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: Welcome back to Dubai, Novak.
NOVAK DJOKOVIC: Thank you.
THE MODERATOR: Over the course of your career, you’ve won 93 titles, five of them on this center court. What are your memories coming back here?
NOVAK DJOKOVIC: Good evening to everyone. Thank you for your patience. I appreciate you coming.
It’s great to be back in Dubai. Always loved coming to play here the tournament, but also using Dubai as a great training base, particularly in the off-season, as a lot of other male and female tennis players going to Australia.
Dubai is an amazing city that offers so much for a person to enjoy himself or herself, entertainment, great hotels, great restaurants, great weather, climate. So for tennis players, it’s a fantastic place.
Tournament itself has been voted as a best tournament in category 500 for so many years in a row. The tournament has been attracting so many top players over the years.
As you mentioned, I’ve had some success in the past. Tough to pick which of those five titles is the favorite one. I guess the first one is always the special one. I’ve had lots of support over the years, last year particularly from also big Serbian community that is in the city.
I look forward to it. Night matches are exciting. A lot of entertainment. I’m just hoping that I’ll be able to kind of restart in a way my season after Australia, the injury, in the best possible way.
THE MODERATOR: Questions, please.
Q. (Question regarding motivation.)
NOVAK DJOKOVIC: I think in the core of my motivation, it’s just a mentality of wanting always to be better than I was yesterday. So on a daily basis or kind of a short-term goal is to always try to improve every aspect of the game ’cause I always believe that there is something to work on.
I think keeping that kind of a mindset also drives me and drives my team members to really take every tournament as a new challenge, biggest challenge we have in this moment. I feel like that kind of attitude got me to where I am in terms of achievements in my career.
Of course, I’m grateful I’m still able to play on a high level at this age. Professionally I have goals. I have ambitions. It’s always the highest kind of goals. I’ve been fortunate to achieve pretty much every achievement that you can have as a professional tennis player. I think that kind of experience allows me to believe that I can always do it again and again.
I still feel physically very good. Mentally I’m there, I’m present. As I said, I really love the game, I love the competition, I love to be challenged on the court by anybody.
So there’s still that fire, flame burning.
Q. How long did you take to unwind after the Australian Open? Was this time longer than after winning previous slams? Also, have you changed your diet or something because you seem to have put on a little more weight?
NOVAK DJOKOVIC: It was always in plan to be here and participate in the Dubai Duty Free Championships. After Australian Open was finished, it was uncertain. I didn’t know whether I was going to be here or not. Probably only five, six days ago we knew that it’s going to be possible for me to play as we were testing the leg on the tennis court.
Yeah, I had enough time in the gym, so to say, fitness-wise, built a good base. Had a couple of weeks of no tennis. Well, almost three weeks. Last few days it’s really getting as much tennis practice points as possible to get myself back in a competitive shape in order to be able to compete in a high level.
I haven’t felt any pain whatsoever out on the court for a week now. I’m getting closer to the hundred percent. Still not there in terms of the game itself, how I feel on the court. But the important thing is there is no pain. I don’t have a hindrance to the way I move on the court.
After every injury, it takes a little bit of time for mechanisms to be balanced, so to say, for adjustments to be done on the court. It takes time for you to find again that groove of moving on the court effortlessly and not thinking about if something’s going to happen or not. I don’t have those thoughts.
I just have to play more. I guess once you start playing matches, you’ll see how you feel going hundred percent.
Q. Obviously you spoke this week in Belgrade about equaling the weeks at No. 1 record. Tomorrow you take sole ownership of the record. When you were a young boy, could you ever have imagined being at No. 1 for that amount of time? An incredible number. Also just to check, have you received any answer from the American government and the exemption?
NOVAK DJOKOVIC: Well, I could not have imagined it at that point, to be honest. I was dreaming as a kid to be Wimbledon champion, to be No. 1 in the world. I achieved those dreams 2011. After that, of course, I wanted more. I still want more achievements.
