Meeting the press Saturday in Melbourne, Novak Djokovic revealed that his injured elbow still wasn’t healed. And the 6-time champion didn’t rule out surgery down the road. He also wouldn’t discuss what exactly the problem was with the elbow, only that it’s been a hindrance for a while now.
Djokovic, who hasn’t played an official match since a shock Wimbledon quarterfinal loss to Tomas Berdych, is set to return in best-of-5 match Tuesday against American lefty Donald Young.
After the presser, Djokovic handed out chocolates.
Q. Could you tell us about your new serve, new serving action, and how long it took to get used to it.
NOVAK DJOKOVIC: Happy New Year to you, too (smiling). Great to see you all, first of all. It’s been a while. Haven’t had this long of a break ever in my career. I’m just glad to be back playing tennis, having an opportunity to compete yet again in the big tournaments.
I’ve missed it. At the same time, I had plenty of time to spend with my family, and also take a different look on my game, you know, my body, just an overall strategy on how I want to move forward.
I’ve introduced new people to my team. Obviously the service motion is something that we worked on, referring to your question. It was obviously the part of my game that I had to address because of the elbow issues. I’ve worked on it for last couple months with Radek and Andre. Andre came over, spent a week with the entire team.
Ever since Radek decided to join the team, he was with me more or less the entire time, trying to spend as much quality time on the court as much as we can.
Obviously the beginning, even though the service motion comparing to the old ones, it’s not entirely different, but at the beginning even those small tweaks and changes have made a lot of difference mentally. I needed time to kind of get used to that change, understand whether that’s good or not good for me.
So far it’s been working really well. I had only Kooyong match where I could really try it out. I had a lot of practice sets. I’m happy with the new motion, you know, new service motion. I don’t want to say ‘new serve’, but new service motion.
Some corrections, I guess, some improvements to the technique, which I think are allowing me to be more efficient with the serve, but also allowing me to release the load from the elbow, which is, you know, obviously something that I have to do because I have that injury.
Q. In the early ’90s, Andre hurt his wrist and abbreviated his service motion for a while.
NOVAK DJOKOVIC: We’ve talked about it. He was mentioning his own experiences. Well, both Radek and Andre have discussed a lot before the information came across to me. They spent a lot of hours analyzing my serve. I did, too. We talked about it.
But, of course, they wanted to make sure that the information that comes to me on the court, that is the proper information that should be, so to say, I guess used to go forward, to see whether it works or not.
As I said, you know, not to get into technical details, but there are three, four details, things, that I’ve changed with my rotation, the elbow up, which is the most obvious one. I feel like I spend less energy but I’m more efficient. I’m really looking forward to try out my new serve here.
Q. On your elbow, when did you have your surgery? What was the nature?
NOVAK DJOKOVIC: I didn’t have any surgery, no. No surgery. I just had to, you know, take time to rest. It was that kind of an injury.
Q. How hard was it to take that time off? You usually have a pretty planned-out schedule. Was it like, What do I do now?
NOVAK DJOKOVIC: Well, this particular injury has been bothering me for a while. Actually it was an accumulation of I think year, year and a half of dealing with this kind of injury. Accumulation came in July last year in Wimbledon. I couldn’t play any more. Before that it was, say, bearable pain that I could kind of sustain and try to play with.
So I knew eventually down the road somewhere I will have to stop and have a longer break. How long, I didn’t know. I’ve never missed a Grand Slam ever since I started playing professional tennis. I’ve never been absent from the tour more than a month. So I’ve been pretty happy with the way — with, of course, the team around me, the way I’ve taken care of my body in the last 12 years.
It was strange feeling for me, I mean, obviously, not to be able to compete for six months. But the good thing about it is when it actually happened and when we made that decision, of course, in consultations with doctors, it was quite clear, you know, what is going on. The next six months, I won’t play, regardless of how fast or slow the recovery goes.
I already had my mind calm because I knew I don’t need to rush to get myself ready for the end of the season. I was already thinking about the next season.
Then I had time, of course, and a huge relief, as well. I was thinking about whether I can stop or not. You know, dealing with the pain is something that is part of every athlete’s, I guess, responsibility. It’s part of your job, part of your life. You’ve got to deal with it. Everybody goes through some level of pain daily more or less. This was quite a major injury.
Yet again, I was discreetly in the last couple years wishing I had a little bit more time to spend with my family, and I got it July last year. As an athlete, of course, you never like to experience an injury of that sort. It allowed me to me to be with my family, to be next to my wife when she was giving birth to our second child, and to also address some other things that are always on the standby because of tennis, and just enjoy life. There is a life outside of tennis tour, as well. So I was happy to kind of refresh my mind.
