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ATP Rolex Paris Masters Tennis • Learning From Djokovic By Richard Evans

Novak Djokovic of Serbia celebrates winning his quarter final match against Marin Cilic of Croatia at the Rolex Paris Masters tennis tournament in Paris, France, 02 November 2018.  EPA-EFE/IAN LANGSDON



Novak Djokovic, who will return to No 1 in the world when the rankings come out on Monday, admitted that it gave him an extra incentive to survive a tough battle against former U.S. Open champions Marin Cilic here at the Rolex Paris Masters.


“I’m looking forward to compete and hopefully get a chance to clinch that No 1 spot at the end of the year,” said Djokovic who will have to go further than Rafael Nadal or Roger Federer at the ATP Finals in London to do it.


One of the best things about having Djokovic back at a tournament, playing at something near his best and talking coherently again, is that he enlivens press conferences with his wide-ranging intelligence. This week he has talked about the influence his first coach, Jelena Gencic, had on his life and his career.


“I spent the crucial years of development, from 7 to 12 with her, building a good foundation of the skill set, of the mindset, and just the way you go about tennis. So I was really fortunate to have her in my life as my tennis mother as I like to call her. And she really cared about me and about my grades in school and relationships and everything. So she worked hand in hand with my mother and father and they trusted her.


“So she was that real mentor I needed in order to learn things about tennis and life in general. We were reading poetry, listening to classical music, looking at tons of videos from different sports. She had a very holistic approach and I think that’s why I do have the same approach today.”


Djokovic’s English is almost flawless and Jerome Pugmire, the Paris-based sports writer for the Associated Press who is fluent in the local language, complimented the Serb on how much his French has improved.


“You’re flattering me,” he smiled. “I think it’s just that our Balkan region has quite a lot of talent for languages. So German and English were the two languages I learned in school. And I think travelling helped a lot. And I think I was never really afraid to make mistakes. There are people who don’t want to speak because they don’t want to embarrass themselves. But I was embarrassing myself and still do, a lot, up to this day. But I don’t really see it that way. I actually see it as the only way how you can learn, through socialization and being able to speak and make mistakes and learn. I mean, that’s what life is all about.”


On Saturday, in Paris, life will be all about playing Roger Federer – again. Federer made sure that the two rivals would meet for the 47th time when he moved swiftly into the semi-finals with a 6-4, 6-4 victory over Kei Nishikori who never had much chance to continue his good form of late. With Federer mixing in some serve and volley tennis with solid ground play, Nishikori was never in a position to threaten the 37-year-old Swiss.


Federer first played Djokovic on clay at the Monte Carlo Open way back in 2006 and won in three sets. Since then the Serb has edged ahead, having won 24 of their encounters to Federer’s 22. One suspects a 50th meeting will be on the horizon as 2019 unfolds.


Two players who were still in school when the two masters began playing each other, Dominik Thiem and Karen Khachanov, will face each other in the other semi-final. Thiem, 25, brought Jack Sock’s minor resurgence to an end by proving too steady off the ground for the aggressive American, winning 4-6, 6-4, 6-4 in a tight and entertaining encounter while Khachanov, 22, scored an unexpectedly easy 6-1, 6-2 victory over the 21-year-old Sascha Zverev. The one sided nature of the match was partially explained by the sore shoulder Zverev said he had been troubled with all week. The German also felt aggrieved at the loud support Khachanov was receiving from his uncle and told Karen so at a change over. It is unlikely the animosity will linger.

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