Exclusive Q&A with Jan-Lennard Struff

June 17, 2014

by Nima Naderi

Continuing in the great tradition of previous German stars like Boris Becker and Michael Stich, 24-year-old Jan-Lennard Struff has every intention of joining his heroes at the top of the ATP World Tour rankings. Currently ranked No. 65 in the world, Struff has already reached the semifinals of two ATP World Tour events this year in Marseille and Munich, while taking home the title at the Heilbronn II Challenger in Germany.

Possessing a powerful game led by a sonic forehand and a hefty serve, Struff’s tall stature and athleticism have allowed him to compete well on every surface. In the following Q&A, Struff discusses his improvement on Tour throughout the past 12 months, while preparing for Wimbledon by taking part in the Topshelf Open in ’s-Hertogenbosch, the Netherlands this week.

Q) You’ve cut your ranking in half from this time last year, what aspects of your game have you worked on to achieve this goal?

A) I have worked more regularly on my fitness and it has been paying off immediately, although I know I still have a lot of work to do. I have recently asked my fitness trainer Uwe Liedke to travel with me and I am glad he accepted. I also worked on my serve and on my game overall. If I had to name two specific aspects that have improved then I’d say my fitness and serve.

Q) You recently played a great match against Gael Monfils at Roland Garros before losing in the second-round. What lessons did you take away from that loss?

A) What I have learned is that I was playing a good level of tennis—close to his level—but I was still far away from winning. He played the important points really well and it is important for me to feel how top guys play in important moments.

The more matches I will play against the top players, the more I will learn from them and hopefully one day be on the winner’s side.

Q) What does a normal training day look like for you? Is your current focus based more around strength training or technical improvement?

A) We keep working on everything, even when we focus on strength. We normally do two sessions of tennis and then we add fitness. Tennis remains always the base of each working day.

Q) You’ve already had a chance to compete at all four Grand Slams. Which event is your favorite and which would you like to win the most?

A) I like clay and as a child I have been to Paris with my mother as a spectator and I think Roland Garros is my favorite slam to play. But all the others have their own beautiful side and are great as well.

I am looking forward to the flair of Wimbledon.

Q) Germany has always had a great history of top players for the upcoming generations to emulate. Do you find it motivating to follow in the footsteps of Boris Becker, Michael Stich and Tommy Haas, or does that expectation put a lot of pressure on your shoulders?

A) I am really happy that Germany has had such a great history with champions like Steffi Graf, Boris Becker and Michael Stich. When they were winning I was a little and I got to know their achievements a few years later while growing up.

We still have very good players in Germany and it is something very positive for all of us. The heritage of these champions is no pressure at all for me, it’s more of a motivating factor.

Q) Beginning your tennis career at the age of six, what instantly drew you toward the sport and what kept you going as the years progressed?

A) My parents were both tennis coaches, working in the same club. I would practice with my father and very rarely with my mother. Until the age of 12 I kept playing soccer before I had to choose. I often skipped soccer practice because I couldn’t combine two sports and I focused on improving my tennis.

Q) What has been the single greatest challenge that you’ve had to overcome thus far in your career?

A) I can’t say I’ve had any great challenges thus far. A few minor injuries maybe, but everything else has gone really well. Of course I had to finish high school before trying to become a pro and the last years in school were difficult. I started as pro with some delays in progress compared to some other players of my age.

The deal with my parents has always been that I should continue playing tennis as long as I kept enjoying it and they would support me.

After I got my Abitur (German high school degree) we decided that I should try the Tour for one year to see if I could find out what my potential could be. After that trial year, I realized I had the skills to play on the Tour.

Q) What ranking goals do you have for the remainder of 2014?

A) I don’t have any specific ranking goals. I want to play as many matches on tour level and improve my game.

Q) Who are your best friends on Tour? Do you think it’s important for players to be friendly on Tour, or should they keep their distance in order to remain competitive on court?

A) I don’t want to name anyone special, in order not to disappoint others. I get along well with almost all of the players, especially with the Germans. We always go for dinner together and have lots of fun.

