Novak Djokovic speaks to the media after his 6-2, 6-2, 7-6(3) final defeat of Kevin Anderson
Q. Last year you left Wimbledon with the elbow injury. You’re back again as champion. Tell us about the long journey.
NOVAK DJOKOVIC: It was a long journey, especially considering that elbow injury that took me out from the tour for six months. When I started training again, came back on the tour, played Australia, but I played with the pain.
It was inevitable for me to go on a table and have a surgery, even though I was trying everything to avoid it, to be honest. It was the first, and I hope only, surgery I had. It was supposed to happen.
After that I had a really good recovery, I thought. Maybe too fast. I got back to the court too fast. I wasn’t ready to compete. Indian Wells, Miami were not great. It took me several months really to regain the confidence, go back to basics, start to hit as many balls on the practice court as possible so I can feel comfortable, you know, playing on the high level.
It took me many tournaments. I couldn’t pick the better place, to be honest, in the tennis world to peak and to make a comeback. Wimbledon has been always a very special tournament to me, and to many players obviously. I dreamed of winning it when I was a seven-year-old boy. I made a lot of improvised Wimbledon trophies from different materials. I really always dreamed of winning Wimbledon.
When that happened back in 2011, when I became No. 1 of the world, in just a couple days all my dreams came true. It’s really hard to compare this year’s victory and trophy with any of the other three because they’re all special. But if I can pick one, that would be probably the first one and this year’s winning because my son was at the trophy ceremony, which made it extra special.
Q. You’re back in the top 10. Did you ever imagine at the start of the year that you’d be back at this point by this time this year?
NOVAK DJOKOVIC: To be honest, I learned how to be patient in this process. Going back to February when I had the surgery of the elbow, I really was impatient. I wanted to come back and compete as quick as possible. I wanted to get out on the court.
I was still feeling a little bit of discomfort and pain playing Indian Wells, Miami. I just kept going even though everyone was against me competing at that stage. I took the responsibilities. I could not imagine myself being away from the tour another few months after being away from the tour six months in the last season. So I had to learn the lessons in a hard way.
To answer your question directly, no, I did not expect to be back in the top shape already here in Wimbledon so quickly. If you asked me after Roland Garros, I would probably maybe doubt that. At the same time there is a part of me that always believes in my own abilities, believes in my own quality of tennis, what I possess. Whenever I come to the tournament and Grand Slam especially, I believe I can have a good opportunity to fight for the trophy.
My ambitions are quite high. I think maybe I went against myself especially the first few months postsurgery because the expectations were so high from myself that I could not understand why I could not perform and play on the level that I’m used to.
Right now it’s easy to talk. I had to go through it. But I want to thank all the people who were really close to me and really believed in me, as well.
Q. You could have thought you had proved everything to the tennis world and yourself the past 10 years. Do you feel the last two matches you proved something new to yourself, you pushed some limits you thought maybe were not there?
NOVAK DJOKOVIC: To myself the most, yes. To myself the most. I lost quarterfinals of Roland Garros. There was a similar fight, long match. I wasn’t playing my best in the decisive moments. That was something that I was missing, to be honest, that kind of competitive match play feeling of being toe-to-toe with an opponent in a big match in the later stages of Grand Slams.
Playing against Nadal in the semifinals here was the biggest test that I could have specifically for that, just to see whether I can prevail. That’s why I spend a lot of energy and I put a lot of effort to win that match because I knew on a short run and long run how much that will mean to me and how much it means to me, to my confidence.
Obviously I didn’t have a day in between semifinals and finals. Right now it’s great, but ideally maybe a day would be even better in between. But I did all I could to recover. I felt really, really good today. I thought the first two sets against Kevin today, even though you could feel he was nervous, you could feel that he wasn’t playing at his best, was making a lot of errors, but I thought that I was very, very solid. Probably the two best sets I’ve played in a long time.
Q. How important for you was it to get off to a strong start today?
NOVAK DJOKOVIC: It was quite important. I mean, I knew that Kevin spent plenty of time on the court in quarters and semis, marathon wins. I did, too. He did have a day off, a day in between semis and finals. I knew that probably had enough time for him to recover and to get out on the court and start playing at an expected level that he was playing on the last couple matches.
But at the same time I knew that it was his first Wimbledon finals, and it is a really different sensation when you’re in the finals of Wimbledon and any other tournament. It was my fifth today, so I tried to use that experience probably, maybe that mental edge that I have, to kind of start off in a right way.
The first game I made a break of serve was a perfect possible start. After that I cruised for two sets. In the third set, he started hitting his spots with the serve much better. He started swinging through the ball, making less errors. He was the better player in the third set, without a doubt. I was just trying to hold on and keep my composure in decisive moments.
I served well, played some good shots when I was set points down, then played a perfect tiebreak to finish.
Q. You’ve been through a difficult period now and come back, yet you’re 31 years old. You went through a period of great domination earlier. Is it realistic you could come back to that level again? Is it something you think about or is it just way down the road?
NOVAK DJOKOVIC: Well, I understand that people are questioning whether I can consistently play on this level. Trust me, I am, too (smiling). At the same time I can’t look too far on the road because I have to embrace and cherish this kind of accomplishment.
As I said, if you asked me a month and a half ago whether I think I can win Wimbledon, part of me yes, I hope, but maybe I wasn’t that sure at that time of my level of tennis.
This is obviously very pleasing and satisfying to be able to play the way I played in the last couple of tournaments, in Queen’s and Wimbledon. This is going to be a huge confidence boost and springboard for whatever is coming up.
I really can’t see the future. I don’t know what’s going to happen. But I like to play on hard courts. US Open was always successful tournament for me. I haven’t played it last year because of injuries. I’m looking forward to also go out there and play my best and see where it takes me.
