Well I don't know if this has been posted before because it's an old interview, but I found it very interesting, specially Novak's rivalry with fed/nadal, his showmanship and his ridiculous ball bouncing... enjoy.
The man they call the Djoker
TELL people that you have just interviewed Novak Djokovic and the first question they ask is: was he funny?
Djokovic is, after all, famous for outing his inner John Travolta in a tight white suit on a Montreal catwalk, stripping off at the barest excuse, singing all-night karaoke with Maria Sharapova in New York, and mimicking his friends and rivals down to the last nervous tic or underwear tug.
Clearly, he is a born entertainer, even if not everyone would have chuckled at his joke during Perth’s Hopman Cup about enjoying mixed doubles because it affords him the best view of his partner bending over at the net. Yet nor, any longer, is there any doubt that Djokovic has the substance, and results, to match his extrovert’s flash.
He reached his first grand slam final at the US Open, has ridden his all-court game to No. 3 with a bullet and has Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal looking over their shoulders with, perhaps, a small degree of irritation. But is Djokovic a showman, or, simply, a show-off?
“Ah , no, no, no, no,” Djokovic protests, aghast. “If I have to choose between these two things, I would say showman, for sure. Even though now I’m pretty popular in my country and tennis is the No. 1 sport, and I’m very flattered that the people recognise me and come up and give me compliments, I’m more a person who likes to have privacy and peace.
“Since the first moment I started to watch tennis on the TV, I started to imitate all these players, and I did it all throughout my career, but now the people started noticing it more because of my popularity and my success I had on the court. Some people say I just do it to get all the attention on me, to show off, but it’s not true.
“I’m trying to enjoy my lie as much as I can and I know that tennis hopefully is going to be my life the next 10, 15 years. I’m going to travel the tour, I’m going to visit more or less the same place, so you have to take it more or less in a positive way, and take everything with a smile — bring out the positive energy, make the people laugh, enjoy yourself, and that’s what I’m doing.”
Anyone lamenting the sport’s lack of personalities should dial-a-Djokovic. His official website has its star in three poses, including one emphasising his “irresistible charm”. In John McEnroe’s words, he is “cocky, but in a good way”, and perhaps that is the best description, although his sometime Australian volleying coach, Mark Woodforde, offered some advice during last year’s net tutorials about not overdoing the funster routine and giving rivals cause to feel miffed.
“You can beat them with your racquet; that’s what disturbs them. Don’t give them any extra (motivation) by trying to take off Nadal, picking your pants out of your bum,” says Woodforde. “In a particular time and place, the crowd will love it, but you don’t need to overdo it, and I think he gets that, but sometimes I think that youthful exuberance takes over.
“Has he got up Roger’s nose? Yes, and probably up Rafa’s a little bit, as well. How nice is it when there’s two of you standing up at the top of the mountain, you don’t want to share it around, but then all of a sudden someone comes barging up and clawing at you and it can hurt. Novak has left some marks on them, so I don’t know whether they’re worried that he could knock them off, or it’s just that the personalities haven’t meshed. It could be both.”
Even Djokovic admits that he senses a slight edge to his relationship with Federer, whose greatness as “the most complete player that this sport ever had” the young Serb goes to great pains to emphasise. Federer described as “insignificant” his loss in the Montreal fi nal, and has not always been as effusive with his praise as for other wannabe contenders. Could Roger, for whatever reason, be just a little bit niggly?
“It might be, yeah, because of the results, and obviously he feels that I’m slightly coming closer,” Djokovic said. “I just got to that third place of the world, I had two major wins in 2007, in Montreal and Miami, I played finals of the grand slam, semi-finals (of the French), so I had some pretty impressive results, and probably because of that it might change.
“Not everybody can like what I do, and if you feel that somebody is coming up closer to you and starting the rivalry and everything, you maybe change your position to him. Me, I don’t have a different opinion about him or either Rafa. They are my rivals, I can say, but they are my colleagues, as well, in the life and in the business. I see a lot of them during the year and I really respect them both, because I think they are fantastic players, especially Roger, for me.”
McEnroe has said he believes an unusual lack of reverence is part of the key to Djokovic’s success, while Woodforde believes it can also be costly at times, recalling an example of harmless bravado during a Channel Seven promo for last year’s fourth-round match at the Australian Open, in which the challenger predicted boldly that he would beat the champ. Then again, what was he supposed to say? That he expected to lose bravely in three sets?
