- 09 Apr 2021
As the ATP Serbia Open approaches (April 19-25), tournament director Djordje Djokovic sheds some light on how the licence was obtained, the prize money for the tournament this year and the possibility of hosting Roger Federer in the future.
Speaking to the Wish&Go Podcast for more than two hours, which is a rarity from him, Djordje also reflected on his brother Novak Djokovic’s disqualification at the US Open last year, as well as his own relationship with Rafael Nadal and Federer.
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1- Serbia Open – “We have big goals, namely to become an ATP 500 series tournament”
The Serbia Open was initially held from 2009 to 2012. Djordje revealed that the idea to have an ATP tournament in Belgrade again dates back to almost a year.
“Then, in October, a real option became available – to buy the licence from Budapest from Ion Tiriac. We spoke to him and his team, and Tiriac was interested since we go back a long time and our family has a good relationship with him. We came to an agreement in December, so Belgrade gets a five-year licence with the option of purchasing that licence”, Djokovic stated on the Wish&Go podcast.
The tournament will be held at the Novak Tennis Center, where a WTA 250 series tournament will also be held starting May 17. But for now, the immediate focus is on the ATP tournament. Djordje also revealed that they were looking ahead to the long-term plans for the tournament.
“We have big goals, namely to become an ATP 500 series tournament. If we succeed in doing so, then we will definitely buy that licence. We looked for a week in the calendar that has the best odds of becoming an ATP 500 series event. It is true that Barcelona is held in the same week, but it would not be the first time that two 500 tournaments are held in the same week.”
For instance, it was the case with Dubai and Acapulco last March.
Although there will be stands at the Novak Tennis Center, this year it would be only for visual and television purposes, since there will be no crowds due to the pandemic. Despite that big blow, the prize money is considerable, particularly when compared to other tournaments in the same category.
“We are really proud of the fact that we were able to secure a big prize money for our tournament (€650,000). The players are our ambassadors and we have to take care of them. Big prize money was one of my priorities in order to attract the players and to fulfill the expectations of the ATP. We want to show to ourselves and to everyone else that we are ready for a 500 series tournament.”
2- “I hope Federer plays in Belgrade before he retires”
World No 1 Novak Djokovic is the biggest name in the draw this year, but two more top 10 players – Dominic Thiem and Matteo Berrettini – have been confirmed. Former world No 6 Gael Monfils, Australian Open semi-finalist Aslan Karatsev, and all of the Serbian top players – Dusan Lajovic, Filip Krajinovic, Miomir Kecmanovic and Laslo Djere – have also validated their participation.
“I asked Novak not to be involved with the organisation as we want to treat him all the other players. I want him to enjoy and to behave like a player. Of course, he was involved in gaining the licence and he is really enthusiastic (about the event), but I think I will be able to surprise even him with some of the things we have in store for the players”, comments Djordje.
When asked whether the organizers considered inviting Roger Federer, who is on a comeback trail following two knee surgeries, Djordje responded he plans to invite the Swiss next year.
“We have not invited Roger this year because we had to take into consideration our budget; we could not afford to spend all of our money on one player. We had to distribute money the other way, to spread it, but we hope to see Federer in Belgrade in the coming years. It is my sincere hope that we will be able to host him at least once before he ends his career. We will invite him next year, I can promise that.”
3- US Open’s default – “I am biased, but I feel her reaction was a bit exaggerated
Djordje usually watches Novak’s matches at home. That was also the case for the 2020 US Open, in which his older brother got disqualified after he hit a ball in frustration, which inadvertently hit a line judge in the throat, during his fourth round match against Pablo Carreno Busta.
“Novak got broken at 5-5 in the first set. I get up to go to the toilet and suddenly I hear a commentator saying: ‘Oh, no’. I go back to look at the TV and I see a woman on the ground, and Novak’s distraught face. I was watching with a friend, to whom I immediately said: ‘This is done, he is going to get disqualified’,” says Djordje.
“It was inevitable and I cannot say that it was an unfair decision; those are the rules of tennis,” Djorde continued. “On the other hand, if the woman who got hit did not fall down on the court, Novak would not have been disqualified. I am biased, but I feel her reaction was a bit exaggerated.”
4- “It is hard to keep your emotions in check at all times, only Federer can do that”
Djordje admits that what happened in New York loomed over Novak Djokovic for some time.
“It was not the first time that Novak did such a thing, to hit balls all over the court. We have spoken frequently about it, we begged him for years not to do it because it used to happen in practice as well: he would accidentally hit a ball close to someone. But again, you cannot always keep your emotions in check; I think Federer is the only one who is able to do that, he is so calm and composed. Even Nadal has some emotional outbursts“.
Still, Djordje feels that it was an unfortunate accident, and he is proud of the way his brother bounced back so quickly because it was not easy.
“As people, we in Serbia are like that, we are emotional, and perhaps that is the worst trait Novak has on court. But with all that taken into consideration, the incident was still so unfortunate. I mean, there were 12 people in the whole stadium and he managed to hit one of them with the ball. No disrespect to anyone, but I felt that he was destined to win the title there, he was playing extremely well. It was a lesson, and I am proud of the way he dealt with it, and with everything written in the media afterwards.”
5- “Nadal was one of my idols”
On the podcast, Djordje also revealed that he does not communicate privately with the other members of the Big 3 (Federer and Nadal), but added that the Spaniard was his idol growing up.
“I have got some really nice memories of Nadal. Novak introduced me to him in Monte-Carlo in 2006. Once, I was sitting in the players lounge when Nadal entered the room. Bear in mind that he was one of my idols. I used to wear sleeveless shirts and long shorts just like him. There was a pinball machine around: both of us were not very good with English at that time, but he asked me to play. And we did, my heart was full! I beat him, so he kicked the machine (laughing) but he hugged me afterwards. From that point on, we chat every time we run into each other. It is a wonderful trait to have, to behave like he does, Rafa really is a great person“.
Unlike with Nadal, Djordje says that he never got a chance to speak to Federer one-on-one in a similar manner.
“I have met Federer I think 15 times. Last time I saw him was during the Davis Cup tie against Switzerland in Novi Sad (in 2014). He was entering the court as I was leaving; we exchanged a few words and that was it. It was all good, but it so happened that I have never interacted with him the way I have with Rafa.”