TENNIS ATP Montecarlo – N. DJOKOVIC defeats A. Montanes 6‑1, 6‑0. An interview with: NOVAK DJOKOVIC
THE MODERATOR: Questions, please.
Q. How did the match feel today?
NOVAK DJOKOVIC: Well, for the first match on clay, it was great. I mean, I lost only one game, so there were not too many flaws in my game that I could recall.
On the other side, I’ve had an opponent that is a specialist for this surface, but he hasn’t played even close to his highest level. He was making a lot of unforced errors.
Me on the other side, I was just trying to, you know, use the court well, not allowing him to get into the rhythm. I was changing the angles. I was coming to the net, being aggressive.
Just very good first match.
Q. I know you’re a football fan. Do you remember the last time you won a match in 45 minutes?
NOVAK DJOKOVIC: I don’t. Do you? I don’t remember. I mean, I’ve had some short matches. I would say I had some matches. For example, the one I remember was against Hernych in Basel, I think 6‑Love, 6‑Love, 30 something minutes. I mean, it’s great that you have a chance to finish your work on the court in such a short time.
On the other side, I would like to have a little bit more longer rallies, bigger challenge so I can test myself, see where I am, where my game is at at this moment on the clay because it’s the first match on the clay since Roland Garros last year.
But, again, I’ve practiced a lot. This is the place where I live. This court is very familiar to me. During the season I spend a lot of time hitting the balls here. So I look forward to the next match.
Q. Can you tell us what happened to your right wrist?
NOVAK DJOKOVIC: Well, I have a certain problem that I carry for the last week or so with the wrist. The short match today helped definitely. So I’m going to have some time to heal it. Hopefully it’s going to be even better next one.
Q. Do you enjoy your rivalry with Rafa as much as the fans do?
NOVAK DJOKOVIC: Of course. Look, this is the biggest rivalry I have in my career, that’s for sure. I mean, I’ve played him 40 times, different surfaces, different occasions.
I was mentioning a few days ago in the press conference that I think my first or second year on the professional circuit I already played him a couple matches in the big tournaments.
Every match brings something new, some new excitement, of course a lot of emotions, a lot of tension and expectations from both sides.
Hopefully it’s going to escalate and it’s going to, you know, become one of the biggest rivalries ever.
Q. And it’s fun?
NOVAK DJOKOVIC: Of course. It’s a huge challenge for me to be able to play Rafa and win against Rafa in the biggest stages, biggest tournaments.
Of course, it’s not easy. But a rivalry with him definitely allowed me to grow as a person and as a tennis player, allowed me to understand the things I need to work on.
I take it from the positive side, of course. I had my ups and downs throughout my career, but my rivalry with him and with Roger made me a better player, that’s for sure.
Q. Can you talk a bit more about the wrist injury, how it started?
NOVAK DJOKOVIC: I prefer not talking about it. It’s just something I carry for the last seven days. Hopefully it’s going to go away.
Q. Do you still have time also and the pleasure to enjoy off the court? I saw you on TV in Italy. Here normally you participate for the player party. Do you still like to do that or is it more fatiguing and you’re trying to stay out of all the action outside the tennis court?
NOVAK DJOKOVIC: It’s the balance between the things. I believe ‘balance’ is the right word. It’s one of my mottos in life, trying to always moderate between the professional and private life. In the end of the day, you know, you need to lead your life.
Of course, tennis is a big part of my life, but it’s not the only thing that I enjoy, that I have that makes me happy. Luckily for me I have a lot of sources of happiness from outside of a tennis court. That’s something that definitely brings a smile on my face because I wouldn’t be enjoying so much if the only source of the happiness in my life is winning tennis matches.
Q. Will you sing or dance this week?
NOVAK DJOKOVIC: You’re referring directly to the player party? You have to ask the question like that then (laughter). But thanks for being philosophical before that.
No, the player party is for me one of the highlights of the year, of the tennis season. I love it. Unfortunately last year I didn’t take part in it. This year I’ll make sure I’m there and I’ll do something fun.
Q. You said two days ago, and Rafa said, it is difficult to find out how to beat you on clay. Where do you go? Forehand? No. Backhand? No. Movement? No. At the same time how can you explain that you win seven times in a row, he wins three times in a row? As you said, yes, you learn from something. How and what do you learn? Seven times in a row, why do you beat him? Why are you beating him so many times?
NOVAK DJOKOVIC: There is not one word that can really describe or that really tells you the secret of my tactics or my approach to the matches with Rafa or the way I win against him. I’m sure he’s going to say the same.
It just comes in swings. I think it’s normal in life to have ups and downs. In last few years we had periods where he was winning a couple matches in a row, then myself, then him again, then me again. That shows, in my eyes, that both of us, we learn from the mistakes, then we make it count in the matches after that.
We all change. I cannot compare myself to the player that I was a few years ago. Every season is different. It’s a new challenge, not just on the court but off the court. I’m the same person at home and on the court. There are things mentally that can affect you and your game. Whatever happens in your private life can be an advantage or disadvantage on the court. That is why there is always something new mentally you have to counter.
Physically we all can work and get ourselves in the perfect state. But mentally and emotionally it’s up and down. It’s life. You know, you’re human, you make mistakes, then you learn something new. You have to encounter something else because in the end of the day confidence is something that every single professional athlete in the world wants to have and doesn’t want to lose.
But losing confidence is much easier than gaining confidence. It’s a long process of winning many matches, getting the self‑belief on the court, maintaining that high level of performance, getting that confidence, getting in that right zone and where you want to be.
You can lose it in a few days’ time.
People were asking me before about 2011, why can I not perform the same way I performed in 2011. It’s different. Every year brings something new.
EXCLUSIVE: Yoshihito Nishioka’s Coach On Injury Setback, US Open Showdown With Wawrinka
The road to Yoshihito Nishioka’s first round match at this year’s US Open has been a frustrating one.
In June the 27-year-old looked to be on the verge of reaching his best tennis at the French Open where he made the fourth round for the first time in his career. Nishioka’s run in Paris was not a one-off with the Japanese player also making the last 16 of the Australian Open in January. However, since the French Open, he has only been able to register one win on the Tour.
In recent months he has struggled with a stress fracture on his femur that cut short his grass-court campaign and resulted in him missing four weeks of crucial training. After losing his opening match at Wimbledon, he played four tournaments across North America with his sole triumph being against Gregoire Barrere in Cincinnati.
Guiding Nishioka on the Tour is his coach Christian Zahalka who has previously worked with the likes of Marina Erakovic, Nadia Petrova, Kimiko Date and Misaki Doi. The two began working together last year.
“Yoshi injured himself at Roland Garros that pretty much cost us the whole grass court season and we could not practice for a month,” Zahalka told Ubitennis on the first day of the US Open.
“So honestly we are playing a bit catch up to regain form the last few events. But we are getting close.”
Nishioka faces a tricky first round encounter at Flushing Meadows where he will play Stan Wawrinka, who won the tournament in 2016. Their only previous meeting saw the Swiss veteran prevail in three sets but that was six years ago in Indian Wells.
“Wawrinka is a highly motivated player at the moment,” said Zahalka. “It will be a difficult first round match with a big fight needed from Yoshi.”
Nishioka is currently ranked five places higher than his upcoming opponent at 44th in the ATP Pepperstone rankings. However, he is yet to shine at the US Open where he will be making his ninth main draw appearance this year. He has lost in the first round six times and the second round twice. The only players he has beaten at the event were Paul-Henri Mathieu in 2015 and Feliciano Lopez in 2019.
Despite the disappointing results, Zahalka is staying upbeat about Nishioka’s chances in New York.
“This is my first US Open with Japanese Rock so I cannot comment on what happened in the past here,” he said.
“But I see no reason why he cannot have success at the US Open.”
Nishioka’s clash with Wawrinka is scheduled to take place on Tuesday. He is one of four Japanese players in the men’s main draw this year.
EXCLUSIVE: Saudi Arabia’s Plans For Hosting The Next Gen Finals
Tennis is heading to the country following weeks of speculation. Although there is likely to be some criticism coming amid the intention of organisers to hold the event during the offseason in December from 2024 onwards.
Sources have confirmed to Ubitennis that the ATP Next Gen Finals will be moved to Saudi Arabia from this year onwards with the inaugural event taking place immediately after the Davis Cup Finals.
Jeddah will be the event’s host city which features the eight highest-ranked players under the age of 21. According to those familiar with the situation, the 2023 edition had initially been planned to take place in December but had to be brought forward due to the FIFA Club World Cup tournament which will be hosted at the same venue. It wasn’t confirmed until last month that the football tournament will be played in Jeddah in what was described to Ubitennis as a ‘last-minute change.’
The prospect of hosting the tournament immediately after the Davis Cup finals could be problematic at the end of a long season. However, this situation is trying to be played down as a one-off.
It will be held on at the King Abdullah Sports City where the venue has six tennis courts just outside the main stadium, as well as another indoor arena that can hold up to 12,000 people. Other events to have been hosted there include the 2021 International Handball Federation Men’s Super Globe tournament, as well as a boxing match between Oleksandr Usyk and Anthony Joshua.
What is the most striking aspect of the plans is the report that from 2024 the Next Gen finals will take place over a week during the second part of December which is in the middle of the off-season. It is unclear why the ATP have pushed for such a thing to occur and why they have agreed to this. During the bidding process for a host city, they said the following in March:-
‘This year’s tournament is expected to take place in December, with the exact dates to be determined with the successful bidder.’
One explanation for such a date might be the number of exhibition events that take place in the Middle East during this time. So instead of players participating in them, they would play this event. However, the idea of expanding an already long Tour calendar is one that will attract criticism. Plus there is yet to be any public response from players who might influence the current plans.
ATP CEO Andrea Gaudenzi recently told The Financial Times that ‘positive’ talks have taken place with officials from Saudi Arabia. Meanwhile, WTA boss Steve Simon visited the country earlier this year and was said to be highly impressed. It appears that both governing bodies are interested in investment from the country as long as it doesn’t have significant implications on the Tour’s structure which has happened in other sports.
Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund has invested heavily in sports, including the £300M takeover of football team Newcastle United. In golf, they funded the LIV Tour which split the sport before a shock merger between the Tour’s was announced a few weeks ago.
Critics have accused the Middle Eastern nation of using sport to help improve its image which has been marred by allegations of human rights violations. This is commonly known as sportswashing.
One of those concerns is related to LGBT players playing in the country. A Saudi official told Ubitennis that gay players or media members would be welcome with their partners as long as they respect local culture. Basically, public displays of homosexuality will not be encouraged and could prompt a backlash from locals.
“I think the WTA is going to make sure that we are in a safe environment,” openly gay player Greet Minnen told Ubitennis. “All the LGBT players are wise enough to not provoke anything or hold hands when we are not at the (tennis) club.’
“I think we have to respect the culture there but it’s not going to be an issue as the WTA will make sure it is a safe environment for us.”
The Next Gen finals began in 2017 and had been hosted in Milan until now. Previous winners include Jannik Sinner, Carlos Alcaraz and Brandon Nakashima.
It is understood that a contract confirming the relocation of the event to Saudi Arabia will be signed next month.
Conchita Martinez: How Acaraz Can Improve, Muguruza’s Future And Advice For Andreeva
Almost 30 years have passed since Conchita Martinez won the biggest title of her career at Wimbledon.
In 1994 she battled to a three-set win over nine-time champion Martina Navratilova to become the first-ever Spanish woman to claim the title. The triumph occurred in just her third main draw appearance at the Grand Slam. Since then only one other player from Martinez’s country has managed to emulate her in the women’s tournament. That was Garbine Muguruza in 2017 who has been mentored by the former champion in recent years.
Martinez is in action again this year at The All England Club where she is taking part in the women’s invitational doubles tournament. On Tuesday morning Ubitennis caught up with the former world No.2 during an hour-long media session that featured a series of former champions.
In her home country, the talking point of the sport concerns the rapid rise of Carlos Alcaraz who at 20 has already won one Grand Slam trophy, four Masters 1000 events, and has spent almost 30 weeks as world No.1.
“I think he is already doing an amazing job but, of course, there is still a lot of room for improvement,” Martinez tells Ubitennis.
As to what these improvements are, the 51-year-old believes Alcaraz needs to explore coming to the net more often, especially when playing on the grass. According to Wimbledon’s official statistics, in his first four matches played this year, the top seed has come to the net on 83 occasions and won the point 56 times. This equates to a winning percentage of 67.5%.
“I would like to see him, especially on the grass, go to the net a little bit more sometimes,” she said.
“He does this on other surfaces and is very brave. When he’s down a break point and then does a serve and volley to win the point, this is great for his confidence.’
“He needs to work on everything. His slice and going to the net. From the back, he is doing amazing and is very aggressive. He can hold the point when he wants to, so he needs to work on that to become an even better player.”
The current status of Mugurza
Martinez speaks about Alcaraz from the perspective of both a player and a coach. After winning 33 WTA titles before retiring, she went into the world of coaching. Her work with Muguruza was recognised in 2021 when she was named WTA Coach of the Year. She has also had stints mentoring former world No.1 Karolina Pliskova and was captain of her country’s Billie Jean King Cup team.
Martinez’s work with Muguruza has been put on ice for the foreseeable future after the tennis star opted to take an extended break from the sport. She confirmed that Muguruza will not be playing again this year on the Tour and a return date is still to be decided.
“She is taking her time and will not be playing again this year. We will see when she is going to start practising for next year,” Martinez explained.
“Every week we chat and see how she’s doing. She’s enjoying her time off right now.”
Even when Muguruza does come back to action there is no guarantee that this successful partnership will resume.
“We have to see. We stopped as she was going to take a longer time off than expected so we parted ways but you never say no to what may happen in the future,” she commented.
Muguruza’s decision to step away from tennis followed a series of disappointing results. In a social media post earlier this year, the two-time Grand Slam champion said she wanted to spend more time with her friends and family which has been ‘healthy’ for her.
Advice for Andreeva
It is not the first time a player has had to step away from the limelight due to the demands of playing tennis. Trying to deal with Tour life is far from easy, especially for younger players.
One of those rising stars is 16-year-old Mirra Adreeva who reached the fourth round of Wimbledon as a qualifier on her debut. She almost booked a place in the quarter-finals after leading Madrid Keys by a set and 4-1 but lost. If she had won, Andreeva would have been the youngest Wimbledon quarter-finalist since 1997.
So what advice would Martinez, who also reached the fourth round of a major at the age of 16, give to a rising star such as Andreeva?
“You have to have a very good group of people around you that are going to keep you humble and fit,” she said.
“I think she does that. She’s winning matches, going far in Grand Slams, and beating great players.’
“You have to see next year how she will cope with defending points. The most important thing is that she keeps practising and focusing on what she has to do to get better. It’s great what she is doing now but she has to maintain it.”
Martinez won more than 700 matches during her time on the Tour.
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