I believe friendship is important. Everything is funnier if you have friends around. It would be really dull if each of us were isolated and not socializing.

Of course, when you play each other, then you put aside the friendship. That’s easy to do.

Monaco reaches Kitzbuhel final; Isner advances to Washington semifinals

August 2, 2013

bet-at-home Cup Kitzbühel, Kitzbühel, Austria

Semifinal results:

(8) Marcel Granollers defeats Robin Haase 7-6(0), 3-6, 6-4; (2) Juan Monaco defeats (7) Albert Montanes 7-6(2), 7-5.


Citi Open, Washington D.C., U.S.A.

Quarterfinal results:

Dmitry Tursunov defeats Marinko Matosevic 6-3, 4-6, 7-6(4); (8) John Isner defeats (16) Marcos Baghdatis 6-7(5), 6-4, 6-4.

Exclusive Q&A with Marcel Granollers

January 31, 2013

by Nima Naderi

Proving himself as an important member of the Spanish Armada, 26-year-old Marcel Granollers has the all-important task of leading his Davis Cup team against a dangerous Canadian squad in Vancouver this weekend.

Entering the tie off of a semifinal appearance at the Australian Open with partner Marc Lopez, the reigning Barclays ATP World Tour Finals doubles winner has quietly put together the best twelve months of his career.

Currently ranked No. 34 in singles and No. 5 in doubles, Granollers provided some insight into his pre-season regime, how he almost didn’t make it to the Tour Finals and who the best video gamer is amongst his Spanish compatriots.


Q) How did it feel to win the Tour finals and reach the Australian Open semifinal? At this stage do you believe you can win a grand slam in singles or doubles?

A) The World Tour Finals was unexpected. I had a bad shoulder going into the event and I didn’t have great expectations.
It got better match by match and the feeling in the end was really overwhelming, especially because we got so much support from the crowd and from home. In Australia it was different. I must say that I was hoping to make the finals this time and play the Bryan brothers. We were disappointed.

In the future, who knows. We are a young partnership and we will continue playing together, so sooner or later I hope we will go all the way.

In singles it is quite a bit tougher. I reached the fourth round at my best slam, so I need to work a bit longer to improve.

Q) What were the major factors that contributed to you finishing No. 34 in singles and No. 10 in doubles to end 2012?

A) I have worked constantly during the last years and didn’t have many ups and downs. My mental strength has improved thanks to all the matches that I’ve played on a high level and thanks to the day to day work.

Q) Talk about being on Tour for the past 10 years? What type of friendships have you developed on Tour? Who are your best friends?

A) I am very good friends with most of the Spanish players. We know each other since we were under 12 or so. It is long-time friendships that will surely last after the end of our tennis careers. Marc (Lopez) is my best friend.

Q) Which Spanish players are the most fun to be around? Who is the most serious off court? Who is the best at video games? Who usually ends up paying for dinner when you go out as a group?

A) The funniest guys are probably Feliciano Lopez or Marc Lopez; you laugh a lot with them. Impossible to find a serious one outside the court, we make fun of each other all the time, although we don’t do crazy things. Video game champions are probably David (Ferrer), Rafael (Nadal) and Marc (Lopez). When we go out we always split the bill, just like regular friends.

Q) Having the best year of your career in terms of singles and doubles ranking, what goals have you set for yourself heading into 2013?

A) I want to keep improving my game. It is difficult to set yourself a ranking target, because everybody is working hard out there and there are a lot of young players coming through. Let’s say that I want to keep being seeded at the slams and slowly move forward.

Q) Can you specifically state what your fitness program consists of? What do you eat during tournaments? What kind or rituals do you have before matches? How many rackets do you string up every day? What tension do you use and does that change on different surfaces? Do you enjoy working out? How many hours of sleep do you try and get before a match day?

