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ATP Miami, interview with Novak Djokovic

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ATP Miami – N. Djokovic /R. Nadal 6‑3, 6‑3. An interview with NOVAK DJOKOVIC

 

THE MODERATOR:  Questions, please.

Q.  Congratulations on your win.  Even though you won Indian Wells, it seemed like your form today, at least from what I could tell, was much more confident and much more secure than your win over Roger a couple weeks ago.  Was it the court, your confidence, the opponent, all of the above?  What would you say to that?

NOVAK DJOKOVIC:  Well, you’re right.  Indian Wells was a very special win for me because of the fact that I struggled throughout the whole tournament to kind of play consistently well throughout the whole match.

Coming back in more than few matches from set down, played four‑out‑of‑six three‑setters, but, you know, still managed to win the title against Roger in the final.

That was a great confidence boost for me that I carried on in this week, and this tournament has been perfect from the beginning to the end.  The matches that I have played I played really well, and I elevated my game as the tournament progressed.  The best performance of the tournament came in the right moment on Sunday against the biggest rival.

 Q.  Was it the conditions or the opponent?

NOVAK DJOKOVIC:  Well, just the fact that I’m playing against Nadal and playing in the finals, fighting for trophy is already a huge motivation and responsibility to try to perform my best and to kind of be at the right intensity and right focus.

I didn’t have any letdowns throughout the whole match.  I was in a very high level:  serve, backhand, crosscourt, forehand.  I mean, I have done everything right, and I’m thrilled with my performance.

 Q.  From upstairs I was watching and said, This guy cannot lose today.  You were playing almost perfect.  What was going through your mind when you were playing Nadal and playing so good?  Do you also feel like, Today is my day?  This guy is not going to beat me?

NOVAK DJOKOVIC:  Well, I enjoyed very much the performance and the whole match.  With the way I played, I had to enjoy, had to feel good about myself, and I was very confident on the court.

But I did not want to lose focus for a second, because I knew that Rafa is a kind of a player that if you allow him, if you give him a chance, he’s going to capitalize, he’s going to get that chance, and he’s going to come back to the match and you’re going to lose the momentum.

So I didn’t want to lose that momentum, and I kept it all the way till the end.  I didn’t want to play ‑‑ even when I was a break up in the second, I didn’t want to have easier return games and kind of save the energy for the serve.  I wanted to play each point 100%, because I knew that, you know, I am in the control of the rallies at the moment and I needed that to stay that way.

So it was a great match overall.

 Q.  But tell us the truth:  You feel invincible?  You were playing great, man.

NOVAK DJOKOVIC:  I think I explain to you enough how I felt on the court (smiling).

 Q.  Today was the 40th match against Nadal.  Can you elaborate a little bit about your rivalry with him?

NOVAK DJOKOVIC:  Yes, definitely biggest rivalry I have in my tennis career.  It’s a great challenge always when I play Rafa on any surface, of course, especially on clay.  That is his most preferred surface, his most dominant there.

I have had some thrilling matches in last three or four years, and they were decided by few points.  It was very few matches that were one‑sided, so I knew what to expect from Rafa today.

When he fights for trophy, he comes out with a great intensity from the first point, and he wants to make sure he sends the message across the net to his opponent.

That’s why at the start I faced the break point, it was quite even, and then making a break obviously gave me huge sign of relief and I could swing freely and more confidently.

So that rivalry that we have is obviously great for the sport.  It’s great for us.  I’m enjoying every single match.  Hopefully we can have many more.

 Q.  You have won every Masters title since Shanghai, the ATP Tour Championships.  Should we be in for another 2011 from you?

NOVAK DJOKOVIC:  I hope so (smiling).  I can’t predict what future brings.  I can only focus my attention and energy to the present moment and do what I do best, and that is to, you know, try to prepare myself, recover now after.  I have couple weeks till my first clay court match in Monte‑Carlo, a place where I live for last six, seven years.

I won that tournament last year.  I love playing in Monte‑Carlo.  I couldn’t ask for a better March of this season.  Hopefully I can carry that confidence on clay.

 Q.  Can you talk about how you were able to sort of take his movement out of the match?  That usually works to his advantage.

NOVAK DJOKOVIC:  Well, I know if I have the best chance to win against Rafa, that would be hard court.  That’s my most successful surface.

I knew what to expect from him, as I said before.  I know that he’s going to come out with a great intensity and focus and high level of performance.

Now it was a question if I can realize and achieve what I have planned tactically before the match, and if I can, if I can get free points on the first serve, if I can move him around the court, not give him this comfort zone, I have done everything really well from the start to the end.

It’s easier said than done.  Obviously he always makes you play an extra shot.  He’s a great competitor.  He has champion’s mentality.