“That reverberated around the lockerroom, got back to Roger, who probably thought, ‘I’m going to take care of the guy tonight’ and he did,” said Woodforde.
“So it’s added a bit of juice to their rivalryand, hopefully, it does become a great rivalry, because that’s what we need. I wouldn’t think that Roger or Rafael dislike Novak, they’re just very much aware he’s becoming a very good player.”
That much is not in dispute, and Djokovic has expected nothing less. He first declared he would be No. 1 about seven or eight years ago and nothing has caused his belief — or that of his family, including talented younger brothers Marko, the Serbian 16-and-under champion, and precocious Djorde, the 11-year-old Novak rates as the bigger talent — to waver since then.
Still, it has been quite a ride. Two years ago in Australia, he was the loud guy with the odd Beefeater-style helmet of hair who entertained the crowd with his antics at the Hopman Cup. Last year he returned as the youngest player in the top 20, to win the Adelaide title and then reach the last 16 at the Open. Now, as Lleyton Hewitt concedes, two has become three at the top of the game, and there is a long gap to fourth.
Yet while doubts remain in some circles about his ability under intense pressure or in extreme adversity — it is hard, for example, to imagine Hewitt retiring from a Wimbledon semi-final with blisters — there is also plenty to admire. “I love his head — he’s such a smart guy out there,” says Martina Navratilova. “I like his attitude, on and off the court.”
Even though, on the surface, there is not one thing he does spectacularly well. There’s no Sampras serve, no Agassi return, no Federer forehand.
What Djokovic does is almost everything extremely competently, on every surface, and he hired Woodforde for two stints last year to improve the one part that is lacking: his net game.
So what does Djokovic like about the way Djokovic plays?
"I like my groundstrokes, I can say. I like it. That's my game — I'm a groundstroke player and I play pretty aggressive. I like the fast rallies, I try to be pretty fast on the court and I spend quite a bit of energy which I will try to work on in the near future to reduce this spending of energy a little bit more and make my serve a little bit varied and get more free points, and, of course, to use my opportunities so I can get to the net."
It was not surprising Woodforde noted that Djokovic was a man in a hurry, worrying at first that he would have to spend hours and hours on the blue-collar approach work just behind the service line, and wanting to immediately storm the net to make a spectacular winner. "I had to just get it across to him that it doesn't happen overnight," says Woodforde.
Yet so much else seems to have done. Barely out of his teens, the Serbian is 2-6 against Nadal and 1-5 with Federer, but all three wins have come in the past year, and on hardcourts, and so the Australian Open appeals as one of his best grand slam opportunities.
Second-year blues? Andy Roddick offers a cautionary note. "It will be interesting this year to see how Novak goes. He had a good year last year, now he is No. 3 in the world, and people will be coming after him. It's going to be a new position for him."
Djokovic had already been warned about the difficulties of following up a breakthrough year, but refuses to approach 2008 negatively or nervously. "I'm really looking forward to this season, because I know I have enough quality to be one of the best players of the world and I know I have enough quality to be one of the favourites for every grand slam, so this is one of my priority goals."
So, to a lesser but still important degree, is his need to reduce the ridiculously excessive ball-bouncing that has become an habitual part of his service routine. His record, is, incredibly, 36 for the first serve and 29 — on the same point — for the second. Never mind the spectators' frustration; his back is now also starting to show the strain.
"This is something that came along this year which is, I think, a bad habit, and it can hurt me. I'm bending so much time when I'm bouncing, the muscle gets tight, and after a while it gets tired and sore and that's the main reason why I have back problems. This is something that comes from my head, it's a mental problem and hopefully in the future I can work that out. I hope to get down to 10, maximum. I don't need more!"
What Djokovic would like is the week of practice he is seeking with his idol, Pete Sampras, whose 1993 Wimbledon victory was Djokovic's great inspiration, but whom he never saw play in person and has never met. It may happen in March, before Indian Wells and Miami, with the possibility of some exhibition matches attached, but that is still to be confirmed. Two greater opposites it is hard to imagine, and Djokovic admits they have little in common, either in game or personality.
All of this leaves one last question to be answered: was Novak Djokovic funny? The answer: not strictly speaking, but he was marvellously accommodating, expansive — the answer to his first question ran for nearly 300 words — and appealing. If Djokovic is a show-off, the game needs more of them.