Serb's the word
Talking tennis with ATP sensation Novak Djokovic
Posted: Tuesday June 5, 2007 3:10PM; Updated: Tuesday June 5, 2007 3:10PM
PARIS -- Novak Djokovic has been the breakout star of the 2007 season, shooting up to No. 6 in the world with wins in Adelaide, Australia, and Key Biscayne, Fla. One of the most entertaining and animated players on tour, the 20-year-old Serb has ignited a tennis frenzy in his homeland and looks to move one step closer to his first Grand Slam title.
I caught up with him in the locker room before his quarterfinal encounter with Igor Andreev on Wednesday.
SI.com: Last year, you reached your first career Grand Slam but retired after losing the first two sets to Rafael Nadal 6-4, 6-4. You came under criticism for saying, "I was controlling play," even though you were at a significant deficit in the score.
Djokovic: Well, I am a very confident person. I don't think I am arrogant, I just believe in myself. What I meant by that comment was that I was playing the more aggressive style, I was dictating play but also made many errors. I didn't mean it as a sign of disrespect in any way.
SI.com: What has enabled you to get off to the amazing start you've had this year?
Djokovic: I attribute a lot of it to my offseason training in the altitude and mountains in Serbia. I worked so hard to build a base for the '07 season and I feel the focus on my fitness during that time has enabled me to get off to such a great start. I won my first event of the year in Adelaide and that gave me added confidence and motivation. I also feel like I have emotionally matured a lot this year and it has been an important factor during big matches this year.
SI.com: Tennis in Serbia has exploded in the past few years. Along with your success, Jelena Jankovic, Janko Tipsarevic and doubles specialist Nenad Zimonjic have helped put your country into the forefront of the sport.
Djokovic: Yes, tennis is amazing in Serbia right now. I think it is the most popular sport right now. We have a big Davis Cup match against Australia coming up in September and I expect us to get almost 20,000 people out every day, and you can expect them to be very loud! I actually had an amazing coach named Jelena Gencic who taught me great fundamentals. I was very lucky. She also helped develop Goran Ivanisevic and Monica Seles. I am so happy tennis is becoming so popular in my country. I hope because of our success we start a great tradition of tennis for the future.
SI.com: You won your biggest title to date at the Masters Series event in Miami this year. What was that like?
Djokovic: That was my biggest breakthrough and a turning point in my career, I think. My win against Nadal was the best match I ever played and it gave me so much confidence and belief. After that win I really started to believe I could win a major.
SI.com: You are one of the most popular players on tour, very friendly and outgoing. Is that just your nature?
Djokovic: I am a very honest person. I like to show my emotions on and off the court and I am glad that people enjoy that. I try to have fun in life and I am so lucky to experience so many things -- the travel, the excitement -- I just want to be thankful and enjoy it.
SI.com: I spoke with Andre Agassi before coming over here and he told me he thought you were the second-best overall tennis player in the world.
Djokovic: Well, of course that is a big honor. Everyone knows what a legend he is on and off court, so I take it as a very big compliment. We have similar styles -- we both hit hard and attack, and I look up to him very much. Pete Sampras was my idol growing up. Even though I don't play like him, I just loved watching him play.
SI.com: What would you like your fans in America to know about you?
Djokovic: I am a friendly person, I love spending time with my friends and family and I love playing tennis. I hope to be the best some day.
Twelve-year ATP veteran Justin Gimelstob is competing in his seventh French Open. He'll write periodically for SI.com from Roland Garros during the tournament.