Today everything went perfectly for me.

 Q.  Rafa mentioned that he felt a little bit disconcerted by your game.  What changed?  I mean, because you guys have played each other for, you know, many times.  Did you vary something?

NOVAK DJOKOVIC:  I just prepared myself very well for this match, and I felt great on the court.  As simple as that.

As I said, there are no secrets between us.  We know each other’s game really well.  We played 40 times.  In general, our game will be more or less the same.  Nothing mainly is going to change.  He’s not gonna serve and volley, or myself.

So I knew what kind of game plan is ahead of me, and I have realized that in a perfect manner.

 Q.  Today was so exciting and challenging.  Would it be more challenging for you if you had the possibility to play all others from Big 4 in this tournament?

NOVAK DJOKOVIC:  Well, I played Andy and I played Rafa today.  I haven’t played Roger this week, but I have had tournaments where I played the top guys.  But I cannot choose my opponents, you know.  I play whoever I get to play.

 Q.  We asked Rafa that he likes challenges, was he glad that you existed.

NOVAK DJOKOVIC:  Excuse me?

 Q.  We asked Rafa, he likes challenges, was he glad that you exist because he like challenges.

NOVAK DJOKOVIC:  Okay.

 Q.  I’m going to ask you the same question.

NOVAK DJOKOVIC:  What did he answer (laughter)?

 Q.  You answer first (laughter).  He said, No.  I’m not stupid.

NOVAK DJOKOVIC:  Well, I’m going to answer differently.  I think challenges, big challenges that I had in my career changed me in a positive way as a player.

Because of Rafa and because of Roger I am what I am today, you know, in a way, because when I reached the No. 3 in the world and won the first Grand Slam title in 2008, the years after that I struggled a lot mentally to overcome the doubts that I had.

And all the big matches I lost to these guys was consistent but not winning the big matches, and then they made me understand what I need to do on the court.

I worked hard, and, you know, it’s paying dividends, I guess, in the last couple of years.  You know, obviously it’s not easy when you’re playing a top rival at the finals of any tournament, but if you want to be the best, you have to beat the best, you know.  You have to win against the best players in the world. That’s the biggest challenge you can have.

 Q.  You won both titles with Marian with you.  Is there a comfort level, the familiarity of his having been there for so long and everything that maybe presents a better or a more comfortable situation for you?

NOVAK DJOKOVIC:  The situation is still the same.  I mean, I don’t know if you are referring to Boris or…

 Q.  Just that he wasn’t there earlier.

NOVAK DJOKOVIC:  No, I mean, Marian is there.  There was a specific situation because of the surgery of the hip of Boris, and he couldn’t come to Miami, so Marian stayed.

I’m really glad.  I’m very grateful that Marian accepted to stay and he was here with me and we won the title again.

I mean, many times before I said that he’s not just a coach to me.  He’s truly a friend, somebody I can rely on in the tough moments, shared good and bad situations and things in life that I experience.

So he knows me very well.  He knows me of course better than Boris, but Boris just started working with us, and we have a great communication.  I look forward to seeing Boris in Monte‑Carlo.

Editorial

EXCLUSIVE: How The ATP Plans To Make The Tour More Welcoming For LGBT Players

The governing body of men’s tennis has received praise for taking a proactive approach to the topic with the help of a leading LGBTQ+ organisation and a top research university.

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Guido Pella during a Men's Singles match at the 2021 US Open, Wednesday, Sep. 1, 2021 in Flushing, NY. (Manuela Davies/USTA)

During the first week of the US Open, there was an abundance of rainbow-theme flags and wristbands worn by both players and fans to mark the tournament’s first-ever Open Pride Day.

 

The event was part of the USTA’s Diversity and Inclusion strategic platform which aims to make tennis more inclusive. Unlike the women’s game, there are no openly LGBTQ+ players on the men’s Tour and there have been few historically, even though various players have spoken of their support for anybody on the Tour who decides to come out. Including Stefanos Tsitsipas and newly crowned US Open champion Daniil Medvedev, who were questioned about the topic following their second round matches. Meanwhile, Canada’s Felix Auger-Aliassime revealed that there is an ongoing survey related to LGBTQ+ issues being conducted by the ATP.

“Recently I’ve started doing a survey inside the ATP about the LGBTQ+ community,” he said. “It’s important these days to be aware of that and to be open-minded and the ATP needs to do that, in today’s time it’s needed.

“The reason we don’t have openly gay players on the ATP Tour, I’m not sure of the reason, but I feel me, as a player, it would be very open, very welcome. Statistically, there should be some, but for now there’s not.”

