Since it's a slow news day, here's an article from 2007 Estoril Open.
Have a Nice Day, Nole! by Miguel Seabra, 05/09/2007
[Once again, our main man in Europe, Miguel Seabra, has stepped up to bring you this update on Novak Djokovic's present, torrid run. Miguel is a very busy guy during Estoril; he's the Portuguese Bud Collins, but he found time to file this terrific firsthand report for us. I'm always touched by Mikey's obvious esteem for the Tribe, we're lucky, folks! And special thanks to photographer Jose Luis Fernandes (portrait) Mario Gouveia (action) for these images - Peter Bodo]
I was nurturing high expectations for this year’s edition of the Estoril Open, because the entry lists of the Portuguese combined event came out with 16
players age 20 and below. As a reporter, I always felt compelled to catch a young prospect early. I like to see his or her essence as a developing player and character, and it's interesting to see the degree of rapport a player has with the press and tennis officials before
the perils of fame and fortune kick in.
That’s why I’ve always enjoyed covering the various satellite and Challenger-type events. I got to know Grand Slam winners - including Richard Krajicek, Gustavo Kuerten and Juan Carlos Ferrero - while they were still "raw," and playing sub-main tour events here in Portugal.
Of course, the Estoril Open is at a higher level, and it has all the ATP and WTA Tour idiosyncrasies. But it's still a much cozier and more intimate tournament than bigger combined events like Miami or the Slams. Anyway, I was (almost) spoiled this year by the number of youngsters in Estoril: Novak "Nole" Djokovic beat Richard Gasquet in an Estoril final featuring the youngest pair of men, ever, and 17 year-old Victoria Azarenka had two match-points before going down to wily German veteran Greta Arn in a third set tiebreaker.
I knew already young ‘Vika’ from Belarus through her Portuguese coach, Antonio Van Grichen, and Gasquet had been here in 2004, when he lost to Rafael Nadal in a second round match that was, perhaps presciently, labeled "a glimpse of the future". Of course, I was curious about young guns like Sam Querrey and the celebrated ‘round-robin killer’ Evgeny Korolev, but I was mostly interested in Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray’s performances - on and off the court.
I had previously talked with both Novak and Andy – but in very different environments at Masters and Grand Slam events. In Estoril, on my turf, I might be able to catch those little peculiarities that would help me better figure out their personalities for a feature I would be writing for my magazine, ProTENIS
Unfortunately, Murray's back wasn't fully healed, and the withdrawal by Murray prevented the tournament from having five
Top 10 players for the first time in it's history. It also prevented me from writing that Young Blood
piece I was planning, but in the end I was happy: I got to know Djokovic pretty well and the tournament had a great addition to a pretty distinguished gallery of champions.
I must confess that, until the Australian Open this year, I didn’t think the world of Djokovic. I viewed him as an inconsiderate iconoclast: too much talking, not enough results against top players. I was completely wrong. The kid has been dealing darn well with the spotlight and he was simply the star of the Estoril Open from Day One, showing great respect and manners.
Novak arrived in Portugal the Saturday before the main draw. And the first thing he asked me for was tickets to the big game the following day between Lisbon soccer giants Benfica
– a crucial match that could decide which team would follow runaway leader FC Porto
into the Champions League next season. I told him that, at the time of the match the next day, he was supposed to attend the official players' dinner and party – and I was surprised by his reaction: “Well, if it’s mandatory I should go to the dinner then.”
Being Number 5 in the world and a rising star crazy about soccer, Djokovic could do pretty much whatever he wanted, so his responsible reaction was surprising. Anyway, I still called João Lagos (the tournament director, a long-time Djokovic fan who shares your own Peter Bodo's enthusiasm for Djokovic's game). I told him about my conversation with Novak. Lagos got right on the phone with Benfica
's president and a little while later one of the club's directors called me, with some exciting news.
I went out to find Novak, who was practicing with his coach Marian Vajda, a stocky but smooth Slovak who got to the Estoril semifinals back in 1991. I was struck by how happy Djokovic appeared during his practice session; in fact, it was probably the most joyful practice session I can remember ever watching. The workout finished in gales of laughter when, in the last point of a mini-tennis match, Novak deftly faked out Vajda so badly that the coach fell on his back and ended up caked in red clay.
When they were done, I told Novak the good news: “Novak, the stadium is sold out, tomorrow night. Sorry. But . . .we’ve got four invitations to the presidential box.”
