Comfortable to an Ace

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Camerawork USA

WIMBLEDON, England—I had prepared to ask Novak Djokovic a question in his pre-final press conference about his routine the day before a Grand Slam final. Tomorrow will be the 11th time Djokovic steps onto a court opposite the only other man left in a 128-player draw, and so I wondered: Does the Serb remain focused on tennis, all-business before the title fight, or does he opt for a more relaxed approach, perhaps taking his little dog Pierre—who I still haven’t been able to track down—for a stroll around Wimbledon's well-manicured streets to clear his head?

I never got an answer, as Djokovic’s chat was limited to 10 minutes and filled with questioners more eager—or more visible to the conductor—than I. But I got an idea based on how the world No. 1 treated the back-and-forth session. He arrived in a navy blue polo and white shorts about 10 minutes late, even offering an apology to the room for his tardiness. One of tennis’ great showmen, Djokovic seems to enjoy the press and the mouthpiece it provides. There are his impersonations, discussed to death by this point, but this is also a player who thanked the media corps with chocolate a year ago at the ATP World Tour Finals. He hasn’t taken himself too seriously in the public eye, and that’s a good thing considering how brutal the written word, Twitter, and YouTube replays can be.

Djokovic has done this dance before—standing outside the main interview room door, he made sure to put on his watch that he’s no doubt being paid millions to wear. That’s business, and he handled the questions thrown at him seriously, but with a pleasant disposition—the same approach he takes to the penultimate day of majors, I’m thinking. A player with all the shots on the court, there’s little that Djokovic doesn’t handle well off it, either.

Here are some excerpts from Djokovic’s Saturday afternoon exchange:

On the fact that tomorrow could be a historic day for Andy Murray and Great Britain:
For me it’s just another final. I don’t really think about that fact. (The 77-year drought for British men in Wimbledon singles.)

On his relationship with Murray:
We don’t get together and have dinners and parties, but we definitely always chat and remember the fun days we had as juniors.

On whether—and I’m being serious—there is “a fear in you that [Murray] will just crush you”:

On a match he and Murray played in Tarbes, when they were 11:
That’s where he crushed me actually (smiling). I remember his curly hair. That’s all I remember.

On his time spent in Scotland, and whether he’ll still be welcome there should he beat Murray:
Well, I’ll think about that (smiling)…I made a picture of the road sign of Dunblane and I sent him that photo. He said, ‘What are you doing there?’ I said, ‘I was paying you a visit but you’re not at home.’

On last year’s U.S. Open, where Djokovic lost to Murray in the final:
I think it was a great event for me, as well. I played finals of U.S. Open and lost in five sets. I mean, being second is not the end of the world, you know, especially in the major events.

He deserved it because, you know, he was fighting all these years to get to that big stage and win a major title. On the other hand, for me, it was another valuable experience that probably helped me mentally in my approach to Australian Open finals this year where also it was very close against Andy and I managed to prevail.

This is what we expect also tomorrow, that very few points can decide the winner.

On what winning Wimbledon would mean to him:
When I won it back in 2011 it was definitely the highlight of my career, and it still is.

On what may be the difference in tomorrow’s final:
We are quite good returners of serve, so I guess it’s going to be quite a lot of pressure on the service. Also the service games are quite crucial, you know, to be able to hold them and try to get as many free points on the first server as possible, of course, which is not that easy.

So it’s going to be a combination of things. It’s not only one element that can really decide a winner.

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