A) I have a good physical base, I have great endurance and I like to work on it. What we improved in the years is my speed and coordination. I don’t have a diet, I just stay away from fats and try to eat fruit and vegetables. I normally have a snack before the match, then I go back to the locker room with Fernando Vicente, we speak a bit about the match and we wait together, away from people and the noise. I try to have always four new racquets each match so that I don’t need to string while I am playing. I usually go up a bit in tension when I play on hard court. Let’s say normally on clay I string between 24-23 kg, and then on hard court I am stringing 25-24 kg. I love working out every day, but I need competition. If I don’t compete I get bored of practicing. I try to get nine hours of sleep, never less than eight.

Q) Was there ever a time during your career when you thought of quitting the sport? When the pressures of competing or traveling were too much for you?

A) I never really thought about quitting. But there was a period a few years ago, when I saw everybody so much stronger than myself and I talked myself down a lot. I was starting to play qualifying at the slams and doubted if I would ever make it.

Q) What do you enjoy the most about traveling on Tour?

A) I love traveling and I like to have a look around when I go places. I like to meet new people.

Q) Who was your tennis idol growing up?

A) I didn’t have any idols but I liked Marat Safin, Carlos Moya and Lleyton Hewitt.

Q) Which tournament would you most like to win and why?

A) The Open de Godo in Barcelona. I moved to that club when I was 12 years old and have been a member ever since. I used to go and watch the tournament with my dad and it’s a nice feeling to play it with all my family watching, even those who never travel with me.

Q) Do you see Spain continuing to be a dominant force in men’s tennis going forward? Are there any young prospects coming up and if so who are they?

A) Well, it is difficult to say. The level of Spanish tennis has never been this high in our history, so it will be difficult to keep it up for the next generation. There are some good, young players like Javier Marti, but it takes many years to move from juniors to pro tennis so they need some more time.

Q) What does it mean for you to play Davis Cup? How was your Olympic experience this year?

A) It is great to play Davis Cup, especially with these team members, incredible sport icons. Davis Cup is always sold out in Spain and people really feel it. I enjoyed staying at the Olympic village, seeing how other athletes live and worked. It was a unique chance to become friends with other sports personalities.

Q) Fans and commentators have made reference to your grunting during the past year. Can you talk about why you do it and if you care if it bothers your opponent or the fans?

A) I know, but it is something out of my control. When I am tense or really tired I grunt sometimes. But it is not something I think of, it just happens.

Q) Where do you see the future of tennis going? Will we see more serve and volleyers coming up, or will the game be dominated by baseliners for the foreseeable future?

A) I believe that players will play more from the baseline and hit harder and harder.

Q) What’s your favorite surface to play on and are surfaces getting slower for faster?

A) The courts are getting slower everywhere now, even the grass is slowing down. Two years ago the courts at Paris Bercy were really fast, but they made those slower now too.

Q )How long do you see yourself playing on Tour? Can you see yourself playing doubles into your 40s?

A) I hope that I can keep up this level for a long time. I don’t know if I will be able to play that long. I have lot of respect for those players that can still deliver great tennis into their 40s. I am constantly playing singles and doubles but I doubt that I will last that long.

Q) How would you describe yourself as a player and a competitor? Would you say you’re more relaxed on court and off court, or are you always living life with a sense of urgency?

A) Outside of the court I am quite relaxed, I sleep a lot and enjoy life. I take my time to eat, talk and do things slowly. Once I get on the court things change, then the competitor comes out and my energy level rises. I become really active and intense.

Q) Where is your favorite place to visit or vacation to when you’re not competing or off Tour?

A) Anywhere where I can find the sea, the beach and a good temperature.

Q )What is the most powerful and important shot in men’s tennis right now? Who currently owns it?

A) The most important shot is the serve. John Isner owns it.

Q) Finally, why did you want to be a tennis player as a kid?

A) Yes, since I can remember, that’s all I ever wanted to be.

Exclusive Q&A with Jo-Wilfried Tsonga

May 18, 2012

With the help of Adidas, we recently had the opportunity to field some questions to world No. 5 Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in the video link below.

