Under the Patronage of H.h. Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai
THE MODERATOR: We are ready to start. Welcome to the press conference with Novak Djokovic. Please raise your hand if you want to ask a question. We are going to start with English, then do a couple questions in Serbian in the end.
Novak, welcome back to Dubai.
NOVAK DJOKOVIC: Thank you.
THE MODERATOR: It’s your 12th appearance here. You have won this tournament five times. How happy are you to be back and how does it feel to be in the sport again? You can take your mask off.
NOVAK DJOKOVIC: Thank you.
Well, it’s great to be here. I’ve had some wonderful results in this tournament. It’s been a while since I played for the first time in Dubai Duty Free, Dubai Tennis Championship. Many wonderful memories on and off the court, as I said.
Obviously Dubai being one of the tennis hubs of the tennis world, a lot of both male and female players reside here and come for training. This tournament, both men and women tournament, has been attracting historically top players.
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I think there’s four or five top-10 players in the men’s side this week. It’s always a very solid, very hard draw and field. Every match you get to play is really on a Grand Slam, 1000 ATP Masters level. It is a 500 category, but it feels that it’s stronger than that definitely with the field of players.
I’m excited. I haven’t played a match since Davis Cup in Spain last December. Can’t wait to start an official match tomorrow night.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you. We’re looking forward to that.
Let’s start with questions in English, please.
Q. Obviously we’ve seen you have chased Federer in terms of Grand Slams. Now that you’re back here in Dubai, do you think you can do the same, chase down his record as you chase your sixth?
NOVAK DJOKOVIC: It’s quite a longshot, I would say. He’s won it eight times. I won it I think five times.
I don’t know how many more years I’m going to be playing on a high level and being one of the contenders to win the tournament.
I still feel good. Obviously ranking-wise I’m still at the top of the game. Of course, first match is going to be very important to kind of start off the campaign in this year’s tournament in a positive way. I have a young, very talented, tricky opponent in Lorenzo Musetti who has had a big win I think over Hurkacz earlier a few weeks ago in Rotterdam. We played a tough five-setter obviously in Roland Garros. Clay, different conditions. He likes the more bouncy conditions.
I think that this court is played very quick, actually the quickest I ever experienced the surface here in Dubai. It was always fast, but a lot of players that I talk to have been saying the same thing, it’s very, very fast.
Obviously if you serve well, it’s a big advantage. I’m hoping that I can get the good start of the match, hopefully nice atmosphere on the stadium. I’m definitely motivated and inspired to play my best tennis.
We’ll take one day at a time and see how far I can do.
Q. When were you able to pick up a racquet again after Australia and once you returned home? Did you feel any remorse or regret or did you feel maybe the sport had let you down in some sense? Were you able to pick up a racquet easily? If you can just talk about that.
NOVAK DJOKOVIC: Well, I started training probably about 10 days after I came back from Australia. I did fitness more or less every day. I’ve been playing tennis for the last three weeks, basically two and a half, three weeks. I’ve been enjoying it, enjoying my time on the court in Belgrade where I spent most of my time.
You know, I love the game. I love just hitting the tennis ball (smiling). So it wasn’t really difficult to pick up a racquet and go out on a practice court and just play because I have lots of passion for the sport and I value every minute that I spend on the practice court because I know there is always something to work on and improve.
Knowing that I was coming to Dubai, obviously I had something to work for. I had a goal. So now that I’m here, I can say that I am as well prepared as I possibly can be and excited to, again, be on the tour. That’s all I’m feeling at the moment.
Of course, there was lots of emotions after I came back from Australia, so I needed a little bit of time to reflect and to just mentally rest. Then once I was refreshed, I was really looking forward to play tennis and compete.
Q. What has the reaction been like in the locker room coming back to the tournament? Do you feel you need to rebuild any bridges with any of the players?
NOVAK DJOKOVIC: Well, so far here most of the players that I’ve seen – I haven’t seen too many players – but most of the players that I’ve seen have been positive and welcoming. It’s nice to see obviously. I can’t say that was the case in Australia. It was a little bit strange. But here it’s well so far.
Q. Welcome back. You’re someone who you’ve had very specific goals, for example the weeks at No. 1. You made your schedule to achieve it. Then you shifted to the slams and the record, made your schedule around that. How difficult do you think it’s going to be for you, given all the circumstances and the uncertainty about which tournaments you can and cannot play? How do you plan on operating on tour in that way? How is it going to affect you mentally and your preparations?
NOVAK DJOKOVIC: Well, I just have to follow the rules. Whatever tournament that I’m able to play, I’ll be trying to get to that country and play the tournament.
Obviously I’m not intending to play the full schedule. That wasn’t also my intention – as you brought up – and my goal prior to this season or the season before. I was trying to aim to play my best at the Grand Slams and some of the 1000 events we have, playing for my country. Those were the biggest motivations that I had in terms of the scheduling.
Right now the situation is obviously different for me. I really can’t choose right now. It’s really about where I can go and play.
Wherever I have an opportunity, I’ll be using probably that opportunity and going to play because this is what I do, it’s what I love to do still. I have support from my family. My team is still there with me. That’s important for me because obviously it was not easy for anyone in my surrounding to go through these kind of circumstances and situations that we all have been through.
But it’s very exciting to have everyone here with me in Dubai. We’re back on the tour. We’ll play this tournament and we’ll see how it goes further down the line.
