Djokovic's Changing Attitude Towards Competing Against Federer & Nadal
Editor's Note: Before Wimbledon, World No. 1 Novak Djokovic spoke about his changing mindset towards competing against the likes of Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal. At the end of the fortnight, Djokovic defeated Federer in a five-set thriller to win his fifth title at The Championships.
That is an impossible question to answer, and the same question could be posed from both Federer and Nadal's perspectives. But while Djokovic was not always a fan of having to compete against two of the greatest players ever, the World No. 1 has grown to appreciate it. And he will look to overcome the challenges the two stars and the rest of the stacked field pose once again as he pursues a fifth Wimbledon title.
“I think there are a lot of benefits for the sport because of it. I obviously had not been so happy to be part of the Federer-Nadal era at the beginning of my career. I wasn't winning many of the major events,” Djokovic said. “It's a different story right now. I think I'm very grateful to be part of this era. It made me a better player. I've talked about this numerous times, that they complemented my game. They made me understand what I need to do in order to surpass and overcome the biggest challenge, and that is to win against these guys in a major event.
“I think the rivalries we have between three of us, and Andy [Murray], of course, has kind of highlighted probably the past 10, 15 years of professional men's tennis. I see a lot of positives out of it. I think that the sport has benefited a lot because of these rivalries, all of us winning that much.”
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Djokovic (15), Federer (20) and Nadal (18) have combined to win 53 Grand Slam championships. And the top seed will look to move closer to his great rivals over the coming fortnight, as he tries to win his 16th major trophy. He can also retake the top spot in the ATP Race To London if he emerges victorious.
The Serbian, who opens his tournament against German veteran Philipp Kohlschreiber, is high on confidence, with a 28-6 record in 2019, which includes titles at the Australian Open and the Mutua Madrid Open. This time last year, however, Djokovic arrived at the grass-court Grand Slam in a far different position as the World No. 21.
“There is quite a difference. Obviously I'm approaching this year's Wimbledon as defending champion, No. 1 in the world,” Djokovic said. “Coming off from the surgery [last year], being unable to have a consistency with the results, this was a huge springboard for me, the win at Wimbledon last year. That's what kind of gave me that push and also a huge relief.
“After that, it was all upwards, winning Cincinnati for the first time, US Open. One Grand Slam can definitely change anyone's career in a few weeks. Even though after winning 15 Slams, I still value these tournaments very much and understand the importance they have, the importance of winning them on my entire career, my confidence, my future.”
Djokovic elected not to play a tournament before Wimbledon this year, whereas he advanced to the final of the Fever-Tree Championships last season. But over time, he has grown accustomed to adjusting to grass after the clay-court swing. It’s only gotten easier to make that change as his career has gone on. Djokovic says there were no grass courts in Serbia when he was growing up, so he never played on the surface as a junior.
“I did struggle a little bit at the beginning, in the first couple of years of my career on the grass to really understand how I need to move on the court, how I need to adjust my swing and my game in general, tactically, what I need to do,” said Djokovic, whose first professional grass-court event was the 2005 Wimbledon main draw.
“I've always been a baseline player, but grass is the quickest surface in sport and very unique. It makes you come in more, try to use short balls and slices and chip returns. You need more variety in your game, so to say. Everything happens very quickly. I think this surface requires more hours spent on the court training than any other, really, to get used to it.”
In Djokovic's four Wimbledon title campaigns, he lost a set in the first two rounds just once. So he knows the importance of getting off to a fast start at SW19 over the course of the fortnight. And it won't be easy against Kohlschreiber, who beat the top seed at this year's BNP Paribas Open.
“In the back of my mind, of course, I always have the big goal, why I'm here, trying to get to that final match and fight for the trophy,” Djokovic said. “The more efficient you can be, if I can call it that way, in the first week, the better it is. It is kind of tricky because you can't really think about what happens in the second week. You need to balance it.
“Kohlschreiber, my first-round opponent, is a very good, quality tennis player on grass, or any surface for that matter. He won against me earlier this year in Indian Wells. You need the right intensity. You need to kind of be in the moment, focus only on the next challenge."