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Ivanisevic exclusive: I can’t sleep now, but Novak will be ready for Wimbledon

Goran Ivanisevic, Novak Djokovic’s coach, feels that the body language and energy were the deciding factors in his loss to Nadal in Paris – and also spoke about the crowd, the scheduling, and his powers of recovery

Goran Ivanisevic Goran Ivanisevic (Javier Garcia/Shutterstock/SIPA)

It has been four days since Novak Djokovic lost to Rafael Nadal in the quarter-finals of Roland-Garros, but the dust has not settled just yet.

Goran Ivanisevic, Djokovic’s coach, is still in the legends’ tournament – and speaking to Tennis Majors there, he cannot wrap his head around some of the things he saw in the match with Nadal, but is very optimistic looking ahead to the grass season and Wimbledon.

“I have to be brutally honest to begin with – I am in a funk and I can’t sleep,” he said. “I cannot say that I am disappointed, but I am sad. It was not a perfect match from either side. Rafa did not play a spectacular match, but the body language decided, from the first point until the last: Rafa’s body language and Novak’s body language.”

There was no need for a follow-up question; one could see how deeply Ivanisevic cares about Djokovic.

“I warned him, I even told you guys (journalists) that the start of the match could be decisive, but again, a bad start… And then, after the turnaround in the second set, it is incomprehensible the way he played the third set. It was like he lacked energy and like he did not believe sufficiently that he could win. You cannot allow that to yourself against Rafa, because this is his tournament.”

What do you feel was the reason for Djokovic’s body language, because that is something even the casual tennis fans noticed?

Yes, everyone noticed. I do not know, we have not spoken yet. That is why I am so troubled by this match, I can’t sleep. What would happen had he won the fourth set, nobody knows, but that is just good old ‘what if’. He had two set points: the first one was an easy backhand unforced error, on the second he approached the net with the ball in the middle of the court, so Rafa passed him. Maybe it would have been different, maybe it would not, but I still do not understand the body language and the lack of energy. Novak had too many ups and downs, while Rafa was consistent and he absolutely deserved to win that match.

Before the match, you have told us that you are glad that 80 percent of the crowd will root for Nadal because Novak then has someone to get angry at, but it seemed that this time it affected him more than in the past. Would you agree?

I mean, we knew that it was going to be like that. Before the match, I said 80 percent out of respect, but in reality it was 99.9 percent of the pro-Rafa crowd. The only thing that I do not like and the thing that is really unfair is for the crowd to boo Djokovic when he entered the court. I mean, he is the No 1 player in the world and he has won 20 Grand Slam titles. There is no reason to do such a thing – whether you love him or not, you should respect him. Afterwards, cheer for Rafa, of course we knew that it was going to be like that. I do not know if Novak was bothered by that or not – he has learned how to deal with it and that cannot be an excuse, in my opinion.

I just want to say one more thing about which I did not want to talk about before the match. It is complete and utter nonsense that for Novak it was better to play the night match. If we go back two years, Nadal won Roland-Garros in October when the temperature was ten degrees. People were saying that Novak was the favourite in the evening, but there was no foundation for that, I even think that the night match suited Rafa.

Why do you think that is?

Because Novak needs to focus on himself. It was like ‘oh, Rafa’s ball won’t bounce (high)’, but Novak’s ball was not as effective as well. Novak likes it when it is warmer, because he can get more free points with his serve and because his ball travels to the ball quicker. People need to look at that as well – what is good for Novak, and not to look at what is not good for Rafa. Rafa had the ball in his hitting zone, so I do not think it was noticeable that the night match did not suit him. Again, I do not think the level of the match was super high, but Rafa’s energy was the deciding factor.

You have mentioned body language and energy, but from a pure tennis point of view, what were the deciding factors?

I have read many comments and analyses emphasising Rafa’s offense with a forehand down the line. That is correct, but Novak’s backhand crosscourt was not as deep and penetrative as it usually is – a lot of the times, the ball landed in the middle of the court or in an ideal spot for Rafa to attack. Once Novak started using his backhand down the line more, the momentum in the second set changed, and then his crosscourt backhand became stronger as well. Rafa used what Novak gave to him – he is the king and an owner of this court, and he does not allow you to have lapses, you pay for them immediately.

Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic embrace at the end of their quarter-final match (AI/Reuters/Panoramic)

If you look at the semi-final – Zverev was the better player, he probably should have been two sets to love up, but at the moment when that horrible injury occurred, he had not won the first or the second set. As I said, Rafa’s energy was amazing, and it was like Novak did not have enough belief.

You still have not analysed the match in-depth with Novak?

No, because he was disappointed and tired. It is not the time nor the place to speak about the match in-depth immediately after it was finished. I empathise with Novak, he is the one that is playing and fighting, so he is feeling the worst, and I am very sad for him because I thought that he could have won that match.

Djokovic had many disappointments in Paris, only to bounce back straight away and win Wimbledon. Do you think he will recover quickly?

Of course he can, and he does not have much of a choice, if we are being honest. He is the biggest favourite at Wimbledon, just like Rafa was here. Novak now needs to rest well and prepare for Wimbledon physically and mentally. I am sure that he can do it and I think he will win Wimbledon, I have a good feeling about that. He needs to focus on grass now.

Do you know the schedule yet? Will Novak play any tournaments before Wimbledon?

Most probably not. We will see, but now the key thing for him is to recover mentally. As I have said in the past, Novak is a genius with a different mindset than most of us. Even though he needs less time than most to come back and to figure some things out, he still needs to do it. He has overcome tough losses in the past, and I am completely certain that he will be ready for Wimbledon.

Your comments

One response to “Ivanisevic exclusive: I can’t sleep now, but Novak will be ready for Wimbledon

  1. I couldn’t have been more pleased with the result in the Nadal vs. Djokovic quarter-final of Roland-Garros. It almost felt like ‘good and right’, versus ‘confused and wrong’. I find Ivanisevic’s interview comments here to only further highlight a difference in philosophical paradigms that seems to exist between the two great athletes. We cannot ignore the way Djokovic managed his anti-vax stance, including his Adria Tour Charity Tournament early in the pandemic, and/or his efforts to play in the AUS Open. His whole disposition seems to arrogantly defend how he is right, and he knows best (about his health choices and life decisions). Is it any wonder why the crowd does not particularly like him? It almost seems as if Djokovic uses his incredible tennis skill and record and world ranking as some sort of validation to underpin his strange worldviews. How wonderful it was, when Nadal started him down in the quarter finals and sent him packing. Djokovic is no classy gentleman. He tries, but you can just feel underneath it all that he’s just playing a part, trying to be the thing that will get peoples respect. In contrast, both Nadal and Federer seem quite authentic and relaxed. True champions. Confident. Secure.
    Ivanisevic’s comments here show a confusion that distinguishes real champions from great athletes. The big picture is that all this is bigger than finger pointing and finding excuses for why a match went one way or another. It’s about humility. It’s about grace. It’s about respect. Those are things that one must work towards and earn. For me, this was truly one of the greatest matches of all time. Here, I felt, the true champion won. It is now forever written in the record books, regardless of how many more grand slams Djokovic is able to win. Nadal’s win, was a win for us all. Not about the money. Not about the fame.

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