The guy was ecstatic. The following day, we sat together in the first row of the exclusive box, alongside the usual assortment of ministers and diplomats and other VIPs. The match ended up a 1-1 tie, much to the dismay of Benfica supporters. The next morning, Benfica
sent a present for Novak: an official team shirt with his name and favorite number (4) on the back. I went over to the players lounge and, with Marian Vajda and Novak's trainer, Ronen Bega, hung the red shirt on a nearby coat hook. When Novak joined us, he glanced it. A few moments later, he realized what it was, and that it was for him. He reacted like a kid on Christmas day.
I told Novak he could wear the shirt on court, before or after the match – since it was from his own sponsor, Adidas, it wouldn’t be a problem for him, and his picture would be everywhere. A couple of hours later, I saw him heading to the stadium with Igor Andreev. The red Benfica
jersey was nowhere to be seen. But right before walking on court, he stopped, took the shirt out of his bag, and put it on
. The crowd in the stadium was sparse (he was first on, and it was lunch time) and they greeted him with a chorus of boos! I felt terrible, I should have realized the sociological realities at play: Benfica
is the popular club, but tennis attracts a posh crowd, and they're largely Sporting
Novak took it in stride, though, and he broke Igor Andreev right at the beginning of the match. We couldn't forsee it, but from that break on until he clinched championship point, Novak performed like a veteran warrior. The conditions became - and stayed - extremely difficult. The wind was terrible, and it kept changing and swirling in different, unpredictable directions.
Igor Andreev, the last man on the planet to beat Rafa Nadal on clay, is getting back to form after a lengthy injury and, with his big, high-bouncing, "Made in Spain" topspin forehand (Andreev left Moscow while in his teens), he soon started dictating play; Nole hung tough, but expressed frustration over not being able to play more aggressively. He was a break down in the third and the match was decided by a couple of points in the tiebreak: leading 3-2, Andreev double-faulted and then Novak finished off a long, intense exchange with a drop volley. He grabbed the momentum right there and went on to win the match and celebrated as if he'd won the whole tournament
And then… he put on the Benfica jersey again
and waved. and waved. He was booed a bit more than cheered, and on his way out he gestured to his ear and looked at me, a bit puzzled – but Vajda told him not to worry, that he did OK -it's just that it was a Sporting
crowd. One person who did appreciate Novak's support was the Benfica
striker, Italy's Fabrizio Miccoli. He was there, and he signed the shirt in a photo-op that was all over the papers the following day. (Pictures of Novak!
Novak addressed the shirt incident at the press conference with a lot of maturity and diplomacy. He is great in pressers; he talks clearly and frankly and interacts with the reporters as well as he does with the public. The kid’s got charisma, no doubt about that. And a lot of people were happy to see him survive the stern test.
Novak's second rounder against Spain’s Santiago Ventura was a mere formality and then things got complicated again in the quarters against Spanish shotmaker Guillermo Garcia-Lopez. The Djoker won the first set, then took a mental break in the second; he tried to regroup in the beginning of the third, but it wasn’t easy with the wind blowing again – after a couple of demanding points, the combination of anxiety and eagerness got the best of him. Novak started having problems breathing.
With Gracia-Lopez leading, 2-1, Novak called for the trainer, who subsequently worked a little on Novak's back, too. The timing of that interruption was such that Garcia-Lopez later said, rather cryptically, that “Novak is a very intelligent player.” But the real difference is that, from 5-all onward, Novak simply was the tougher, more determined player.
In the semifinals, Tommy Robredo was 5-3 ahead and ultimately served for the first set, but Djokovic battled his way out of trouble yet again; the wind got to Robredo, and Djokovic won the first and then ran away with the second set.
The final was a bit of a roller coaster ride in front of a sellout crowd, with the sun shining high. But the wind was a disruptive factor again. The first set was a tight affair, with two breaks each, and Novak called for the trainer twice - he even got some eye drops because of the clay dust. And right there, at crunch time, everybody could see why Gasquet is Number 15 and Djokovic is 5: the Frenchman has flair, but he blew six set-points from 5-4 on due to some poor decisions, while his Serbian opponent made the most of his first set point, closing it out, 9-7.
Novak got broken in the first game of the second, then threw the racquet so hard you could hear it crack. He didn’t get a warning, but from then, even the most diehard Djokovic fan had to admit that he appeared to tank. The way he let go that second set was dangerous, because he was clearly letting Richard back into the match, but he showed the confidence and Wilanders to get the momentum back exactly when he most needed it. Novak flicked the "on" switch again at the start of the third set, and raced to a 6-1 win.
