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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.

Interviews

EXCLUSIVE: Wimbledon Great Billie Jean King Gives Her Verdict On Jasmine Paolini

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Billie Jean King and Ilana Kloss in the Royal Box - Credit: AELTC/Ben Solomon

Billie Jean King has told Ubitennis the game style of Italy’s Jasmine Paolini is ‘perfect’ for the grass as she pays tribute to the 28-year-old. 

King, who won 20 Wimbledon titles in both singles and doubles during her career, praised Paolini just hours before her semi-final match against Donna Vekic. The world No.7 had never won a match at The All England Club until this year but has stormed through the tournament by dropping one set in five matches played. She has beaten players such as former US Open champion Bianca Andreeescu, Madison Keys (who retired at 5-5 in the final set due to injury) and Emma Navarro. 

“I’ve always liked watching Jasmine for a while now, and I got to see her last year at the Billie Jean King Cup,” the 80-year-old told Ubitennis founder Ubaldo Scanagatta.
“Italy lost to Canada, but I saw her there and she was amazing.
“Finally at 28, she’s she’s doing what I think she should have been doing.”

Paolini is enjoying the best season in her career. She won her first WTA 1000 title in Dubai, reached the final of the French Open and at least the semi-finals at Wimbledon. She is the oldest player on the WTA Tour to reach their first two major semi-finals since 1977, according to OptaAce. 

As for the grass, King says Paolini has a ‘perfect’ game for the surface. Even though the tennis star has previously spoken about her mixed feelings about playing on the surface. 

“On grass. She’s perfect.” King stated. 
“She’s low to the ground, she can volley, she can hit Groundstrokes. Big forehand. Unbelievable.”

Paolini is one of three women aged 28 or older to reach the last four at Wimbledon. Something that last occurred in 2018. As for the reason behind these players coming to top form at a later age, King admits she hasn’t got an explanation. 

“I have no idea.” She said
“I think she’s (Paolini) finally found herself and everybody gets to be their best at different ages.
“This year at Wimbledon, it seems like in the women’s events it’s now that they’re older, they’re doing better. So I don’t get it, to be honest.
“It’s the weirdest Wimbledon ever and I’ve been coming here since 1961!”

King has won an incredible 175 titles during her career in the Open Era. 101 of those were in doubles, 67 in singles and seven in mixed doubles.  

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EXCLUSIVE: Ex-No.1 Nenad Zimonjic Gives His Verdict On Djokovic And The Wimbledon Crowd

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Novak Djokovic might be the headline act when it comes to tennis in Serbia but Nenad Zimonjic also enjoyed his fair share of success in the sport. 

The 48-year-old is a former world No.1 in the men’s doubles which makes him one of only four players from his country to have ever topped the tennis rankings. During his career, he won eight Grand Slam doubles titles with five of them occurring in the mixed doubles. Overall, he won 53 trophies on the ATP Tour, as well as the Davis Cup where he later became the captain of the Serbian team.

Zimonjic has returned to Wimbledon this year to play in the Legends event. He has been keeping an eye on compatriot Djokovic and his bid to claim a historic 25th major title at Wimbledon.

“I think he’s been playing better and better as the tournament progresses.” He told Ubitennis.
“The last match (against Holger Rune), he played the best so far.
I expect him to play even better in the quarterfinal match against Alex de Minaur.”

Whilst Djokovic is gaining momentum, he has unexpectedly taken a swipe at the Center Court crowd following his latest win on Monday evening by accusing some members of being ‘disrespectful.’ Throughout the clash, there were shouts of the words ‘ruuune’ in a show of support for his Danish opponent. However, the world No.2 believes some were using those cheers as an opportunity to take a shot at him. 

Zimonjic, who is a long-time friend of Djokovic that travelled to Monte Carlo and Rome with him earlier this year, is unable to weigh in on this particular argument. However, he defends the British crowd at The All England Club where he made 18 main draw appearances as a professional player. 

“I didn’t get to see the whole match I cannot comment (on Djokovic’s remarks) because I wasn’t there.” He said. 
“But what I can say is that the crowd here (at Wimbledon) is very knowledgeable and really respectful to everybody.
“If there was somebody (being disrespectful to Djokovic) maybe there are a couple of people.
“So you cannot say this about the crowd. I’m sure it’s nothing nothing major.”

Djokovic continues to be a dominant force in tennis at the age of 37 and has no plans to step away anytime soon. However, when he does there will inevitably be a huge gap in Serbian tennis. The country currently has five players in the ATP Top 150 but only two of those are under the age of 25 – Hamad Medjedovic (20) and Miomir Kecmanovic (24). There is also 18-year-old Marko Maksimovic who is currently ranked in the junior top 20 on the boy’s Tour. 

“Hopefully some new, really good generations are coming up. We’ll see what the future brings.” Zimonjic commented. 
“It’s not going to be easy to match any of these results and the standards that he (Djokovic) achieved and all the records speak for themselves.
“Maybe they will never be broken, but, we’ll try to make it as better as possible.”

As for life on the Tour for those players, Zimonjic admits it is tough going due to the demanding schedule which starts from January until November. However, since last year the ATP have agreed to stage their Next Gen finals, which features the eight best players under the age of 21, in December. 

