[28-11-2006] By Ian Willoughby
A special prize was presented to Jiri Novak on Saturday, at the Golden Canary awards for Czech tennis player of the year. The award was in recognition of all that Novak achieved during a long professional career, which recently came to an end when he played his last tournament, the Swiss Indoors in Basle.
Jiri Novak, photo: CTKNovak, a man for whom family comes first, said he was retiring at 31 to spend more time at home - and because of persistent injuries.
Now he has hung up his racket, the Zlin-born player has had an opportunity to reflect on his career. Looking back, what does Jiri Novak regard as his greatest success?
"It's impossible to say in one sentence, because it includes everything from the tournaments I won at junior level to the Masters Cup, which features the best eight players in the world. 2002, when I reached the Masters and the semi-final of the Australian Open, was probably my best year. That was my happiest period in tennis."
While singles tennis is of course an individual sport, Novak also appreciated any chance to represent the Czech Republic in team competitions.
"I was at the Olympic Games in Sydney, Atlanta and Athens - that really made a deep impression. And the Davis Cup ties I was involved in were really important to me. Relatively speaking, I had a very positive record in the Davis Cup. I really enjoyed team events."
Jiri NovakHowever, despite his own good record, Jiri Novak never got to experience any notable success with the Czech national team.
"I always wanted to win something with the national team - either in the Davis Cup or at the Olympics. That never happened, but I leave with my head held high. I appreciate my career all the more when I think back to the conditions I experienced as a young player, and my first times playing abroad at the age of 15. I don't take it as 'I could have won more'...Thank God what happened, happened. I was fifth in the world - I had a great career."
And finally, what does Jiri Novak think the sport of tennis gave him? And what did it take away?
"It gave me a great general overview - I had to look after myself from a young age, learn a new language...But on the other hand it took away my childhood. Puberty is a time when you want to go out, go to the disco, but I couldn't. That said, I take it positively, I was never a disco type anyway. So I don't see it as me losing something - on the contrary, it just helped me in life."