Once again, I saw the good-humored, talkative kid whom I'd encountered at that first practice session of the tournament. Novak stripped and sent a racquet and his yellow shirt to the crowd. Then grabbed a red shirt from his bag – the crowd thought it was a Benfica
jersey again, so a few started whistling. . .but Novak showed them it was Serbia’s national team soccer shirt, with the embroidery proclaiming ‘Made in Serbia’ and ‘Nole’. He got the trophy from Benfica legend Eusebio
and then rushed like a kid to his bag to get the Benfica
shirt. He asked Eusebio for an autograph
in front of a packed stadium.
At the end of the trophy presentation I walked out to conduct the on-court interview. Novak acknowledged Eusebio and thanked everybody else, charming the crowd. My second question in the center court interview was: “None other than former great John McEnroe was quoted recently as saying that you are the best one of the new generation – that you are ‘da man’
. What do you think about that? And are you really da man
He was quick on his feet: “Obviously, everybody can see that I’m not a woman!”
The stadium erupted in laughter. He went on to say he was honored to hear that, etc. etc. I had thought before the tournament that he lacked a proper respect toward the game and his peers, but he showed nothing but class throughout.
After his official ATP mass press conference we finally had time to sit quietly over lunch and discuss several issues. Here are some of the things Novak said:
On tanking the second set:
Under those conditions, I need to be so much more focused. The people that understand me the most are the players who play at this level; I was really frustrated because I’ve played all matches in this tournament under difficult windy conditions, I needed a kind of a mental break and it’s another lesson I need to learn – it shouldn’t happen in the future. It’s a professional sport, at this level you can’t just give the opportunity to players like Gasquet because they’re going to use it and then it’s tough to come back. I was lucky to play better in the first game of the third set. I was kind of saving energy; you have to variate and compromise with everything.
On dominating’ Nadal at Roland Garros in 2006:
I say what I feel. I try to be as nice as possible, but I felt in that match against Nadal I was the one giving away the points and making the points. Of course he’s the best player in the surface, but what I was trying to explain the people is that I am an aggressive type of player and felt he wasn’t questioned in the match and I was giving him the points. People got me wrong.
On the "He's going down!" comment Djokovic made before playing Federer in Australia 2007:
I didn’t say ‘He is going down’. What I said was that I’m going to try to win, I’m not going on court with a white flag. That’s what I said, and I say what I think. I said it in a good way, but they thought I was arrogant, cocky, blah blah blah... well, you have to accept it is a part of our professional life: the press is the one that can rise you to the stars and then kill you in the same moment.[Ed. note: I was there, and he said it. I kind of liked it, for the Wilanders it showed. I think The Mighty Fed can handle it. . . Peter Bodo]
About medical time-outs in matches:
Take the statistics: in five matches I retired, I was leading in four; the only one I was losing was that one against Nadal. Federer said everybody was pissed at me after that Davis Cup match last year in Geneva because I took a time out, but I was leading 2-0 in the fifth set. But they said whenever I’m losing I ask for a medical time-out. When I ask a medical time-out I’m not trying to confuse my opponent, I’m just trying to recover, to get ready. But people get me wrong.
On the effort to recruit McEnroe to help him:
I try to improve my game, especially on the serve and the volley, getting more aggressive to use my opportunities and Mark Woodforde helped me out a lot at Indian Wells and Miami. Of course John McEnroe had great volleys, great feeling, good serve – he’s saying good things about me and it’s another positive thought and another step towards a future cooperation. I’m trying to get a big team so I can improve my game and get my game together in order to make it perfect. You have to invest in yourself: if you don’t take the risks you don’t get the rewards.
On his favorite strategic move:
It’s a secret... but, as a young kid and throughout my career, I always liked the backhand down the line because it is a shot that changes something in the rally. I can do it, but I should do it more often.
On what sets him apart from the others:
I’m different from other players because I’m always trying to learn something new and trying to improve. Most other players don’t do that, they stick to their games. Roger Federer is one that is trying to improve all the time. I’m always trying to get together those small things that I still miss.
Of course, I also had a chat with Marian Vajda, who told me:
The Estoril Open was probably his most difficult title, considering the tough playing conditions. What I like the most about Novak is his winning attitude, he’s one of the best fighters on the tour and he likes to play matches, to compete. And he has very good skills. We’re working on the approach and the net game, and still working on the serve, but we try to improve on a daily basis, step by step. He has a very powerful game, he can increase the level of the speed of the ball and change the pace in a match and not a lot of players can do that. His movement was always very good, but now he is more powerful in his upper body. And he is intelligent, likes to work and learns fast.
Then I asked about the rumors that McEnroe might join the Djokovic team. Vajda said, "Novak’s father would like John to help him with the net game, and I think it’s great. I’m OK with it”.
In my conversation with Nole, it really struck me when he said: “I try to do everything with a smile and positive energy."
I knew that Novak uses a yellow Smiley-face string dampener, so I pulled out a copy of my magazine, in which I used a Smiley-face icon as a substitute for the letter "O" in the headline, The Djoker. He loved it; I told him since he always has the Smiley on his strings he should make it his trademark logo and capitalize on it because strong icons make names stronger – Bjorn Borg had the Bj logo, Seve Ballesteros has the silhouette of him winning at St. Andrews as a logo, the Rolling Stones have that iconic tongue...
I bid my goodbyes to Novak and his team and headed back to the press office. My mental image of him was that of the Smiley-face icon. I realized I was smiling, too, and the only thing that made me stop was remembering that I had meant to ask him for an autographed shirt (one of his own Adidas tennis numbers) to donate to you all at TennisWorld, following a drawing or contest of some kind. Let me see if I can still make it happen!
--- Miguel Seabra**
[From the comment box]
# Miguel Seabra
05/09/2007 at 04:48 PM
So, what do you think -- can Nole go on to beat Baghdatis and then 'take Nadal down'?
He is an ultracompetitive kid; in the Players Lounge he was always playing PlayStation (soccer or tennis), pool or table soccer with the other players. Always djoking and in a good mood. But playing to win!
He has also a good sense of humour and laughs at himself (whe we went along a mirrored wall, he said «I look like Brad Pitt... after a car crash»).
I also advise you to take a look at the pictures and video footage from backstage action over at www.estorilopen.net
Behind the scenes videos can be found here (http://www.estorilopen.net/2/en/play...eo/default.asp
) with footage from the players party, Igor Andreev and Maria Kirilenko sailing together (how romantic...), Fernando Gonzalez with a professional cycling team, Davydenko pretty relaxed at the Lisbon Oceanarium (he's really cool in that video) and also some other clips. (*Links don't work any more
# Miguel Seabra
05/09/2007 at 06:28 PM
Of course, all those boos and whistling to Novak's wearing the Benfica shirt were in a joking mode. Actually, Benfica is said to have more supporters in Portugal than FC Porto and Sporting together!
Actually, he asked me if there would be a problem with other club's supporters. I told him, some guys will whistle but it'll be in a joking way.
And I won't forget this scene. I was looking from afar when he was heading to the stadium for his first match with Igor Andreev; he was with two security guards and then stopped, forcing both security guards to stop as well; then he put his bag on the floor and took the shirt out; one of the guards, probably a fanatic supporter of some other team, put both hands on his heads and turned around in disbelief, probably thinking «I can't believe I'm protecting a Benfica supporter!». And I laughed at the scenario.
Actually, Novak already is a great Benfiquista: he celebrated Miccoli's goal at the stadium as if it were his club since when he was born! He jumped, screamed and even turned at me to celebrate...
At the time, Fernando Gonzalez was somewhere else in the stadium, invited by chilean Sporting player Rodrigo Tello.
Regarding Nole's time-outs: from where I sit, what I see is that he wants so much to win and becomes so anxious he really has trouble breathing.
About Nole vs Rafa: if he serves well, of course I think he has a chance. And he has a pretty good two-handed backhand (his left hand works a lot in that backhand!) to deal with high bouncing Rafa forehands to that side, besides having great touch for drop-shots (he should hit them to Rafa's forehand side, because Nadal is pretty good negotiating dropshots to his backhand) that can take the spaniard out of his comfort zone...
# Miguel Seabra
05/09/2007 at 07:59 PM
Thanks, guys. I'm still trying to sort out the shirt thing. Benito, if you're reading this in Rome get us that shirt and pass it on to Steve Tignor!
Ray, I'm 'only' 39. Why, do I look older?!
And Juan José, many many thanks for that link and you know you're welcome over here. It was really funny to see the trophy presentation from another perspective -- and that Eusebio autograph bit really is priceless!
Just look at the way Novak conducts himself, the things he says and how clearly he says it. The only other precocious communicator at his level in the Estoril Open winner's circle was Andrei Medvedev, who is still the youngest champion at 18.
** He's the journo who started a rumor that Nole seemed to have some sort of physical problem before the Madrid final, right?