major title.
Now that he’s done it, he’s definitely right up there, one of the first few favorites for any tournament he plays. He’s an all around player, improved his game, stayed committed.
Q. You’re one of the players known for taking a longer time between points than average. What are your thoughts on how the time is going to be enforced by the ATP and how it’s going to affect your playing style?
NOVAK DJOKOVIC: Well, I guess Nadal and myself, we’re right up there mentioned in that topic as the players who would be always in danger of the time violation because of the time we are taking between the points.
It is the way it is. I don’t complain. I cannot have any complaints when I take more than 20 seconds between the points. If the chair umpire comes to me and said, Listen, you should be a little bit more careful about it. If I do it again, he gives me warning, I can’t complain about it.
It’s within the rules and I will respect it.
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