Q. Do you feel this is the greatest achievement, considering what you’ve been through the last 15 months?
NOVAK DJOKOVIC: As I’ve said when I answered the first set, I think alongside the first Wimbledon title when I managed to get No. 1 of the world for the first time in 2011 and win my dream tournament, this is probably next to that the biggest achievement I had. Roland Garros and Australian Open and a few other tournaments… It’s hard to pick one, to be honest.
As I said, it really is special considering the last two years, absolutely. I’ve never faced a major injury in my career before. I changed the racquet. I also made some compensations in my game. I had to adjust. I had to get comfortable with that game. It took me a while.
So I’m very, very pleased with this kind of achievement.
Q. You are in the elite of players winning four or more Wimbledons like Borg, Sampras, Edberg and Federer. Do you see yourself close to one of them? And are you going to give half of your prize money to the surgeon of your tennis elbow?
NOVAK DJOKOVIC: He was there, by the way. He was here today. He was here today.
Q. Your guest, I guess.
NOVAK DJOKOVIC: Yes, yes. Not Anderson’s guest, for sure. Yes, he was there. I saw him yesterday and today before the match. Of course, I’m very thankful to him and to his team for doing a great job.
Half the prize money? It’s a bit unlikely. Maybe something else. We’ll see. We’ll think about it.
To answer your first part of the question, I mean, it’s just a great honor to be in that elite. Pete Sampras has 14 slams. He was, out of everyone that I looked up to, probably my biggest role model and idol growing up. To be just one step away from his record is quite incredible.
To win four titles in this sanctuary of tennis is quite impressive, as well, so I’m very proud of it.
Q. A more technical question. A long time ago, you said after Estoril that you have a secret weapon, backhand down the line. In the past years you seem to have lost it a little bit, your forehand becoming a major weapon. It seems here you got it back. Am I wrong?
NOVAK DJOKOVIC: Yeah, I mean, I relied a lot especially in the early days of my professional career on that shot. Backhand down the line was, and still is, probably one of the most important shots not just in my game but the game in general.
If you see, let’s say, the structure of the point, regardless of the surface, statistically it’s mostly backhand cross, someone runs around backhand and hits the forehand, 1-2 punch. Most of the players are more comfortable in the backhand corner, so backhand down the line, if you’re comfortable with that shot, if you have confidence in it, that can disrupt the rhythm and positioning on the court of your opponent a lot.
That definitely has been, if I can call it, a weapon of mine. But it’s a tough shot to hit, as well. It’s above the highest part of the net. It has to be timed well.
You’re right, for some time I wasn’t really comfortable with that shot, but I felt like lately has been working well.
Q. You brought the band back together.
NOVAK DJOKOVIC: The boys band.
Q. Now that you’re back to winning ways with Marian, is it going to be a long-term commitment or note, because at the beginning you said you didn’t know?
NOVAK DJOKOVIC: Yes. We talked actually postmatch. It seems like he’s planning to keep on working with me, which is great news. We going to keep on working till the end of the year for sure, then we’ll see after that.
Obviously I’m so grateful to Marian, to GG, as well, for coming back. After a year of not working with them, them continuing with their lives, doing different things, leaving that aside and coming to join me again, help me to get to where I am at the moment, it’s really nice of them.
I love these guys very much.
Q. I was going to ask you more about Marian. How bad were you feeling about yourself when you called him, and what has it done exactly to help you so much since then?
NOVAK DJOKOVIC: Not at all. Actually in contrary. I didn’t feel bad about myself at all. I was actually excited to call him, very much. It didn’t take long. Actually the same night he called me back and said, Okay, let’s do it, when should I come for practice? A few days later he was there.
As I’ve said, when we split, we stayed in touch. We are family. We love each other. We nurture our relationships. That hasn’t changed when professionally we decided to split.
It was obviously more of a break, short break, than a long break, so I’m really glad for that.
Q. When you were going through the injury and the struggle, was there ever a moment that you truly thought maybe this might not happen for you, you might not reach this mountaintop again?
NOVAK DJOKOVIC: Yeah, yeah, absolutely. There were several moments where I was frustrated and questioning whether I can get back on desired level or not. But that makes this whole journey even more special for me.
As I said, it’s easy to talk now and look back at it and be kind of grateful, but I really am grateful to go through this kind of, so to say, mixed emotions, turbulences as well mentally, moments of doubt and disappointment and frustration, anger.
But I’m human as all of you, I hope, here in this room. And we all have to face that. We all have to go through that. It’s a learning curve, it really is. Helped me, not just as a tennis player, but just as a human being to get to know myself on deeper levels.
It’s usually in a struggle that you get to know yourself, you get to have an opportunity to rise like a phoenix and evolve and get better.
Q. How has fatherhood changed this whole experience for you?
NOVAK DJOKOVIC: Actually, I didn’t talk about it, but it was one of, if not the biggest, motivation I’ve had for this Wimbledon this year. I was visualizing, imagining this moment of him coming to the stands, cherishing this moment with my wife and me and everyone. It’s hard to describe.
I mean, I never had him in the box watching the tennis match. I was hoping that Wimbledon can be that tournament because he’s big enough now I think to stay quiet maybe for 30 minutes or so. Maybe…
There are special rules here so we have to respect them. He’s under five years old, and you’re not allowed if under five to be present.
Roger I think had his girls and his boys as well I think last year and the years that he won at the trophy ceremony, so I was hoping I can have Stefan, too.
He was not there till the very moment when I was walking to get an interview. He walked in. So that was just a moment that I will carry inside of my heart forever.
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