Australian Open: Karma, Humility and the Wolf – The Words of Champion Novak Djokovic

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After Novak Djokovic won his third Grand Slam in a row, his eleventh overall (drawing even with Rod Laver and Bjorn Borg) and his record-tying sixth Australian Open, he waved to fans in Rod Laver Arena, was hailed by hundreds of (primarily Serbian) supporters in the garden outside the arena, and then went to the “press theater.” Both radiant and humble, he spoke of the specifics of his 6-1, 7-5, 7-6 (3) victory over a brave but over-matched Andy Murray.

The sometimes funny, sometimes reflective Serb touched on the details of the match, the importance of a harmonious and joyous private life, and the wolf on the mountain.

Here are some excerpts:

QUESTION: What do you think made the difference tonight against Andy?

NOVAK DJOKOVIC: I started the match very well, as I started in the semifinals versus Roger, with not many things I did wrong…I was very aggressive and just played the way I wanted to play against him, and executed the game plan perfectly for a set and a half.

I made a break in the second. I felt he was pretty neutral from the back of the court and was allowing me to take charge and [take] control over the rallies. I had more time.

Then he started serving better. He came back to the match. The second set was decided on a few points, as was the third. I could have maybe done better in my service games when I was up a break in both the second and third set, but credit to him for fighting and showing why he’s one of the best in the world.

He definitely made me work. There were a lot of long rallies, long exchanges. We were both breathing heavily towards the end of the second and the third set. But that’s what you expect.

As I was saying, I knew coming into the match against Andy I’m going to have to be patient and construct the point. Obviously [I was] trying to be the one to take the initiative and be more aggressive.

It wasn’t possible at all times because he would change up his tactics and was playing better in the third [set], but [on] the big points I managed to find a way.

Q: Is that the biggest reception you’ve gotten from the fans outside Rod Laver Arena?

DJOKOVIC: Yes. It was amazing. I honestly did not expect that. I didn’t know what was waiting [for me]. Many of those fans didn’t have a ticket or a chance to watch the match in the stadium, so they stayed in the main square. They waited for me. I’m very grateful for their support – it’s quite incredible. I don’t take it for granted, obviously.

I’ve had that fortune to win this trophy now for six times, but I never experienced such a support after the match…[I saw] a lot of Serbian flags…It’s great that they came out in big numbers and showed their support on such a big occasion, such a big match for me.

Q: One Serbian fan said if you ran for president, everybody would vote for you. Do you have any plans?

DJOKOVIC: No. I’m an athlete. I think I should stick with that.

Q: Is there particular significance in this one?

DJOKOVIC: Of course, every Grand Slam title is very significant in its own way. Here, because of the fact that I managed to make history tonight and equal Roy Emerson’s six Australian Open titles. I’m very honored to be mentioned alongside legends of our sport -–Bjorn Borg, Rod Laver – [and to] win as many Grand Slams as they did.

You know, I can’t lie and say I didn’t think about it. Of course it was in back of my mind. Coming into the court I knew that I have a chance to make the history. Of course it served as a great motivation, and a great imperative to play my best.

I tried not to think about it too much, but it was there as an encouragement, as a positive feedback, and a goal.

Q: Do you have to pinch yourself, six Australian Open titles, eleven Grand Slams?

DJOKOVIC: Everybody is holding a champagne glass here. This is a very formal press conference (laughter). All smiles when champagne is around.

Well, look, as I said, it’s a great honor. I don’t take anything for granted, even though I won the last four out of five Grand Slams, played five finals out of the last five Grand Slams.

It’s phenomenal. I’m very proud of it, as is my team. We worked very hard to be in this position, and we should enjoy it. We should cherish every moment that we get to experience now because these are the tournaments that we all value, that we all want to play well in.

No doubt that I’m playing the best tennis of my life in the last 15 months. You know, everything is going well privately, as well. I became a father and husband and have a family. So I feel like I’m at the point in my life where everything is working in harmony. I’ll try to keep it that way.

Q: What are the two or three things that have been at the core of this incredible rise and success? In your mind, what has been the key?

