Tuesday, 27 December 2011

"I dreamt of being the first in the world" - An Interview With Novak Djokovic

The Israeli newspaper "Maariv" picked Novak Djokovic to be the sportsman of the year - no small feat in a soccer-dominated country, where tennis is rarely mentioned in the mainstream news. I bring here the translation of the interview conducted by Maariv's tennis journalist, Almog Sarid.

- Anna


 Djokovic: "I dreamt of being the first in the world"

Novak Djokovic's 2011: 70 wins, 3 Grand Slams, and more than $12 million in the pocket. In a special interview from Abu Dhabi to nrg-Maariv, the Serb explains how it happened, talks about the full trophy shelf, and doesn't forget the Israeli connection. The no. 1 refreshes the targets list: "I won't rest until I reach the level of Federer and Nadal"

By: Almog Sarid, Dec 27 2011

Djokovic: "I dreamt of being the no.1" (Photo: Reuters)
We caught up with Novak Djokovic in Abu Dhabi this week, while he's preparing for the 2012 season. 'Nole', too, chose to train in the comfortable climate of the Persian Gulf, shortly before going on the flight that will take him to the opening of the season in Australia.

He spends eight hours a day on the courts or in the gym, to make himself fit for the toughest season of his career, in which he'll have to defend all the points he's won this year, and to prove that the coup he made on the ATP tour - displacing Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer to ranks 2 and 3 in the world - wasn't a passing phenomenon.

The phone call from Israel, informing him about winning Maariv Sports editorial staff's "Sportsman of the year" title, surprised him very much. "If even in Israel I'm the sportsman of the year, it means that this season was really something special," said Djokovic in a special interview for Maariv, and promised that he'll find a place on the shelf for the modest decoration. You know, between the Wimbledon trophy and the US Open one.

With the risk of sounding too provincial, it won't be an exaggeration to say that the Jewish brain has a part in the success. The Israeli former player Amit Naor, one of the strongest people in the global tennis community, and an agent of many top players (Andy Murray, Mikhail Youzhny, Tomas Berdych and Dinara Safina are on the list) recognized the young Serbian talent in the beginning of his way. Naor surrounded the Serb with a Blue-and-White [The colors of the Israeli flag - Anna.] professional team, which included Yona Meir and the fitness trainer Ronen Bega, who'd worked with him for many years before going on to work with Safina and then with Gulbis.

In the beginning of the year, he realized that besides the brain, we can also offer the technology, and asked Tamir Kfir - the Israeli insoles maker who works with many sportsmen - to fit him with special insoles. We could all see the results this year. [You might remember that after winning the AO, Novak threw his shoes to the crowd - not before making sure he kept the insoles to himself - A.]

"It's not a secret that Israel is one of my favourite countries, and I'm not saying it just to be politically correct," says the no. 1 player in the world. "I know the country from my many visits there. It's an amazing place with warm people. Jerusalem is one of the most important places. Tel-Aviv is exciting and full of life. When I was in Israel, everybody told me that the Israeli and Serbian mentalities are very similar. I have many contacts in the country, and I hope to come back as soon as possible."

"A year of making dreams come true"

For many years, the tennis world has been looking for a new star who could bring some renewed interest in the sport, which had been exclusively dominated by Federer and Nadal in recent years. Those two held the no. 1 ranking for eight straight years, and shared 24 Grand Slam titles out of 28 granted between 2004 and 2010.

But Djokovic wasn't satisfied by only sharing the glory with Federer and Nadal. He simply crushed them and became the sole ruler of the circuit. He won ten titles, three out of them - Grand Slams, and five more Masters titles (the first to do so), beat Nadal in all six of their meetings, ended with an amazing win/loss ratio of 70-6 (three of those losses - in the last month of the season, when he was playing through injury) and won $12.6 million (an all-time record for one season).

Statistically, there had already been seasons that could rival the one Djokovic has had, like Federer's 2006 (12 titles, 92-5 ratio) or McEnroe's 1984 (only 3 losses). But considering the professional, physical and mental completeness, the suitability to all surfaces, and the fact that nobody predicted the breakthrough, this season becomes the best ever in the eyes of many.

"I did something incredible this year," the talent confirms. "From the first moment I stepped on the tennis court as a child, the goal was being the no. 1 in the world. That's how it is in my life, I aspire being the best in everything I do. Other kids dreamt of winning Wimbledon or Roland Garros. I dreamt of being the first in the world. Therefore, when I achieved it this year, it was the happiest moment of my life. It was a year of making dreams come true. A year in which I succeeded in bringing my tennis to the highest possible level."

Roger Federer: "Want to get to his level" (Photo: Reuters)
- Which sporting moment will you remember most of all?
"Without a doubt, winning Wimbledon. It's the tournament that I've always wanted to win the most, for its uniqueness and its magic. Also the way I won it, after beating Nadal in the final, and the fact that as a bonus for winning I also rose to the first place in the world, all those make the achievement an unforgettable one for me."

- How do you explain the significant leap?
"It's a long process which I've been through in the last years, in order that one day everything will connect for me and will burst out. I always knew I had the abilities, and the basis was there. I just needed to bring it all together. And that's what happened this year. I changed as a person and as a tennis player, I matured, I gained a lot of confidence and I felt almost unbeatable for a large part of the year. And most important - I enjoyed every minute of it. I've never felt fed up. I've always wanted more wins, more titles and more successes.

In the same breath, I'm taking it all in proportion, I understand that one good year doesn't mean anything. Only now I can appreciate Federer and Nadal much more, for keeping up that level for so many years straight. I still have a lot of work to do to catch up to them, and I still don't consider myself on the same level with them. I'll do everything, I'll double the training and won't rest until I truly get to that level."

Novak and Nadal. "It was a great moment beating him at Wimbledon" (Photo: AP)
And now, a gold medal

- What's your goal for 2012?
The next year will be much tougher than the previous one, because now I already have much more expectations and pressure on my shoulders. I need to prove that last year wasn't a one-time appearance, and it's an almost impossible mission to repeat what I did in 2011. But that's exactly the reason why I worked so hard in the training camp here, and I will continue to work hard until the season starts. I have lots of motivation to prove myself in the upcoming season.

I'm a person who likes challenges, so I don't panic but rather take it as a chance. If we, sportsmen, didn't have new challenges and new goals to aspire to, we wouldn't have anything to play for. To be specific, the Grand Slams and the Olympics are the most important to me, and I want to play my best tennis there."

Before we let Nole go for another exhausting training session in the United Emirates, along with Federer and Nadal - against whom he'll play today [The tournament starts on Thursday - A.] in the traditional exhibition tournament in the principality to mark the beginning of the season - we asked him to play the role of a fan, and pick his sportsman of the year.

"In tennis, I'd give the award to Petra Kvitova. In the beginning of the season, she wasn't even in the top 20, and not many people counted her, but she reached the top of the top, won the big and important tournaments (Wimbledon and the Year End Championships in Istanbul), and I think she has a bright future ahead of her. In the world sports I'd pick Leo Messi, who proved this year, too, that he's a different class, and Sebastian Vettel, whose dominance in the Formula 1 races makes him in my opinion one of the best sportsmen in the world."

Petra Kvitova. "My sportsperson of the year" (Photo: EPA)

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