In response to Auger-Aliassime’s comment, UbiTennis looked into the work currently being done by the ATP alongside two other parties. Their decision to venture into LGBTQ+ representation on the Tour is part of their recent commitment to support the mental health and wellbeing of their players and staff. Last year, in May, they formed partnerships with Headspace and Sporting Chance.  

The survey currently being conducted by the ATP started after the governing body of men’s tennis reached out to Lou Englefield, the director of Pride Sports, a UK organisation that focuses on LGBTQ+phobia in sport and aims to improve access to sport for all LGBTQ+ people. Through their connection, they contacted Eric Denison, a behavioural science researcher at Monash University’s School of Social Sciences. Denison was the lead author of the Out on the Fields study, the first international study on homophobia in sport and the largest conducted to date.

“I have been personally impressed with the initiative of the ATP and their desire to find ways to mitigate the broad impact of homophobic behaviour (in particular), not only on gay people, but on all players.” He told UbiTennis during an email exchange.

“We know of no other sporting governing body in the world that has been proactive on LGBTQ+ issues, and has taken a strong focus on engaging with both the LGBTQ+ community and scientists to find solutions.”

Denison says the norm has been for sports bodies to address this issue after they have been either pressured to do so or if the LGBTQ+ community got the ball rolling themselves. Incredibly, research conducted as part of the Out On The Fields initiative documented 30 separate studies which found sports organisations ignored discrimination experienced by LGBTQ+ people in sport.

Monash University has supplied the ATP with a series of scientifically validated questions, which they are using to ‘look under the hood’ at the factors which supports a culture where gay or bisexual players feel they are not welcome. The methodology is similar to a study Denison conducted in 2020 that focused specifically on the team sports rugby union and ice hockey.  

“We suspect that tennis isn’t inherently more homophobic than other sports, or traditionally male settings. Instead, there is a disconnect between people’s attitudes towards gay people (e.g. the recent pro-gay comments by top players) and their behaviour, specifically their use of homophobic banter and jokes,” said Denison.

“This behaviour, which is largely habitual, creates a hostile climate for young gay/bi people who drop out or hide their sexuality. This means gay/bi players are invisible in youth tennis and leads to the downstream problem of no professionals. The banter/jokes continue because people think it is harmless.”

The hope is that players will also agree to be interviewed by the researchers for them to get a better understanding. All of the results will then be used by Pride Sports and Monash University to recommend evidence-based solutions. It is unclear as to how long the study will take or when the findings will be ready. 

Former top 100 player Brian Vahaly is one of the few players to have been both openly gay and played at the highest level of the men’s game. However, he didn’t fully come to terms with his sexuality until after retiring from the sport at age 27. Speaking to UbiTennis earlier this year, Vahaly shed light on the potential barriers for gay players.

There were a lot of homophobic jokes made on Tour. It’s a very masculine and competitive environment,” he said. “You don’t see a lot of gay representation, except for the women’s Tour. With me not having the personality of an outspoken advocate (for LGBTQ+ issues), certainly not in my twenties, I needed some time to understand myself. To me, in tennis I didn’t feel like there was anybody to talk to or anybody that was going through anything similar.”

The ATP has spoken with Vahaly about their initiative and he has become ‘quite involved.’ Through their discussions, he got acquainted with Denison for the first time. As a professional, Vahaly peaked at a ranking high of 64th in the world and won five Challenger titles. After retiring from the Tour, he has served on the USTA’s board of directors since 2013. 

“I am happy to hear that the ATP is finally taking action to address this issue.  I’m impressed they are taking a thoughtful, data-driven approach to make a meaningful difference here,” he told UbiTennis. 

The ATP aims to make the men’s Tour more welcoming to potential LGTBQ+ athletes playing either now or in the future. For those who question if such an initiative is important in 2021, you only have to look at the younger demographic.

Sportsnet quoted CDC data from 2019 which showed that 26% of American LGBTQ+ teenagers aged 16 or 17 has contemplated suicide, five times more than those who identify as straight (5%). Among those teenagers who heard homophobic terms, 33% self-harmed and an additional 40% considered doing so.

More than 2000 players around the world currently have an ATP ranking.

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2020 Tokyo Olympics, Djokovic on the heat and the new scheduling: “I’m glad they listened to us”

Speaking to Ubitennis, the world number one describes the work that he, Medvedev and Zverev (among others) have done to obtain better playing conditions

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So far, the tennis tournament at the 2020 Olympics has made headlines less for the match-play than for the difficult conditions in which it has been taking place due to the heat and the humidity. In the women’s draw, for instance, four players have been forced to retire during their matches: the last one has been particularly shocking, as Paula Badosa was taken off-court on a wheelchair after collapsing late in the first set of her quarter-final match against Marketa Vondrousova. Luckily, these issues appear to have finally caught the attention of the International Tennis Federation: starting tomorrow, no match will be played before 3pm (7am in the UK).

 

Part of the credit for this (still belated) decision goes to the lobbying and the complaints of the players, as world N.1 Novak Djokovic explained while speaking to Ubitennis CEO Ubaldo Scanagatta in Tokyo: “I’m glad the decision was made to reschedule tomorrow’s opening matches at 3pm. Today we went to speak to the supervisor – when I say ‘we’ I mean myself, Medvedev, and Zverev, along with the team captains. I have spoken to Khachanov and Carreno Busta as well, so the majority of the players who will feature in the quarter finals was of the same opinion.

“Of course I would have wished for this decision to be made a few days ago, but it’s still a good thing,” he added. “Nobody wants to witness incidents like the one that occurred to Badosa.

“The conditions are really brutal. Some people might think that we are just complaining, but all resistance sports (and tennis should be included among them) are taking place later in the day because the combination between the heat and the humidity is really terrible.”

He then concluded: “I’ve been a professional tennis player for almost 20 years and I’ve never experienced such hard conditions for so many consecutive days. It may have have happened once or twice in Miami or New York, but just for one day, whereas in Tokyo the situation is like this every day. I think that this decision will benefit the fans as well, because playing later allows us to play our best – these conditions were just draining for us.”

Article by Lorenzo Colle; translated by Tommaso Villa

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Mats Wilander Exclusive: Matteo Berrettini Will Win A Grand Slam

UbiTennis founder Ubaldo Scanagatta speaks to the former world No.1 about Berrettini’s historic win at Wimbledon.

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Matteo Berrettini (ITA) celebrates as he beats Hubert Hurkacz (POL) in the semi-final of the Gentlemen's Singles on Centre Court at The Championships 2021. Held at The All England Lawn Tennis Club, Wimbledon. Day 11 Friday 09/07/2021. Credit: AELTC/Florian Eisele

Swedish tennis great Mats Wilander has praised Matteo Berrettini for his run to the Wimbledon Final during a one-to-one interview with UbiTennis.

 

25-year-old Berrettini has become the first Italian man in history to reach the final of the Grand Slam after beating Hubert Hurkacz 6-3, 6-0, 6-7(3), 6-4. Throughout the clash he was impressive behind his serve where he fired 22 aces and won 86% of his service points. This year he is unbeaten on the grass and is currently on a 10-match winning streak following his triumph at Queen’s last month.

“Breaking the first game of the fourth set is to me the sign that we all look for in players. Whatever happens in the third (set) should not matter and he came straight back,”Wilander tells UbiTennis.
“That’s my indication that he will be one of the best players in the world. He will win a Grand Slam one hundred percent, for sure, if he stays healthy.”

Wilander’s bold prediction centres around Berrettini’s game on both grass and hardcourt. However, he is less optimistic about his chances on the clay at present until his backhand becomes more powerful.

As to why the former world No.1 has so much confidence in Italy’s top player, he says it is his ability to not expose his weaknesses during matches. Drawing parallels between him and Roger Federer. The player Berrettini comprehensively beat in straight sets earlier in the week.

He knows how to hide his weakness and most great players know how to hide their weaknesses. Roger Federer is the perfect example. His backhand compared to the serve and the forehand. He stays alive with the slice and he comes over (to the net) sometimes when he has to,” he said.
“I think Matteo has figured out that he can stay alive with the slice. But the difference is that he is willing to slice and come in. He’s also double the size of Federer at the net so it is difficult to pass him.”

It wasn’t until the age of eight when Berrettini started to focus more on tennis after being asked by his younger brother to play more. As a professional he has won five ATP titles since 2018 and is the highest ranked ATP player from his country since Corrado Barazzutti back in 1978. He is coached by Vincenzo Santopadre, Marco Gulisano and Umberto Rianna.

“I would be so encouraged if I was coaching him. For the coach it must be like oh my god we are looking at a player who has (good use of his) hands and hides his weakness though the rest of his game,” the seven-time Grand Slam champion commented.
“I don’t why it has taken him a bit longer (to break through). I know he started a little bit later but I think he’s a natural at the big moments.”

On Sunday Berrettini faces the ultimate test against Novak Djokovic who will be seeking his third consecutive Wimbledon title and sixth overall. He has lost to the Serbian twice before on the Tour, including the French Open earlier this year. The Italian enters the final as the underdog but Wilander thinks he shouldn’t be underestimated.

“I think he has a good chance, I really do because that serve (of his) is different and he has a different forehand. He is not afraid to stay alive,” he concluded.

UbiTennis’ full interview with Wilander can be listened to below

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