DJOKOVIC: I can’t pick one thing and say that was the secret of success, even though I know people would like to know or get something out of me that would explain this. But it’s not that easy. If it’s that easy and simple and [I] say one or two things, then I think many people would do it.

It’s actually many years of commitment, hard work, sacrifice and dedication, not just having training sessions – the things that you are obliged to do as a tennis player – but [it’s] also to a lifestyle. Trying to devote most of your time, energy and thought to make yourself the best person and player possible.

There’s something I’ve found out in the previous years. [It’s] that you can’t separate the professional and the private. You’re the same person. So all those emotions that are maybe trapped, that occur in your private life, those issues and problems we all face, you need to surface them. You need to find a solution. You need to face [them and] encounter those particular issues privately in order to maximize your potential as a player, as well.

At the end of the day, in these particular matches when it goes down to very few points… you’re challenged in every aspect of your being, if there is something under the surface, it will come out and it will play against you. It will be your worst enemy.

I’m just speaking out [and being] very frank now out of my own experience. Of course, everybody’s different. This is not a formula for everybody’s success. I’m just saying it’s something that helped me to understand how to get better and how to evolve.

Q: It’s the first month of the year. You’ve already had convincing wins over the three biggest rivals in your career. Do you allow yourself in your mind to acknowledge that perhaps you’ve separated yourself from them a bit at the moment?

DJOKOVIC: I don’t want to allow myself to be in that frame of mind. Because if I do, a person becomes too arrogant and thinks that he’s a higher being or better than everybody else. You can get a big slap from karma very soon. I don’t want that.

I try to still follow the same kind of lifestyle and routine, things that I’ve been doing all these years that have been helping me to get to where I am. I know [it’s best] being humble and being discreet — [while] still of course satisfied and proud of what you’ve achieved, but discreetly doing that.

Of course staying respectful to all my opponents, my colleagues and to this sport is a key to continue on and maintain this level of success and performance, I hope. This is [the] kind of approach to help me to get to where I am. I don’t want to step away from it.

Q: What has changed in your game? Last year in Monte Carlo, you were almost always losing the first set. This year you won 6-1 against Nadal in Doha in 30 minutes; 6-1 against Federer in 24 minutes; tonight, 6-1 first set again in 30 minutes.

DJOKOVIC: It would be great if tennis was played in only one set (smiling). I don’t know.

Of course it was very pleasing to play the way I played against all these guys…I played an amazing first two sets against Roger, then I lost the third, and it was very close in the fourth.

In the Grand Slams you can’t allow yourself to be playing well for first couple sets and then just lose focus. This match could have gone to five sets. Could have happened.

The experience of playing so many matches against these guys, being on the big stage, knowing what’s at stake, knowing the importance and value of these tournaments and fighting for the trophy, that helps.

That I want to improve, as everybody else [does]. I’m not here because I played the same tennis I played last year. I feel like I’m playing better. I always strive to improve…technically, or tactically, but also mentally.

Q: Different approach?

DJOKOVIC: I’ve heard actually one nice metaphor yesterday. It’s much easier for the wolf that is going uphill and running up the mountain — not easier, but he was hungrier than the wolf standing on the hill.

You can observe it from different sides, but, you know, I believe that all the guys that are out there fighting each week to get to No. 1 are very hungry to get to No.1. I know that.

I can’t allow myself to relax and enjoy. I mean, I can. Of course I want to enjoy, and I will, but it’s not going to go more than few days. After that I’m already thinking about how can I continue on playing well each tournament throughout the rest of the season.

[It’s] kind of a mindset that one needs to have if one wants to stay up there, because you need to work double hard when you’re up there.

Q: Can you explain why you’ve never lost the final here? Is there something special here?

DJOKOVIC: Well, it is. That’s why I kissed the court. I’ve had a love affair with Rod Laver Arena for many years, and I hope it can last a long time.

Q: How much is a wolf hungry for Paris?

DJOKOVIC: Very hungry. But wolf needs to eat a lot of different meals to get to Paris. Paris is a dessert.

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