Reaching the quarterfinal round or better of six ATP World Tour events this year, Tsonga revealed his secrets toward breaking a top four ranking, who his toughest rival has been on Tour, and which player has the best dance moves off the court.

Exclusive Q&A with Flavio Cipolla

April 26, 2012

by: Nima Naderi

Reaching a ranking high of No. 70 on the ATP World Tour this week, Italian veteran Flavio Cipolla is quietly putting together the best season of his nine year career.

Advancing to his first Tour semifinal during the Grand Prix Hassan II in Casablanca, Morocco, Cipolla recorded his second career victory over up-and-coming Ukrainian Alexandr Dolgopolov in the second-round.

Possessing a solid one-handed backhand and great flair for the game, Cipolla had a chance to answer some of our questions before resuming his clay-court season at the Estoril Open in Portugal.

The Roma native didn’t hold back when discussing his training regimen, favorite tournament to win, and what factors will bring Italian tennis back to the forefront of the sport.

Q. What would you pin-point as the main cause of your recent string of good results?

A. I have been producing good results for a year now and I am constantly at a high level that allows me to play with the best players in the world. I wouldn’t say that there has been one particular factor for my recent results. I have always trained to improve all around and not forget any aspect [of my game]. If I had to find one [thing] to change above anything else, I would say that I have to play more aggressively compared to before.  As time goes on, players need to be able to impose their game plans if they want to survive [on Tour].

Q. At this stage of your career, what ranking and tournament goals have you set for yourself?

A. For the moment the goal is to enter the top 50.

Q. With the clay-court in full swing, what changes have you made to your daily training?

A. Right after Miami I practiced [for] two weeks on clay in order to arrive as ready as possible for Casablanca. I worked especially [hard] on my endurance and trained with weights as well. I increased the height of my shots over the net on clay, and I have worked on my topspin backhand because I will have to use it more often than on hard courts.

Q. You’ve had some great hard-court wins in the past year, defeating the likes of Alexandr Dologpolov, Bernard Tomic, Kei Nishikori, Ivan Ljubicic and Nikolay Davydenko. Would you say at this point in your career that hard-courts are your favorite surface?

A. Yes, I would say that my favorite surface is fast courts, but I am not 100 percent sure. I was born on clay and I have obtained good results on the surface. To be honest, I think that on a hard court my chances are better for beating a top player than on clay.

Q. After playing on Tour for nearly a decade, what significant changes have you seen from the tournament venues, surfaces and playing styles?

A. I think that the surfaces have become slower compared with a few years ago and in my opinion it is a positive change. I think that the tournaments are constantly trying to improve each year, but the level of the players have improved the most. Tennis has developed much more than other sports during the last 10 years, and the average level [of the players] has risen incredibly.

Q. With six Italian players currently in the top 100, how would you assess the level of your countryman and the future of Italian tennis?

A. The overall level of the Italian players has risen significantly during the last years. We now have six players inside the top 100 and many more inside the top 300. We miss that champion which would further boost the enthusiasm of the country; someone in the top 10 or the top 20. But never say never.

Q. If you could capture any tournament on Tour, which one would it be and why?

A. If I had to choose a tournament then I would have say the Roma Masters. I was born and grew up in Roma and as a youngster I dreamt of participating in the event. The tournament is very close to my heart. The support of the fans is incredible, especially for a Roman like me.

Q. Who is your best friend on the circuit?

A. I have many friends on the circuit. I have a great bond with the Italian players, but I wouldn’t want to pick just one.

Q. What’s the funniest moment you can recall during your playing days?

A. I’ll have to get back to you on that one.

Exclusive Q&A with Oscar Hernandez

August 22, 2011

by: Nima Naderi

Forced to quit the game he began playing at the age of three because of a debilitating back injury, Spaniard Oscar Hernandez bid a sad farewell to the ATP World Tour at the end of July. Reaching a career high of No. 48 in the world, Hernandez used his consistent back-court game to defeat the likes of Robin Soderling, David Ferrer, Lleyton Hewitt and Mardy Fish throughout his 13 year career.