Q. We saw your BBC interview about a week ago. I wanted a bit more detail on one thing. There’s been reports of the serial number being out of sync with that positive test result you had on the 16th of December. I wonder if you know why that was? Have you asked the Serbian health authorities why that was? It did raise a lot of questions which people want to know a bit more about.
NOVAK DJOKOVIC: I understand. I understand. I’ve seen that media has been speculating about the validity of the tests. What I can tell you is what I told Amol with BBC I’m not an IT expert. I have done in the last two years, as probably anybody else on the tour, so many PCR tests, rapid antigenic tests.
I’m not in a position to understand how these tests are being processed and registered. I’m glad that Institute For Public Health in Serbia has come out publicly and validated those tests. That’s all I can say really. I’m not in a position, neither I’m an expert, to go more into detail.
Q. What motivated you from a young age? What advice would you give to young tennis players that are trying to make it?
NOVAK DJOKOVIC: Well, if I can pick one advice, it would probably be stay connected to the source and the reason why you started playing tennis. I think it’s important to maintain the joy and the love and the passion for the sport because that’s what keeps you going, that’s what gives you motivation every morning that you wake up, some of the days where you’re not feeling so inspired to go out and train, when everything hurts in terms of body.
But knowing that you’re doing that because you love the game, and also what is important is to make sure you have clear goals. They’re very important. Whether it’s short-term goal and long-term goal, both of them are actually important because you need something to get you up every single day. You need a bigger goal and a dream that you strive towards.
Those are kind of a general advices. Of course, there are many, many different things. But we are part of the individual sport, so knowing yourself, understanding yourself on all different levels, having that kind of holistic approach is quite important. At least that’s what has worked for me in my case.
Q. (Question about AC Milan and Zlatan.)
NOVAK DJOKOVIC: If I understood your question well, when I was in in touch with Zlatan?
NOVAK DJOKOVIC: I’m in touch with Zlatan not all the time, but quite regularly. Let’s say we chat. We’ve known each other for more than 10, 15 years actually. Of course I’m a fan of his. Of course, everything he has achieved. We speak the same language, so of course we feel even closer to each other.
We have texted a little bit since obviously the Australian situation. He has given me support publicly, as well, which I very much appreciate.
Yes, I’m a fan of AC Milan. Hopefully we can see him back on the field. I know he’s injured. He’s doing his recovery now and rehab. Hopefully we can win the scudetto this year.
Q. You spoke to my colleague last week in detail about what happened. I wanted to ask a follow-up question. Mentally how easy has it been to prepare for this tournament? As you said, the first one you’ve played in more than two months. Given all that happened in Australia, how easy or difficult has it been to prepare for this tournament?
NOVAK DJOKOVIC: As I said previously, it wasn’t an everyday, so to say, situation for me, what happened in Australia. So, of course, it was different. It was strange. I was disappointed. I was sad the way it all has played out and the way I left the country.
But once I refreshed mentally, emotionally, physically, and it didn’t take me too long, and once that I knew I was allowed to come here and play, it wasn’t that hard for me to get on the court, speak to my team, create a plan, a three-, four-week plan, what I need to do on a daily basis, weekly basis, in order for me to peak at the right time here in Dubai. Having previous positive experiences on the court and titles obviously connects me to this place even more.
So, of course, considering what I’ve been through in the last couple months, I’m even more motivated, inspired to go out on the court and play my best tennis. Of course, it’s not a guarantee, but I did my best to put myself in a good position tennis-wise. Mentally as well. I am present, I’m here, really happy to be playing again.
Q. We wanted you to play for a long time. You said you don’t know how long you’ll be playing. Did you give any thought what is life after tennis? Have you ever thought about it? Did it strike you while you were in Australia sometime?
NOVAK DJOKOVIC: Well, the way I see it is I don’t see the life after tennis. I see tennis in my life forever. I have the tennis center in Belgrade. We have 150 children in the tennis school. We have 10s and 10s of competitors at the different age. We are growing that facility and the concept.
I’m trying to convey and transfer all the methodology, kind of approach to life, to tennis, to work, to recovery, the mental side of sport, and just try to help the younger generations to be prepared for what’s coming up and hopefully build more champions.
I mean, that’s how I see it. That’s kind of my life project really. I started developing it in the last couple of years. Of course, I know that there’s been a lot of question marks what I should do during my active career. That also feeds me with a lot of energy.
It gives me a great joy to see a young tennis player asking for advice and me being able to mentor someone on the court. It’s something that deeply fulfills me. I’m enjoying that process.
Of course, being a young father of two wonderful children, that’s hands full. There’s a lot of different things happening. I’m not really concerned about my transition of what I do post active professional career. I’ll definitely stay in tennis for the rest of my life because this sport has given me so much that I probably won’t be able to pay back till the rest of my life.
I’ll try my best to transfer and share as much of the knowledge and experience that I have to the younger generations. That’s something that make me very happy.
Q. Medvedev can become No. 1 this week. I don’t know if you know the different scenarios. How much extra motivation is it for you this week to try to go all the way and try to stop him?
NOVAK DJOKOVIC: Well, I know that he’s very close. Depends what I do here. I am not aware of all the different scenarios, but the only scenario that I have in my head is to win every match that I play here. I know if I win the tournament, I guess will I be able to stay No. 1?
Q. He has to win.
NOVAK DJOKOVIC: He has to win, okay. It’s in his hands.
He deserves to be No. 1. Eventually it’s going to happen. If it happens this week, I’ll be the first one to congratulate him.
FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports