Yevgeny Kafelnikov talks Russian tennis, compares ATP eras, & more

From an interview with Kafelnikov, a multiple-Slam champion, conducted by B92’s Saša Ozmo before the men’s semifinals at Roland Garros.

On Russian tennis, more successful of late on the WTA side:
“It’s much easier to produce top female players than top male players for many reasons.  Young guys don’t have that spark and don’t believe they can reach the top—but I hope that we’ll see a change with Andrey Rublev.  He was the best junior last year, is still only 17 years old, and is getting better all the time.  He’s growing and becoming more mature—hopefully, he’ll be the one we’ve long sought.  He has a champion’s attitude, which is very important, plays aggressively, is good from the baseline, and has nice technique.  I told him and his team that he needs to work on his physical strength, because he plays a great set but then runs out of energy.  He’ll be a very good player if he gets stronger.”

On the possibility of coaching:
“If I see potential and the project appeals, then I might agree.  Coaching is a lot of work, which is clear from former colleagues like Becker, Ivanišević… I see them often, but don’t ask about the details—I don’t think that’s relevant.  However, I observe how they’re handling it and it seems to me they’re happy and doing a good job.  The players they’re training listen to them and respect them; if I find something like that, maybe I’ll become a coach, too.”

On the ATP, then & now:
“I have no regrets at all about retiring early [in 2003, a few months before turning 30].  Honestly, I can’t explain how players are still capable of playing in their later years—Federer is soon 34 and still playing at a high level.  I think the reason for this is that today’s average level of play is much lower than in our time.  Actually, I talked to Boris about it only a few days ago, and he agreed.  So, the best can keep enjoying it and winning Grand Slam titles, since no one else can come close.  In our time, there were 15-20 guys who could potentially win a Grand Slam trophy, but it’s not so right now.”

“The whole approach is different.  In our era, there were many more styles of play than exist now: there were serve-volley players, a lot of ‘chip & charge.’  Now, for the most part, everyone plays from the baseline and tries to strike the ball as hard as he can.  This isn’t the direction tennis should go—I think we need different modes of play.  But nothing’s likely to change if we don’t do something about the courts.  It seems to me that every tournament is played on the same [speed] surface—even Wimbledon is now similar to concrete.  If that doesn’t change, the situation will remain as it is.”

On Nadal’s future:
After the Spaniard’s victory over Djoković in the 2014 Roland Garros final, Kafelnikov made a bold forecast: that it was the last trophy for Nadal in Paris.  He maintains that position.  “So far, my prognosis is accurate.  I love Rafa—he’s a great guy, an excellent tennis player, and has achieved much success.  However, last year I felt (for the first time) that he’s becoming physically weaker.  In previous years, he played much closer to the baseline, and now it’s different, especially in the match with Novak—Djoković was inside the court and dictating the pace while Rafa stood four meters back.  The trend continues: Rafa is already 29 and can’t beat opponents by outrunning them, particularly in best-of-five matches.  Along with that, it doesn’t feel like there’s the same intimidation factor in the air—players aren’t afraid of Rafa any more.  So, I stand by my prediction.  While I’d like it to happen, I’d be shocked if Rafa wins another Grand Slam trophy.”

On his career & retirement:
“It feels good when I look back on it.  I was lucky that I caught different eras, playing with Becker and Edberg, then with Agassi and Sampras, and even Federer after that.  In fact, I competed with three generations of top players, so I’m very satisfied with my career and what I achieved.”

Having dabbled in professional poker in the first years after leaving tennis, Kafelnikov has since found another pastime.  “Poker is my past, but I try to play golf as much as possible, to see how good I can become.  It’s my daily life—I play golf every day for four to six hours.”

 

~ Translated from Serbian by Ana Mitrić.

Novak Djoković on living, learning, & looking for inspiration

From an interview conducted by B92’s Saša Ozmo during the first week of the 2015 French Open at Roland Garros.

On being a role model:
“It’s among the things that please me most—hearing that I’m a role model to children and that I somehow inspire them to get involved in sports.  It makes me happy that they want to follow my lead, above all the personal virtues and values I represent.  Of course, it’s also a great responsibility, as it has always been.  Thankfully, I’m aware of the fact that many young people, especially from Serbia, look up to me and track my every move: not only every point but also every word and act—how I contend with all that a life on the public stage brings.  While it’s a responsibility that I accept as an integral part of what I do professionally, it’s also a privilege.  I have the opportunity to accomplish things the way I always wanted, both during my career and especially after it—and that is to pass on my knowledge and experience to others in order to help them and provide better conditions, both academic and athletic.  I’ll do that through my foundation, as well as through various other projects I already have in mind.”

On learning:
“I don’t have a university education and sometimes I miss that part of my life—going to school every day, being part of a system, having friends and memories from that period.  On the other hand, I know I’m blessed to have the opportunity to pursue the sport I fell in love with at first sight and that has given me so many things in life.  At the same time, I’ve long been aware of the fact that I have to work on my education myself.  My parents and close friends helped immensely with that.  They helped me keep growing and evolving, even while on the move.

“I believe that every person has a choice in life, even though it sometimes seems that’s not the case.  I’m talking about some of the most ordinary things now: the way you treat other people, whether you’re going to be kind or, because you’re having a bad day, unpleasant.  That always depends on you.  Somehow, I’ve always tried to learn more—to explore every field of knowledge, even though I know I need to prioritize, to reconcile them with the life I lead and to stick to the plan.  For instance, music: recently, I’ve been learning to play the saxophone because I’ve always wanted to.  I never had the chance before; but I got one as a birthday present, so I’ve started to play.

“There are certain guidelines that I receive from the people around me—without them, I wouldn’t be able to accomplish everything I need to do.  As a successful tennis player, I give off the impression that everything runs smoothly; but by no means can I take all the credit for that.  Although I win the matches on court, there is a big team of people around me, from professionals to my family, wife, son, and friends.  They all sacrifice their time and energy to help me become a better person.  Thanks to my personality, I’ve drawn the energy I needed from all of them and from the others I’ve met over the years.  Foreign languages have always fascinated me, and I’m interested in organizational sciences and sports management. . . Also, in the past four-five years, since I changed my diet, that has become my greatest passion—healthy, organic, unprocessed food.  I’ve read a lot about that and taken online nutrition courses.  So, there are plenty of things one really can do for oneself.”

On staying down to earth:
“My childhood was different from that of many players who are now my rivals and that’s helped me to maintain a sense of normalcy and humility.  I don’t like to talk about myself.  I think it’s inappropriate—it seems pretentious when people talk about themselves, and I don’t want to make that kind of impression.  I’ve had some negative experiences, such as the [1999 NATO] bombings and economic difficulties, but also nice ones, like growing up in the mountains.  That kind of ordinary existence gave me a strong foundation, so that I can handle my current way of life much better and appreciate it more than I might have, had my early experience been otherwise.  It’s all really satisfying, especially being loved by kids.  Children’s faces wear sincere smiles—they’re unspoiled and have a pure energy and a wonderful way of looking at you.  That’s when you realize you’re doing something that inspires them, and that’s actually the essence: you’re doing something that touches other spheres of life.”

On writing his autobiography:
“I’m not writing regularly, but I am in the habit of keeping a diary—I do it every few days.  I’ve been making such notes for several years: I started when I was a kid, but then there were five or six years during which I didn’t keep a record of things that were happening in everyday life, not just tennis-related activities.  Recently, I started doing it again—I have my wife to thank for that, because she does it regularly.  That’ll be valuable material for my eventual autobiography.  We’ve already talked in specific terms about when and how we’ll do it.  Though it’s not yet the time, it’ll come—we plan to do it, but we’re short on free time.“

“I don’t want it to be the typical ‘successful athlete’ autobiography, where I only talk about my achievements and describe the emotions I experienced on court.  I’d really like it to be more thorough than that and you can expect to read things that the general public doesn’t currently know.  I can’t single out a detail that would be interesting right now, but what gives me the most joy is that through this book I’ll be able to share those segments of my career that enabled me to become successful and develop as a person.  At the same time, I’m also going to write about the difficulties that I encountered along the way, oscillations, moments of crisis. . .  Everyone goes through such things—even though I’ve had great success, that doesn’t mean that I don’t get upset or that there aren’t situations where everything goes wrong.  I want to share honest observations with people, and I hope they’ll understand the book as one person’s life lessons and be able to use something from it in their own lives.  After all, that was the point of writing the book on nutrition: I didn’t intend to impose my views on others, or tell them the one correct way to eat;  on the contrary, what’s good for me isn’t necessarily good for you, too.  That book was my personal experience and explains how my diet affected me, but anyone can find something useful in it.”

On living in the public eye:
“In brief: some things are not for public consumption.  There is a thing called intimacy, but also some things you should just not say out loud.  I’m not a man who keeps a lot of things to himself—I like to express what’s in my heart and on my mind.  I’m very emotional and temperamental, and the people around me know that I try to be sincere, honest, dignified, and to uphold the principles that I believe in.  On the other hand, after so many years of professional tennis and press conferences, I’ve learned that some things you say or do can come back like a boomerang and hit you in the head.

“To be honest, then, I do keep many things to myself—not that I have anything to hide—and anyone who follows sports can recognize that some athletes don’t share as much as they might like to.  We don’t want it that way, but society as it is dictates it.  With all due respect, the media amplifies the negative context of rivalries and outrageous statements only to create an atmosphere of hostility, which is, in my opinion, totally wrong.  That’s why I don’t want to give ‘ammo’ to the media, to allow them to pull comments out of context and thus create the stories they want.  In an ideal world, it’d be best if people said what they think and it got published that way; but the media are capable of twisting words in a way that suits them.

“I read your blog, and you write openly and honestly—it’s clear you have no need for pretense and you describe things the way you experience them.  Even though I’m also trying to be like that, to live and to treat people like that, the situation doesn’t always allow it.  I’m not talking about my PR or reputation here, but about basic interpersonal relations and life values that you either respect or you don’t.  You can’t turn black into white, purple, or grey—it’s just black.  So, sometimes you simply keep things to yourself: you choose not to share if the moment isn’t right. . . . If I have to resist a system that I consider unfair, I’ll do it, but in a wiser, more mature way, without (forgive my crude language) spitting on the tournament, balls, or court in public, because I know it won’t do me any good.”

On dreaming before sleep:
“I rewind the most recent events in my mind, ones that occurred during the day—because of the kind of life I lead and the amount of information that I receive on a daily basis, I tend to forget what happened quickly and move on.  This doesn’t mean I’ve forgotten the most emotional and beautiful tennis victories that I’ve experienced and that stand out from the others: Wimbledon in 2011 and 2014, as well as the Davis Cup title in Belgrade.  Of course, I remember that.  As a matter of fact, I watched a replay of winning the Davis Cup yesterday—and, by chance, we’re talking about it now.  While I was watching, I got goosebumps and huge motivation.  Then, I read an interview with Vladimir Grbić, who is a genius, both as a man and as an athlete.  Now, after such a successful and rich career, he focuses his energy on helping disabled athletes.  That deserves every possible praise—there aren’t many people who do that.  He’s a great man who has offered so many useful and beautiful things one can take as advice and inspiration for what to do as an athlete.

“Those two things, for instance, were like wind in my sails—something I constantly seek.  I look for inspiration in others: in the people around me, but also in the likes of Vladimir Grbić and other sportsmen, both Serbian and international.  Actually, I look not only to athletes, but to people from all walks of life who are special and accomplished, both professionally and personally.  Those are the people I love to read about, to hear what they have to say, and to discover their way of thinking.”

On the 2016 Rio Olympics:
“I have a huge desire to succeed there, but I’m not the only one.  All athletes dream their whole lives of participating in the Olympics and winning a medal for their country.  I’m aware of what awaits me there—I hope our entire tennis squad will be present and strong, and that we’ll have as many representatives as possible, as tennis has become such a successful and popular sport for Serbia.  Hopefully, we’ll bring home a medal, since we were unsuccessful in London and that hit me hard; I was very upset about that.  But a new opportunity is coming, and it’s going to be played on hard courts, my favorite surface; so, I’m aiming to improve on my bronze medal from Beijing.  Then again, any medal is a huge step for Serbian sport.”

~ Translated from Serbian by Predrag & Saša Ozmo and edited by Ana Mitrić.

“France, the country that welcomed me so well”: Interview with Novak Djoković

An interview by Carole Bouchard published in Le Parisien magazine.

A declaration of love.  While he doesn’t launch his clay campaign until April 11 in Monte-Carlo, Novak Djoković agreed to be interviewed a few weeks ago about the privileged relationship he’s had with France since his youth. The world number one, who didn’t want to risk answering our questions in French, but does so willingly for short periods on TV, has the goal of winning Roland Garros on June 7—the only Grand Slam tournament missing from his record.

What are your first memories of France?

Before even setting foot in your country, I had a positive image of France.  There’s a long tradition of friendship between our countriesmany French live in Serbia and many Serbs speak French.  Me, too, although I’m still working on improving it.  When I came for the first time, at 11 years old, to play the Tarbes International, I loved your country as well as the people.  And then I played my first Roland Garros at 16 as a junior.

What impressed you then?

As a Serb, after the war in Yugoslavia, it wasn’t easy to travel.  When we gave our nationality, people recoiled and looked at us oddly.  They thought we were terrorists who were going to play some dirty trick.  It was very complicated for my family and me, especially for my father, who travelled with me to junior tournaments.  We had to work twice as hard to impress people.  But France was one of the few countries where we felt welcomed and where there really was some human warmth, some friendship.

What were your first visits as a tourist?

In juniors, we often travelled by train and passed through Paris, where the train stopped at Lyon Station.  So, we’d do a tour of the neighbourhood.  That’s where I saw the Bercy complex for the first time.  When you’re a player, you spend days on the courts and you don’t do a lot of tourism because it takes time and energy.  I needed four or five years before I went to see the Eiffel Tower!  The same for the Louvre Museum.  Paris is one of the most beautiful cities in the worldevery building has a soul, a special architecture and a history.  I myself come from a country filled with history, which cultivates its traditions and cultural heritage, and have much respect for those which do the same.  I enjoy those countries more because I feel this soul, this ancient history.

What are your favourite parts of Paris?

The Bois de Boulogne, Parc Monceau, the nice neighbourhoods around Avenue George V and the Champs Elysées … And then there’s Montmartre, magnificent with its artistic side.  The Louvre is impressive, too.  There are also restaurants I visit regularly, like the world-famous Le Relais de l’Entrecôte!

Have you developed a particular relationship with France?

I feel closer and closer to French culture.  Speaking the language helps, as does living in Monaco.  I meet French people every day.  And I have French sponsors like Peugeot and Nutrition & Health (Gerblé), who chose me because I can identify with French culture.  I like your sense of humour which is quite sarcastic and distinctive.  It makes me laugh.  I’ve also noticed that people in France are very confident, especially in Paris.  I find it interesting to meet people who have that joie de vivre, that desire to succeed and that influence.

You had a son, Stefan, in 2014. They say he was born in Nice…

No, he was born in Monaco.

A trifle, he couldn’t play for France!

[Explodes into laughter.] OK, well, I don’t know how that would work, I haven’t checked it out!  Will he play tennis later?  That’s impossible to predict.  When he learns to walk, there’ll come a moment when he’ll grab a racquet and ball, it’s only natural.  As soon as he learns to talk, people will ask him if he wants to play, be better than his father.  But I don’t want to force him to become a professional tennis player.  Children of champions who don’t succeed in the same sport as their parents are more numerous than those who succeed because there’s so much pressure.  I’ll tell my son what he can expect so he’ll be ready.

You’ve played legendary matches at Roland Garros, like the semi-final you lost to Rafael Nadal in 2013. But the title keeps eluding you…

It’s a tournament I dream of winning.  The matches I lost at Roland Garros against Nadal were really not easy to digest.  But I take that as an apprenticeship: it’s a challenge that allows me to grow and improve.  That will be my state of mind for the 2015 edition [May 19-June 7- ED], which I can’t wait to play.  I think it will go well for me there, even if it’s a ways down the road and, psychologically, I don’t want to think about it yet.  Roland Garros is always at the top of my priorities.

Because the crowd supports you?

Last year, after my loss in the final, I had one of the most touching moments of my career when the whole stadium applauded me for a long time.  I had tears in my eyes because the French crowd isn’t easy to win over.  To enjoy this support when I’m not French is something I’ll never forget and it encourages me.  What’s important is what you feel—and, in Paris, I feel good, appreciated, carried along by a positive energy.  When I feel that good, I play my best tennis.

Translated by MAN

“Do They Cheer for Novak in Croatia?”

An article by Saša Ozmo, who writes about basketball and tennis for Serbia’s B92.

Athletes are pioneers in the attempt to rebuild bridges that were destroyed during the disintegration of Yugoslavia, as best illustrated by the relationship between Serbian and Croatian tennis players.

However, even though they get along so well, the question is to what extent that’s reflected in the attitude of people in their respective countries.

It’s 2015: twenty years since the end of the war.  So, it’s appropriate to ask where we are now on a scale from “death to the neighbor’s cow” to “anything for a neighbor.”

In the last few months, young Borna Ćorić has emerged as a future star of international tennis.  In Serbia, many find him sympathetic; but, at the same time, the reader response to reports on his matches is often “Nobody’s interested!” and “Why are you writing about a Croatian player?”

And what is the status of Novak Djoković and the rest of the Serbian players in Croatia?

“Novak has many friends in Croatia—he’s friends with our players and he also left a good impression when he played here, as is the case with Viktor Troicki, who has competed in Umag and the Rijeka Challenger.  Each of Novak’s successes is viewed with approval in Croatia—and a lot of people root for him.  I don’t think people here would say something ugly, like “I hope he breaks his leg,” observes Zlatko Horvat, a reporter with Rijeka-based Novi List, adding that Ana Ivanović also has many Croatian supporters.

A regional basketball league has existed for over a decade, incidents of an ethno-nationalist nature are minimal, and water polo and handball have likewise “crossed the border.”  But tennis players are especially significant due to their close relationships and conciliatory statements.

At the Davis Cup tie in Kraljevo, fans didn’t whistle during the Croatian national anthem and Captain Željko Krajan emphasized that the whole team felt at home.  This impression is shared by Croatian journalists.

“Kraljevo has set a good example here—we were pleasantly surprised.  Let’s start to live better, both Croats and Serbs, rather than get caught up with trivialities,” says Horvat.

Although we’re no longer one country, Serbian media always pay closer attention to the achievements of ex-Yugoslav athletes—be it Tina Maze, Marin Čilić, Damir Džumhur, or Janica Kostelić.  There’s still a trace of additional interest, for whatever reason.

“I work at a daily paper that follows tennis, and Djoković gets quite a bit of coverage.  It varies, of course, depending on the importance of the tournament and match, but finals of Grand Slam tournaments are given two pages.  The recent Dubai final report took up a page,” says Ivan Jelkić, who writes for Zagreb’s Sportske Novosti.

Novak Djoković has become a global star and millions of people around the world root for him.  On Twitter alone, four million people “follow” him and at every tournament, autograph-seeking fans besiege him.

Unlike his colleague, though, Jelkić isn’t sure whether people cheer for Novak in Croatia.  But, he points out, they do respect him.

“There are always exceptions who’ll say, ‘He’s not one of us’ and ‘What do we care about him?’; but people who understand and love the sport know what kind of player Novak is and follow his matches, maybe even root for him. ‘Rooting’ is perhaps a bit strong, but they appreciate him, in any case.”

In both Serbia and Croatia, people like to pride themselves in their athletes—we often call them our best ambassadors to the world.  That’s why we could stand to follow their example a bit more in this respect.

It’s not necessary to worship Novak in Zagreb or Čilić in Belgrade; it’s enough not to hate each other.  There is no need—and these days in Kraljevo offer more proof that we are able to function quite normally together.

~

Translated by Ana Mitrić.  Feedback is welcome; please let us know what you think in the comments.

If you would like to contribute a translation, please head to “About Us” to see how to do so.

Novak Djoković on “respect”

From an interview on RTS, Serbian national television, conducted by Nenad Stefanović and aired on a 23 February 2015 episode of “Svedok” (“Eyewitness”).

During the Australian Open. . . your coach, Boris Becker, said that you don’t get as much respect as you should, being the #1 player in the world—“the man in town,” as he put it.  How did you understand his comments and have you talked about it?

“Yes, we’ve talked a lot about such topics, even before that interview.  Naturally, that’s a component of my career.  Generally, as a player and a person, on and off the court, I take everything that goes on around me very seriously and professionally and try, accordingly, to behave with dignity and respect.

I’m aware of the fact that Federer and Nadal, given their long-term success and the results they’ve achieved on the international level, are still—even though I’m number one—the two most popular active tennis players.  But I don’t mind that at all.  On the contrary, it allows me to grow in another regard and perhaps relieves certain kinds of pressure.

Also, I wouldn’t completely agree with the assertion that I don’t get or enjoy enough respect in the tennis and sports world.  In fact, my whole team did a lot of strategic work in order to obtain positive media coverage.  Along with that, I was simply brought up a certain way; I came from a culture in which respect and appreciation—the positive things in life—are valued.  So, I don’t pay too much attention to criticism, even though I’m aware that without it there’s no personal development, nor can one see things from other perspectives…”

To return a bit to this theory of a lack of respect, if it’s at all valid.  One of the sport’s leading experts, Nick Bollettieri, said that he thinks you’re the most complete player in the history of tennis… Geniuses, whether in tennis or something else, don’t choose where they’re born.  Is it possible that one problem with regard to respect is that you come from a country of, let’s say, “bad guys”—from Serbia, whereas, in tennis, there’s generally a belief that great players only come from great nations?

“Well, the fact is that tennis is a global sport, and it was always a sport of the upper classes.  It’s a very exclusive and expensive sport, which was invented by the French and English—both well-off nations, in every respect, throughout history.  So, considering this, there certainly haven’t been many champions from small countries.  And there are probably certain prejudices that, in this situation, play a role.  How much?  I don’t exactly know.

But, I try to take advantage of that Serbian inat* (which exists and which we mention frequently)—more in the sense of enduring certain things, maybe even unfairness—and display a level of tolerance that perhaps I wouldn’t have at first.  I think that’s a virtue, the right way to behave at that moment.  Because if I reacted impulsively to everything—all the headlines, stories, insinuations, people, media, and so on—throughout my career, I wouldn’t have been able to withstand it mentally and emotionally.  So, I save my energy, which I need on court.”

You mentioned the media and popularity.  Maybe part of the problem is that after a longstanding rivalry between Federer and Nadal, a third guy arrived and ruined all of that—including for many people in media and marketing circles—by becoming a champion?

“I disrupted the world order [laughs]…. I’ve thought about it a lot, but then I got past it in a positive way.  I sat down with the people who surround me, who participate in my career—from my family to my coaching team to those responsible for publicity—to devise a strategy for how I’d like to be presented off court.  That is, I try to be myself both on and off court.  Because I don’t like duplicity or hypocrisy—I like to be honest and open in every possible situation.  Of course, there are events and certain formal occasions when one has to comply with protocols… so you don’t get into trouble.

But I try to show emotions, sometimes even ones that might seem unacceptable to some people.  That’s simply me.  I don’t run away from it.  It’s not that breaking a racquet or letting a curse fly are things to be proud of—far from it.  Kids, don’t do that!  But I’ve talked about it with both Marijan and Boris and they told me (particularly Boris, who has experienced similar things on court) that it’s sometimes better to release that negative emotion, the anger that’s growing within you, than to hold onto it because in the long run it’ll eat you up from the inside.”

You used an interesting word a minute ago: humanity.  I’m curious whether you three at the top of world tennis sometimes exchange private messages.  For instance, did any of them congratulate you on the birth of your son?

“Yes, both personally and by text—how could it be otherwise?  Just about all the players I saw did, and everyone at the top.  Absolutely.  I think the current generation of top tennis players is sending a positive message to all the kids who follow them and look up to everything they do.  Similarly, we’re sending a good message to the media and those who occasionally try to create some tension between us.

That was the case between me and Murray after the final in Australia, when British media, in particular, emphasized some disagreement which then grew into anger and then who knows what else that really had no basis.  We’ve known each other since we were 12 years old.  It’s normal when you’ve been fighting for a Grand Slam title that you’re disappointed and show some emotions after the match.  Everything was completely fine between us in the locker room—he came up to my team and congratulated us, and I did the same to them.

Tennis is a very particular sport, at least when we’re discussing this theme of humanity.  Self-respect, respect toward your opponent, and demonstration of fair play—these are among the reasons I’m proud to be part of a generation aware of that.”

* Note: I left the word “inat” in Serbian because it has no English equivalent.  If you’re interested in the origins and significance of what is widely considered a Serbian national characteristic, see here or here.

~

Translated by Ana Mitrić with an assist from Saša Ozmo.  Feedback is welcome; please let us know what you think in the comments.

If you would like to contribute a translation, please see “About Us.”

Murray: “Becker hasn’t improved Djokovic”

Murray: “Becker hasn’t improved Djokovic”

Read a summary of the original German piece here.