Joined by Spanish Davis Cup Captain Albert Costa and touring pro Tommy Robredo during his retirement speech, Hernandez will now set his sights on helping Spanish juniors develop their skills.

In the following interview, Hernandez recalls his fondest memories of competing on Tour, as well as his thoughts on the future of the sport within Spain.

Q) At what point did you decide that a successful comeback to the circuit wouldn’t be impossible?

A) Well, I realized that my comeback would be impossible when I made the tests to find out how the shoulder was doing after a long layoff. My doctor said that it had not improved and that it was not going to improve. At that moment I told myself I’d better stop training before I have a chronic injury for the rest of my life.

I sat down and thought a lot about my health and the quality of my life in the future.

Q) What career victory would you hold higher than any other during your playing days?

A) There is not really a special match, but the most important wins were always those when you played at home at the Barcelona tournament. Those are the
matches I have the best memories of because there I was surrounded by my people and my public.

Q) If you could change one result throughout your career to fall in your favor, which one would it be?

A) Without any doubt I would change the result of my back surgery. If the outcome had been different, I would not be retired now and I would have kept competing because that was what I loved most.

Q) What was your favorite event to play on the circuit?

A) For sure the tournament in Barcelona is very special, but for a clay player, Paris remains the most important.

Q) Who aided you the most throughout your development as a player?

A) My father has always been the most important person for my tennis. He has been a friend, my mentor and my number one fan. From the technical side,
Marcos Roy and Ignasi Verdonces have been my mentors.

Q) How do you assess the future of Spanish tennis? Can the fans of the Tour look forward to more champions like Rafael Nadal?

A) In my opinion, I don’t see many new young promising players from our country. Hopefully I am wrong but I find it very difficult if not impossible that another Rafa Nadal may rise.

Q) Who was the most difficult opponent you faced on any surface?

A) Nadal has for sure been and still is a player that when you were facing him you felt that it was impossible to win.

Q) What single piece of advice would you provide to upcoming professionals to aid them in becoming successful Tour players?

A) I would recommend to them that they give everything in each training [session] and each match. It is very difficult to be a top player, therefore if you want to have a chance you need to leave it all on the practice court.

Q) Where will you place your attention now that you have retired from the sport?

A) I have already started to work with Marcos Roy in his tennis academy. I want to try to pass my experience to the younger players. I deeply love tennis and I want to keep being apart of it. Also, I will focus on my wife Rachel (we were married on August 20th) and spend with her all the time that I could not spend with her when I was on the tour.

Q) If you could disclose the funniest moment of when you were competing, what would it be?

A) Two funny things that happened to me were both with Carlos Bernardes as [the] umpire. The first one was at the US Open against [Sebastien] Grosjean. I was losing 6-2, 6-1 and 1-0 when on the changeover Bernardes said “Grosjean leads 1-0, final set.” I went up to him and told him that it was clear that it was going to be the last set because Grosjean was killing me, but that theoretically there could also be two more sets.

The second one was in the last tournament of a long South American tour. I was really tired from all the traveling and all the matches. I was losing very easily when I decided it was too much and I retired, telling Carlos I couldn’t go on. Carlos ended the match saying “Oscar Hernandez retires from mental fatigue.”

Through the Fall of Federer, the Day of Djokovic Dawns

August 12, 2011

By: Lyra Pappin

MONTREAL – So it goes. So it goes. The slaughtering of a hero, the changing of the guard, the strangling reality of time: what has been said about Roger Federer that hasn’t already been said? How many times has that question been asked?

Yet no one is willing to put the story to bed. Roger Federer, chief among them.  It still takes some getting used to, hearing Federer discuss what went wrong in his matches versus what went right but in each press conference, as gloomy as he might be feeling, he refuses to accept that his time has come. In his recent, somewhat surprising loss to Jo-Wilfried Tsonga during the third round of Montreal’s Rogers Cup, Federer didn’t seem too shaken. “I feel good physically… I can tell you I feel good mentally and I’m playing well.” His shield of invincibility might be worn down to a soft glow, but there’s this fascinating mix of quiet determination and calm confidence that manages to unravel what would be the logical argument: that his decline is clear and unavoidable.

There’s a sense that Federer is comforted by a personal belief that he truly is the greatest of all time. He’s been careful not to confuse his self-assurance with arrogance and it seems he takes comfort in all those years at number one, all the slams, all the success, all the glory. There’s still the raw hunger and thirst for victory, but he shows it less often.  When there’s a challenge, he rises to it, seeming to draw from a belief that whoever is beating him now isn’t as good as he once was, and still can be.  Don’t think it didn’t mean something to him that he is the sole person the new kid in town, newly minted number one, Novak Djokovic lost to this year. At the French Open, no less.  The surface Federer’s struggled on the most saw him take Djokovic down in the height of his rise to number one, with an uncharacteristic show of swagger, the much discussed index finger wave that seemed to shout, “Not so fast, kiddo.”

It was an incredible statement, a new kind of win for Federer, who’s seen them all, and a shining moment of triumph against the rumblings that he doesn’t have what it takes anymore. But those moments are going to be coming fewer and farther between, no matter how free from physics he’s seemed in the past.  There is a new kid in town and he’s playing tennis with his own brand of otherworldly command. Djokovic has hit his stride, and with an incredible 50-1 record on the season, he is the man to watch.

Oozing charisma on and off the court, the affectionately nicknamed “Djoker” is coming into his own with admirable aplomb.  He respects the game, respects the past and knows what it means to be number one.  After his first win under the official number one ranking in Montreal’s Rogers Cup, he acknowledged the weight on his shoulders with grace, shifting from his trademark jovial attitude with an endearing sincerity. “[As number one], the world is looking at me a bit differently, which I think is obvious to expect… You represent not just yourself but the game of tennis in general. You need to handle yourself well.”

Djokovic has been dreaming about this time in his life since he was a child and he is now the man for the job. Where others such as Andy Murray and, to some extent Tomas Berdych and Robin Soderling, have tried to grab the spotlight and stumbled, Djokovic has proven he has the stamina and mental stability to seal the deal.  The only other player who has shaken Federer’s stronghold on tennis is Rafael Nadal, who, when healthy, remains a formidable opponent and will surely capture future slam titles, but has not proven to be the same immovable obstacle for the fired up Djokovic than the roadblock Federer faced.

Djokovic is playing with a joy and command that is beautiful to see. There’s an actual spring in his step and a maturity has settled into his game that is satisfying not just for him personally, but fans as well. His success means something to him. “I feel great… I achieved the dreams of my childhood. I had a bit of time to enjoy the success I had, but now it’s back to reality, back to the tennis court, back to business.” He’s taking nothing for granted, respecting what he’s achieved, and somehow without taking himself too seriously, he’s taking his game to another level.

What’s ironic is that one of the only things standing in Djokovic’s way from becoming a bona fide superstar is the inescapable fever for Federer and his undeniable continued megawatt presence. Not to mention that the story of Federer’s fall has the power to overshadow the rise of Djokovic. As Federer’s star flickers and fades, Djokovic will have to keep climbing if he ever hopes to eclipse some of the Federer legacy. Something tells me, though, that he’s up for the challenge. And as Djokovic’s love affair with the sport and the crowd continues to evolve, Federer will have to settle for taking a seat farther and farther back to marvel at the view.

So it goes. So it goes.

Lyra Pappin will be covering the Rogers Cup in Toronto and Montreal for TennisConnected. You can follow her on Twitter at @allthatracquet.

Tomas Berdych discusses upcoming QF match

August 11, 2011

by: Lyra Pappin

MONTREAL – With big favourites like Rafael Nadal and Andy Murray out, is Tomas Berdych feeling better about his chances against Janko Tipsarevic or Ivan Dodig?  Hear Berdych discuss his side of the draw. Link: Berdych – Absence of Murray and Nadal in my side of the draw changes nothing…

(Thanks to Tennis Radio Network for audio).

Lyra Pappin will be covering the Rogers Cup in Toronto and Montreal for TennisConnected. You can follow her on Twitter at @allthatracquet.

Catching up with Milos Raonic

August 2, 2011

by: Nima Naderi

Beginning the year ranked No. 156 in the world, young Canadian star Milos Raonic has seen his ranking skyrocket to a current position of No. 29 on the ATP World Tour. Ranked as high as No. 25 in May of this year, Raonic is currently recovering from a hip injury he sustained at Wimbledon.

In the following interview, the intelligent and articulate 20-year-old discusses the current state of his injury; when he intends on returning to action; who he believes will be the best player of the current group and up-and-comers, and finally which players have the best strokes on Tour.

Q) Just getting straight into it here, how has your summer been barring your recent hip injury?

A) It’s been good, it’s been heavy. People think we get injured and we relax but it’s the opposite. It’s about eight hours of rehab a day, six days a week. It’s actually more tiring than being on Tour playing. I’m happy with my progress and how things are going.

Q) Do you have a ballpark figure of when you’re looking to return?

A) Well hopefully the US Open. The thing with injuries are that it really comes down to week-to-week. Right now I’m making some great strides with it. I’ve had two on-court training sessions and things are going very well and ahead of schedule. I don’t want to comeback at 90 percent or 95 percent, I want to comeback at 100 percent and have this injury finished with and behind me.

Q) How do you deal with the pressure filled situations in matches?

A) Oh, the thing is here that you have to believe, and it’s not always easy to believe. You have to, in those situations go with the things that you know best. Go with the patterns that you know best, not something out of the blue. Sometimes people get caught up and down on their game and go with something that they’re not used to, and their chances of succeeding in pressure [situations] drops.

Q) How has your life changed since your rise up the rankings this year? Is your life significantly different than a year ago?

A) Sure, a lot has changed since last year. There are a lot more perks in my life, a lot of things I can enjoy more. Now I get invited to go to different performances all the time, and to different concerts. For example, Drake is playing here in Toronto tonight, and I called this morning because I didn’t have a ticket and I got one. But the most important thing is walking around and people coming up to me and saying hi or asking about my injury. The support is great.

Q) When you play, are you playing for Milos or are you playing for Canada? Can you talk about how Tennis Canada has helped elevate your status to where it is today?

I think one of the reasons that I’m able to deal quite well with the pressure is because when I’m competing or down I’m really playing for myself. I’m not wondering what others are thinking about. I love the outside support, I love the game, and at the end of the day if I win or a lose, I can only blame myself.

Tennis Canada has been a big part of it. I think they have one of the better systems worldwide. It takes time for kids to believe that they can be at the top. I’m willing to be a big part of that. Kids need to want to be there like they believe they can in Hockey.

Q) What changes are looking to make in your game in order to increase your ranking?

A) Improving my returns. If you look at what Novak Djokovic does with his return it’s incredible. Having a chance to hit with him, he gets his racket on every ball. Even if it’s a floater return, he puts pressure on the guy to play another ball. You want to be able to neutralize your opponent and make them hit another ball, and dictate on the next shot.

Q) You’ve been put into this group of up and coming players with Ryan Harrison, Grigor Dimitrov, Richard Berankis and Bernard Tomic. Which player in your opinion will have the best career? With all things being equal, and you’re all in the top 10 and battling for Grand Slams, which player will give you the most trouble?

A) Wow, well I hope myself. In terms of potential I would have to say Grigor. But I think mentally out of the group I would have to say Ryan is the best competitor. It’s going to come down to who can work through their weaknesses and improve. But I think if you get into two guys, Ryan has the best competitor in him and Grigor has the most potential.

Q) For our last question, could you provide one player who you think has the best serve, forehand, backhand, movement and who is the best competitor on Tour?

A) Serve: Ivo Karlovic, but in terms of [service] games I would say Roger Federer.

A) Forehand: Federer.

A) Backhand: Djokovic.

A) Movement: Djokovic.