The schedule has been a long-debated subject that goes back to Zimonjic’s days on the Tour. 

“Our season is probably the longest in sport.” He said.
“It’s very demanding on the body, travelling, changing the time zones so you have to be extremely fit, mentally tough, and you need a really strong team around you and family support.
“If this can change, I don’t know. So far they (tennis’ governing bodies) haven’t found a way, but, hopefully, anyway, it got shorter a little bit compared to ten years ago was even longer.
“We had maybe three weeks to prepare for the next to rest and prepare for next season, which was really brutal.
“But the good thing is that tennis is very popular and people are following it.”

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EXCLUSIVE: ‘People Are Dying Everyday’ – Elina Svitolina’s Voice Is Important For Ukraine

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Elina Svitolina (UKR) playing against Magda Linette (POL) in the second round of the Ladies' Singles on No.2 Court at The Championships 2021. Held at The All England Lawn Tennis Club, Wimbledon. Day 4 Thursday 01/07/2021. Credit: AELTC/Jonathan Nackstrand

There was little celebration from Elina Svitolina after she reached the quarter-finals of Wimbledon on a grave day for her home country. 

The world No.21 eased to a 6-2, 6-1, win over China’s Wang Xinyu without dropping serve, reaching the last eight of the tournament for the third time in her career. It is a huge boost for the 29-year-old who later admitted she didn’t feel like playing in the wake of a new attack against Ukraine. 

A Russian missile attack struck the country in daylight on Monday which resulted in the deaths of at least 36 people and caused significant damage to the main children’s hospital in Kyiv, according to officials. Reuters News Agency says they have a video showing a missile falling from the sky towards the children’s hospital followed by a large explosion.

“It’s an incredibly sad day today for all Ukrainians. It was really difficult for me to be here (at Wimbledon) in a way and do anything. I just wanted to be in my room, just be there with my emotions, with everything,” said Svitolina.

“Today was one of the days where it was even more difficult because the missile landed on the hospital, the kids’ hospital. Straightaway you see the images and everything that happened there. So many kids lost their lives.”

Svitolina took to the court wearing a black ribbon on her t-shirt in respect to those affected. The gesture was approved by The All England Club which usually has in place a strict all-white policy when it comes to attire. Throughout the war in Ukraine, she has spoken numerous times about the conflict and is an ambassador her the United24 fundraising platform, which was set up by President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.

Evgeniy Zukin, who is the executive director of the Ukrainian Tennis Federation (UTF), spoke to Ubitennis following his compatriot’s latest win at SW19. He stresses the significance of Svitolina and her peers to continue speaking out about the war.

“It is important for Ukrainians to keep informing the world of the atrocities that are now happening in Ukraine,” said Zukin. 

“We know the public in the West is tired of bad news. Only disasters like today when many children were killed bring attention back to Ukraine. But unfortunately, people are dying every day and no less than today.”

Zukin’s words are also echoed by tennis journalist Sergey Kontorchik, who is the founder of Великий теніс України which is known in English as BTU. He is based in Dnipro, a city located in the centre of the Dnipropetrovsk Region which borders Donetsk. As somebody living in the conflict zone, Kontorchik is frustrated by the promotion of Russian and Belarussian athletes in the media whilst his athletes suffer. 

“No one is interested in the mental state of Ukranian players. You saw how hard it was for Svitolina after the match today,” he told Ubitennis from Dnipro on Monday afternoon.

“For Ukrainians, it is hard and it hurts. Our players receive negative criticism for not shaking hands with representatives of these countries. We are pushed to the background, far away, so as to not bring up an uncomfortable topic, the war, which continues to destroy our country.

“It is important to us (Ukrainians) when players talk and remind the world about the war, that Ukraine is still alive and continues to fight for independence. 

“It’s clear many people have forgotten.”

Wimbledon had previously banned Russian and Belarussian players from competing in the tournament in 2022 amid concerns that those governments could use the event as propaganda. The move prompted backlash from the governing bodies who removed the allocation of rankings points that year. The ban was lifted in 2023. 

“I would prefer that (the ban to still be in place) but it is how it is now,” said Svitolina. “I cannot change. We tried every possible way to talk with many organizations.

“For now I just want to raise awareness, to raise funds for people in need, to raise support for the kids through my foundation, through United24. So many ways we can help people and not only focus on the things we cannot control.”

The hope for Svitolina is that her tennis is providing comfort to those back home. Although dealing with her emotions due to the war is tough.

“I think for many Ukrainians they will share this feeling with me. We feel guilt that we feel happy or that we feel good. Not only because I’m in the quarterfinal of the Grand Slam but in everything,” she explained.

“Like you go on holidays, you feel guilty because you’re not in Ukraine. Many people cannot leave the country. Many people are at war. Many people are fighting, and defending our front lines.

“I think we’ve been living with this feeling for over two years. I mean, it’s nothing new. But yes, of course, it’s not a pleasant feeling to have.”

On court, things are going well for Svitolina. She has dropped only one set in the tournament so far, which was against Magda Linette in the first round. 

“She showed in the last year that she knows how to play on grass,” Zukin told Ubitennis about Svitolina. 

“After beating Ons Jabeur (in the third round) she felt confident and played flawlessly today.” 

Svitolina will next play Elina Rybakina. 

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