Tennis pro Andy Murray is doubtful of Boris Becker’s influence on world #1 Djokovic’s game.  “To be honest, I don’t see a difference in Novak’s game compared to the time before Boris coached him.  He didn’t make him better,” the British World #4 told Sport Bild.

Which doesn’t mean “he isn’t a massive help to him,” the former US Open champ Murray added, saying that the results of Djokovic/Becker are “fantastic.”  The Serb won Wimbledon 2014 with Becker in his box and returned to the top of the world rankings.  Djokovic won the Australian Open for the fifth time in January— with Murray as his opponent in the finals.

Murray: “Mauresmo has made me stronger.”

In addition, Murray defended choosing Amelie Mauresmo as his coach.  “She’s made me better.  That’s why leveling criticism at Amelie was wrong and disrespectful,” the 27-year-old said about the Frenchwoman, a former World #1. The decision to go for a female coach wasn’t anything extraordinary for Murray: “I’m likelier to open up to women than to men.  Until my 18th birthday I often trained with my mother.”

Murray also isn’t sure that record Grand Slam champion Roger Federer (33/Switzerland) will finish his career after the Rio Olympics in 2016.  “Let’s wait and see.  He loves the game, he’s got the full support of his family.”

~

Translation by Renestance.   Feedback and criticism are welcome; please let us know what you think in the comments.

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Interview with Chris Bowers about The Sporting Statesman

“Why this book?”: an interview with Chris Bowers about The Sporting Statesman: Novak Djokovic and the Rise of Serbia.  Originally published by Nicole Lucas in Letter&Geest, a Saturday supplement of Dutch daily Trouw (8 Nov. 2014, page 31).

“I had previously written a book about Roger Federer and my publisher also wanted a biography of Novak Djokovic.  At first I said ‘no.’  Djokovic told me he didn’t have time to work with me and therefore I didn’t really feel like doing it.  But my publisher insisted.  Then I said: ‘I want to write a book that is a mix of Djokovic’s history and that of Serbia.’  After all, this is a top athlete who carries the flag of a country that is still young as a sovereign state but has to deal with a heavy inheritance because of the wars of the nineties and rulings of the ICTY, which has marked Serbia as the biggest culprit.  A country that, according to me, is still little understood by the western world.

It brought together my interests. Of course, I am, in the first place, a sports journalist: I’ve been reporting about the international tennis world for more than 20 years.  But I’m also interested in the broader context.  I do not see sport as an isolated phenomenon.  And the disintegration of Yugoslavia made a huge impression on me, much more than the fall of the Berlin Wall and the end of the Cold War.

Every country has something of which it is not proud.  Let’s not pretend that Serbia has done nothing.  But let’s also not pretend that the Serbs were the only villains.  But Djokovic had to grow up with that stamp—and had to find his way in difficult circumstances.  That is of course quite different from what Federer had to deal with.

While I have not spoken extensively with Djokovic, I did talk with many people from his surroundings.  Perhaps the most important conversation I had was with Jelena Gencic, his first coach—a very special woman.  For me, that was also one of the most inspiring encounters of my journalistic career.  We started talking about music and there was an instant bond.  She didn’t only teach Novak how to play tennis but also to look outside that small world—to Beethoven, to Pushkin, to Nikola Tesla, the Serbian inventor of the alternating current motor.  How do they enrich your life?  Gencic died on June 1, 2013, during Roland Garros.  I had only met her twice, but her death made me really sad.

I found it much more difficult to write about Srdjan, Novak’s father.  Quite a few people have had problems with him.  Unlike his son, he has not exactly endeared people to him.  Yet, I think it’s important to explain the difficulties he had to go through.  You can say now that it was not always ethical what he did: he insisted, for instance, that journalists wrote only nice stories about Novak, no critical pieces.  But at the beginning of this century, maybe there was not always so much room to be ethical in Serbia.

Novak needed time to break away from his father and to develop himself.  He is not easy to fathom, but inside he is a good man.  What he does is very subtle.  He laughs, jokes, makes contact.  People look at him and say, ‘Nice boy.  Where does he come from?  Serbia?  Then they can’t be all bad there.’

In that sense, he and Federer are quite similar.  Both are not only great athletes, but also international idols that transcend the boundaries of their sport and their country. ”

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Translation by Nicole Lucas.  Feedback and criticism are welcome; please let us know what you think in the comments.

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