A) Competitor: Nadal, by a long stride.

Player of the Month for June 2011: Novak Djokovic

July 6, 2011

by: Nima Naderi

With the stats, dominance and titles on his side, newly crowned world No. 1 Novak Djokovic was the unanimous choice for player of the month honors.

Picking up his third career Grand Slam title at Wimbledon, Djokovic improved to 48-1 on the season, and surpassed the $7.5 million dollar mark in YTD earnings. Perhaps his most impressive feat of 2011 thus far was his fifth straight victory over 10-time Grand Slam champion Rafael Nadal. Defeating the two-time winner and five-time finalist in four sets, Djokovic joined the elite ranks of the sport as the first-ever player from Serbia to hoist the coveted hardware in London.

Becoming the 25th player in ATP history to hold the No. 1 ranking, Djokovic will now head into his favorite part of the year and the hard-courts of North America.

Losing in the finals of the US Open on two occasions, Djokovic will be heavily favored to pull out his third Major of the year. Losing to Roger Federer and Nadal in his two previous Open finals, Djokovic owns an astounding 8-1 record against the two legends in 2011.

Using the experience that has elevated him to the top of the sport, Djokovic out-thought and out-willed Nadal toward the latter stages of the first and fourth sets. Never defeating the Mallorcan in a Grand Slam event, Djokovic has now beat Nadal on every major surface.

So what’s left for the top seed on the men’s side to achieve? He’ll have the US Open in his short-term thoughts to deal with, and perhaps the challenge of taking home the French Open later next spring. The Olympic games will be held in London next year, and with Djokovic’s recent performance on the grass, it would be foolish to underestimate his chances of winning a gold medal for his country.

There will of course be challengers to the titles that Djokovic intends on capturing, and as Nadal so rightfully put it during his final Wimbledon presser: “My experience says this level (Djokovic’s) is not forever. Even for me when I was last year winning three Grand Slams, my level of last year is not forever. Probably the level of Novak of today is not forever. I gonna be here fighting all the time, waiting my moment. I don’t have to wait a lot, because I already won three tournaments this year and one Grand Slam. But waiting my moment to beat him another time.”

A hungry and experienced Nadal was right on the money with his analysis of Djokovic’s current form, but what the Spaniard failed to mention was that Djokovic won’t necessarily have to keep up his ball-striking and electric movement to rack up further titles. The best players in the world—a place Djokovic undoubtedly stands now—have reached that mantle with the confidence of knowing how to win when they’re not playing their best.

For a greater part of the recent fortnight, Djokovic was far from playing his best tennis. He upped his form to take out Tsonga in the semifinals and become No. 1, but he was clearly struggling with his nerves in the finals. However, even though his arm may have felt heavier than usual, and his opponent across the net had battled the same conditions on many more occasions, Djokovic remained steadfast in his ways and exuded the mental fortitude that only great champions possess.

Serving and volleying to set up match point at 5-3 in the fourth set, Djokovic came out of his comfort zone to surprise the defending champ. It may not have been the cleanest or most dynamic looking backhand volley ever struck, but what it did prove was that Djokovic was indeed confident and poised.

We’ll definitely see Djokovic play some of his best tennis during the upcoming Montreal and Cincinnati events before heading to the US Open, but the anchor that will continue to build the Serbian’s legacy will be his resolve and experience when it counts the most.

It’s not known for certain if Djokovic will end the year ranked No. 1 in the world: Nadal and Federer have been playing some good ball as well, and it’s only a matter of time before they start to pressure Djokovic even more than they already have. But if I were to write up a summary of 2011 right now, I’d have to put Djokovic at the top of my list to finish No. 1. He’s simply dynamo on asphalt and his off-the-rise groundstrokes will continue to keep his top foes locked behind the baseline.

Coming home to a heroes welcome of over 100,000 screaming fans in Serbia, Djokovic declared that he’s “only just getting started,” as the new world No.1. If in fact that is the case, look for many more composed and thoughtful performances from Serbia’s new superstar.

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