As I said, I missed it, so I can’t wait to compete.
Q. Through the years, you are used to being hunted, now you are in the role of the hunter. Is it going to change anything when you get back on the court?
NOVAK DJOKOVIC: In some way, yes, because I haven’t been playing on the desired level. Even the first part of last year, I did struggle a lot with the performance, as well, the injury that was holding me back. Of course, the next part of the year I didn’t play. The ranking dropped obviously.
I still know what I’m capable of, and I believe in my own abilities to win against the best players in the world. I know that if I get myself to desired level of performance – mental and physical – that I can actually have a good chance to go far in the tournament.
Now, whether my approach is different to this year’s Australian Open to other previous years, probably yes. It’s different circumstances. But it is exciting. Honestly, it’s a good place to be.
Q. What happened a couple weeks ago when you were forced to withdraw from Abu Dhabi and Doha?
NOVAK DJOKOVIC: Well, the elbow was just not ready yet to compete day-to-day, you know, playing matches back-to-back. It was not yet prepared, so I had to take that decision. Even though ideally it would probably be great to have a leadup event after six months of not playing matches, coming into the Australian Open. But I’m just happy that I’m here at the moment, that I have a chance to play.
Because I didn’t know, honestly, until around that period, midway and first week of the season, I didn’t know whether I’m going to be able to play in Australian Open or not.
Q. What has changed? Why are you sure that you are ready now?
NOVAK DJOKOVIC: Well, after long and very thorough consultations with my team and doctors, orthopaedic specialists, we have made a decision that it is fine and adequate for me to play here.
Right now that’s all I’m thinking about.
Q. You’re saying you are still managing the injury. You aren’t completely healed yet?
NOVAK DJOKOVIC: Yes, I can say that. It hasn’t been 100% yet healed. But right now it’s at the level where I can compete, and every day is getting better. You know, I’m hoping that it can be 100% at the start of the tournament. Throughout the tournament, I don’t know how it’s going to behave. Even if it’s 100% healed, after six months of no competition, you never know how you’re going to react.
So let’s see. There’s not much more I can do. I’ve done really everything in my power, with a team of people around me, to enable me to be right here in front of you guys, and to compete in Australian Open.
Q. Was the pain most serious when you served?
NOVAK DJOKOVIC: Yeah, yeah.
Q. Did you feel it in other shots, too?
NOVAK DJOKOVIC: Just serving. Serving is the most critical shot for me, yeah.
Q. Did you need an injection or anything to be here?
NOVAK DJOKOVIC: I’m not going to get into the details. There was a lot of things that were on the table, that we’ve done, things that we haven’t done. To take you through the whole process, we need quite a bit of time.
I’m here. I’m going to play. Hopefully everything goes well.
Q. Are you happy you’re not going to cause yourself any further damage by playing best-of-five set matches?
NOVAK DJOKOVIC: That’s a good question. That was my question to the specialists before, you know, I made my decision to come here to Australia and to play, was whether or not I’m going to do any further damage or harm.
I was convinced that’s not the case, so…
Q. At any point was there a suggestion you might need surgery, that surgery was an option?
NOVAK DJOKOVIC: There are some other options, long-term options, that I will obviously revisit and address post-tournament. Right now I should focus on this.
Q. Could you tell us what the injury is?
NOVAK DJOKOVIC: I’m sorry, I can’t get into details. It’s just that I hope you understand.
Q. You said in a recent interview, you might play till you’re 40.
NOVAK DJOKOVIC: I’ll tell you more about it after the tournament (laughter).
Well, obviously I love this sport, I really do. As I said, I’ve been quite content with my body, mind, spirit so far throughout my career. The fire, passion, and love for the sport still burns inside. I have great support from my family and close ones and people around the world.
I do feel young inside, you know. Even though by some people’s opinions, you know, when you cross the 30, you’re not young any more, you’re already getting into your last third or maybe last quarter of your career.
I mean, Roger and Rafa’s year last year has shown age is just a number, especially in Roger’s case. I mean, he’s a great example of someone that manages to take care of himself, knows how to prepare well and peak at the right time. He won couple Grand Slams. Who would predict that after his six months of absence, so…
Everything is possible really. I don’t know how my body’s going to behave this year or any other year. Right now all I can think about, and where I can sort of say direct my energy, is in the present moment. So far everything is going in the right direction.
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