Of course, I’m driven by the goals. I’m as dedicated to the sport really as anybody else. I obviously know that it’s not handed to me, that I have to earn it.
Of course, it’s surreal in a way to be that many weeks world No. 1, to match Steffi Graf, that is one of the all-time greats of our sport, both men and women. Just being amongst these legendary names is flattering. Of course, I’m very proud of it.
In terms of the process in America, no, I have not received anything new comparing to what I said to the media in Belgrade some days ago. Right now it’s the same situation.
Q. I know your goal initially was to break the record for the men, but you found another record to break. Are you keeping an eye on on where Alcaraz is in the rankings? Is that something you still care about, are aware of, or you’re not paying attention to it?
NOVAK DJOKOVIC: Not as much, to be honest, I said that some days ago in Belgrade, as well, prioritizing live rankings, live rankings, as I was to recently, to when I broke Roger’s record for most weeks.
Of course, I would like to be No. 1, I would like to maintain that position. But at the same time I have other priorities, top priorities, which is first of all trying to be healthy and preparing myself in every sense of that word for the tournaments that I’m going to be participating in, particularly building form and trying to peak at the Grand Slams. Those are the tournaments to me that in a way count the most. Of course, the ATP 1000 events where I’m going to play. Those are the goals.
But at the same time wherever I play, I don’t want to take away the importance of the tournament, whether that be in here in Dubai, 250 event we’re playing in Banja Luka in a few months’ time. Everywhere I go, I want to win. Every trophy I get to win maybe values three, four times as much as some trophies that I won some years ago, 10 years ago, because I know that it’s different.
I don’t know how much time I have left in a way, how many more years I’m going to play. I try to really get the most out of the present moment in every tournament that I play.
Q. You could meet Murray again. Your thoughts on him and how much are you looking forward to meeting him here in Dubai?
NOVAK DJOKOVIC: It’s not guaranteed that we’re going to meet, but… Off the court we meet, but on the court we both need to win two matches.
I mean, huge respect to him. Andy and I go back a long time, I think since we were 11 or 12 years old. That’s the first time we met, first time we played against each other. He kicked my ass – sorry for my language – at that time. Ever since then we kind of followed each other on the journey to become professional players.
We didn’t have much separation in terms of results, in terms of time. Maybe I broke through to the top five earlier than he did, but we were very close always. He’s got so much talent, incredible grit, incredible mentality of a champion, of a fighter.
What is happening now this year with his match points saved in literally every match he plays, the amount of hours he spent on the court since the beginning of the year, particularly in Australia, is just something you must admire and say ‘chapeau’ because of everything he has gone through with his hip.
You have to note that he has an artificial hip and he’s moving the way he does. He’s constantly looking to improve and to get back to the highest level, which it seems like he’s been doing. He’s just rising in the rankings. The level is better and better.
Yeah, I’m very happy for him because he’s a great guy, respects the sport, works very, very hard. So very committed, he deserves his success.
Q. For so many years Chinese men’s tennis was non-existent. Suddenly we have two in the top 100, a third one coming up strong. What is your impression of the game?
NOVAK DJOKOVIC: Yes, I have noticed that. I expected that, to be honest, because it was just a matter of time when the men’s tennis in China will become strong. It was a matter of time when you will have one or more players entering the top hundred, even higher in the rankings.
In a way it’s not a surprise because China is such a big country, and China loves the racquet sports historically and traditionally. The tennis tournaments that we have on both men and women’s side are super strong. Some of the most important tournaments in the world are playing in China. Organization is top-notches, very high quality. Of course, you have champions like Na Li that was No. 1 in the world, multiple Grand Slam winner.
Yeah, I’m happy for China’s tennis. It’s important. It’s important that a country like China is doing well in men’s tennis, as well. I think for us globally, as part of tennis ecosystem, it’s great news.
FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports