Much has changed for Novak Djokovic. A year ago he was by far the best player in tennis. He was holding all four Grand Slams and in full control of the tour and his game. Now, he’s ranked No. 4. Doesn’t hold any Slams, has a second baby on the way and comes into Wimbledon with a new coach Andre Agassi and another in Mario Ancic.
On Sunday, Djokovic met the Wimbledon press to talk about the addition of Ancic and more.
The 33-year-old Ancic retired from the tour in 2011 after many different health issues. While on tour he famously beat Roger Federer at Wimbledon. And he also reached the semifinals there and the quarterfinals on two other occasions. He rose to a career-high No. 7 in July, 2006.
Djokovic returns tomorrow to take on Martin Klizan in the first round.
Q. It had been a long time since you played a buildup tournament. How do you feel having done that? It paid off.
NOVAK DJOKOVIC: Yes, seems to be right now from this perspective a good decision to have played Eastbourne. Obviously I was not playing too many of the events in the week prior to the beginning of the Grand Slam in my career, but I decided to do so this time because I felt like I needed more matches in general, but especially on the grass, that is very unique surface that requires time for adaptation and adjustment, especially for the movement.
I felt like this time I needed a proper tournament rather than just playing couple of exhibition matches. I’m glad I’ve made that decision, and that I went to Eastbourne, because it was a very positive experience on and off the court as well. People were very kind. It was a great week with a lot of good, positive energy. A lot of time spent on the practice courts, four quality matches. Just overall very happy with the way it went, and where my form is at.
Q. If you could go back in time and give your younger self one or two advices, what would it be?
NOVAK DJOKOVIC: Well, I think that’s probably a thing that many people would love to do, you know, go back in time and kind of influence certain events and certain things differently from the present perspective, right? You learned your lessons, you’re wiser, you’re more experienced.
But I guess patience, you know. That’s something that lacks a lot to young people. To myself it was at the same time. Kind of trusting the process as I go along.
But, you know, I generally don’t like to revert back and have regrets. I’m not holding anything back because I feel that life is just orchestrated in such a way that’s best for us as that moment to evolve as human beings.
I think everything was happening for a reason on the tennis court, off the tennis court as well, to got me to the place where I am at the moment. I’m just very grateful overall to the life for that.
Q. Can you talk a little bit about adding Mario to your team, why you thought of him. Is it just for here? Is he taking vacation from his real job?
NOVAK DJOKOVIC: The last question you’re going to have to ask him (laughter).
But he was prescheduled to be in London. When we talked on the phone probably about three, four weeks ago — of course prior to that call I talked with Andre about who potentially can be joining us in the team as someone who would potentially spend a little bit more time with me on the tour when Andre is not available.
Mario was top of the list. He’s someone that I’ve known for so many years. And we’re friends. He was one of the players on the tour that I’ve had closest relationship with, even during the active career. Which wasn’t easy, and it’s not easy obviously, because he was top-10 player. We were kind of competitors and rivals. But we always had a tremendous respect and support towards each other. We spend a lot of time off the court, speak the same language. Things were very easy for us in terms of communication.
After that, obviously he was very unfortunate with his injuries and illnesses that kind of ended his career. It’s really unfortunate because he’s definitely one of the most talented players that I have ever seen. He loved playing on grass. It’s where he made his best results, I think, on Grand Slams, beating Federer one year, reaching I think semifinals. He beat me here, as well, I remember that, in a long four-setter.
After he ended his professional tennis career, he went a different way. He’s on Wall Street now, obviously. During his active career, he was studying law, which not many professional athletes do, study at the same time while they’re actively participating in professional sport. Especially for someone of his quality, he was top-10 player. That was quite an effort.
He was very, very smart, very educated always. Just very kind guy, you know, admired by many people and respected around the tour.
We spoke. He said he was anyway coming to London. He would be happy to spend some time with Andre and myself during Wimbledon. That’s more or less everything we talked about.
In terms of what comes after that, we’ll see. We’ll take a day at a time, see how everything flows during this tournament, see where that takes us.
Q. Years ago I remember you spoke about having problems with allergies. Was that ever an issue here for you with the grass?
NOVAK DJOKOVIC: No, not really. Not really. Well, that was actually at the very beginning of my professional career, just that year, year and a half. After that I solved that problem. I thought the allergy — actually, I’ve had that ever since I was five, six, seven years old till about 19, 20. Allergies in pollen, home dust, things like that. Just kept coming. Many periods of the year where I just would not be able to sleep well because my nose would be completely blocked.
I tried many things. I tried, you know, inhalations. I even had a surgery. Just a bunch of stuff. But everything was in diet. So when I changed my diet, I never had an allergy ever in my life. So that was the key.
Q. Before fixing it, would it crop up, maybe your first couple years?
NOVAK DJOKOVIC: I can’t remember if I had issues here. I remember that springtime, that was probably the hardest.
Q. Roger is here going for Grand Slam No. 19. It’s coming up on 10 years since you played him in your first Grand Slam final at the US Open. I was wondering if you had any particular memories from that match. If at all going up against someone like him in your first Grand Slam final, was that intimidating at all?
NOVAK DJOKOVIC: Well, of course I remember. I think it was three tiebreaks we played, or two tiebreaks, in that finals back in 2007. Of course, for me it was just an incredible occasion, incredible opportunity to just be part of the finals of the Grand Slam.
Of course, playing against Roger was a huge task, a huge challenge to overcome. I played well. Coming to play against him in the first Grand Slam final, taking him to a couple of tiebreaks. Losing in straight sets, but still I thought it was a worthy performance from my side. On the other hand, he was just too good at that point.
But that was a huge springboard for me, my rest of the career. Only few months later I won the first Grand Slam title in Australian Open. Yeah, I mean, once you reach the finals of a Grand Slam, that’s where I think all of a sudden you reach the next dimension of the confidence level and self-belief. No really other tournament can match that kind of feeling of being in a finals of Grand Slam, or eventually winning it. That opens a lot of doors for you internally.
Q. You’ve been talking quite openly about finding a new balance in life, not depending so much on results on the court. Do you feel you’re progressing in this process over the last few weeks maybe?
NOVAK DJOKOVIC: Well, it’s not a process that it’s only lasted for last few weeks. I mean, it’s lasting the whole lifetime. It’s the constant evolution. It’s just that when the things are completely going your way, in this case in professional tennis career, when I was winning constantly and being dominant in the tennis world, you know, you’re happy and you’re content, you feel like everything is kind of revolving around tennis. But it’s not like that. Some other things were suffering during that time.
So it’s always, I guess, figuring out what’s the right balance and right formula to be completely, I guess, in peace and satisfied with yourself, and everything that you do, you know.
I used to base all my happiness on winning a tennis match. I think many athletes today are doing that. So I try not to do that any more because it’s not like I don’t care, but winning and losing a tennis match, absolutely not. Of course, I would love to win every single tennis match I play in, but I don’t try to take that as very essential, you know, moment in my life which determines my happiness.
It’s a different approach, but I’m still here and I’m still motivated, I still keep on going. I’m still glad to kind of experience whatever professional tennis career has for me.
Q. It’s fair to say throughout your career, you’ve really been known as a pioneer, someone willing to take sensible risks. Now you’re on a journey here to try to get the Wimbledon trophy. You’re also on another journey, which some people would say is intriguing, self-empowering. Talk about the process of an elite athlete trying to go inward, focus on the inner self. You’ve said through this work you get to focus on the emotions and thoughts that you wish to dwell on.
NOVAK DJOKOVIC: Well, thank you for your question, but it’s kind of hard to simplify that, you know, and to say even though life in general is simple, at least in my opinion, people try to complicate it.
But it’s hard in professional sport to, you know, go through that kind of process. Because sport is one of the kind of fields of life where there are many, I guess, charactive [sic] features and virtues that are presented to people in the best possible way. That’s why people relate to athletes and what they do, because of the sacrifice, because of the fight, because there is no way around it. Basically you have to earn the respect and earn the trophies and success by yourself, especially in tennis.
But, you know, it seems to me that, especially nowadays, everything is observed through the lens of material success, who lifts more trophies gets more respect, more fame, more money, and a better status in the society.
I mean, it’s hard in this kind of, so to say, values, set of values, to kind of go through that kind of process. But, you know, for me, it’s equally important, even more important, to take care of myself as a human being. What goes around off the court, as well.
In the process, I believe that that’s going to positively affect my own tennis career, as well.
Q. Do you think it empowers you?
NOVAK DJOKOVIC: Of course, it does.
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