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Tennis has a Popularity and Power Problem • Just Ask Djokovic

By Alix Ramsay

In his first full and no-holds-barred interview since overtaking Roger Federer for weeks spent as world No.1, Novak Djokovic discusses what life is like as part of the “Big Three”. Speaking to Harpo Yerfniw (a tennis journalist well known mainly in his home town of Pontypridd), Djokovic tells ‘his truth’ – what his relationship is like with the other members of the Big Three, how he has tried to adapt to life within that group and what impact it has had on him.

The whole, two-hour interview (it may seem longer to some viewers) will be shown on Pontypridd Tonight at a date to be arranged although, clearly, not tonight. We have obtained a transcript of extracts from the interview and we share it with you here.

Harpo Yerfniw: Welcome, Novak, and thank you for joining us.

Novak Djokovic: Thank you – and thank you for asking me. It’s nice to be able to say ‘yes’.

HY: Congratulations on overtaking Roger Federer and becoming the longest standing world No.1 in history. How does it feel?

ND: Again, thank you for asking me. Not many people have asked me how I feel. But I can tell you – it feels great. It is a goal I have been working towards for so long.

HY: Yet at the very same time as you have rewritten the record books, you have taken the decision to step back from the working tour to focus on your pursuit of the grand slams. Why is that?

ND [taking a deep breath and steadying himself before answering]: It was not an easy decision to take but, look, I’m not just a tennis player. Of course I want to play – and win – and I love to bring joy to the fans by winning. But that is not the world we find ourselves in now. There are no fans. Travel is restricted. There is quarantine to consider. I am a husband and a father – I’m Nole; I’m Dad. I cannot be away from my kids for months at a time. I had to take this decision for the sake of my family and, I have to be truthful, for the sake of myself. I could not go on as I had been before, not if I was to perform at the level I knew I was born to play at. I had to make this decision for the good of my career.

HY: Did any of the others reach out to you at that time?

ND [quietly]: No.

HY: Do they ever reach out to you?

ND: No. Not really, no. The Big Three operates as an institution; it just ‘is’. It’s the way it’s always been and, I suppose, it’s the way it always will be. That’s why I had to take my own decisions and break free. But it wasn’t easy.

HY: What was it like when you first joined the Big Three?

ND [smiling wanly]: People think it’s like a fairy tale: you win some grand slams, you become world No.1 and suddenly you are in this magical world of tennis royalty. But the reality is very different. I joined in 2011; I won my first Wimbledon, my third grand slam at that point, and became No.1. I was now, officially, one of the Big Three. But until then, I had had my own voice – I did my impersonations, I made jokes, I was funny. But even as I stood at the door of the institution and they knew I was coming, I was silenced. It was made very clear that the institution didn’t like me taking the mickey. My voice was taken away.

HY: Did they tell you that?

ND: No, they just kept winning more slams than me. But I felt the message. I felt it deeply.

HY: What sort of relationship do you have with the other members of the Big Three?

ND: Look, we are a family. We work together, we travel together – hey, we shower together in the same locker room. But I soon realised that not all families work well together. I never expected it to be easy, but I hoped that it would be fair.

HY: What do you mean by that?

ND: You only have to look at the way the press dealt with everything. It was always biased against me – and no one said anything. For example: in lockdown, Roger plays socially distanced tennis with a couple of Italian girls and everyone writes about it as if he walks on water. In lockdown, I say that it is possible to purify water with the power of my positive thought and people write that I’m a raving lunatic.

[Goran Ivanisevic now joins the conversation]

GI: Sorry I’m late. Pontypridd isn’t easy to find when your car has a Croatian Satnav….

HY: Dim problem. Hyfryd eich gweld chi. Diolch am ddod.

GI: What did he say?

ND: Not a clue. We’re in Wales. They speak a different language.

HY: I just said it was no problem and thanks for joining us, good to see you.

GI: Ah. OK. Također.

ND: He said likewise. In Croatian.

HY: Touché. And that’s French. Ha ha! This is Pontpridd Tonight but we are a truly international programme.

[This is met with stony silence. Harpo shifts awkwardly from buttock to buttock and looks at his notes]

HY: Right, well, then. Goran, how difficult has this been for you? We were talking about the different representations of the Big Three in the media.

GI: Just look at Australia….

ND [finishing his sentence]: Nadal had a back injury going into the tournament. Everyone spoke of this. They asked him about it daily. Was he all right? Was it getting better? Could you recover and win? You’ve got to the fourth round?

GI: And then…

ND [finishing his sentence]: At the same time as this conversation is taking place, they are asking me: “how injured are you?”

HY: Whoa!

ND: And I won. But no one asked me how I felt. They just wanted to know what the injury was.

GI: It is always same. He was president of Player Council. But then ATP says that just because he makes his own player union, he can’t be part of both. They literally cut him off without a single seat of power. He feels let down by everybody.

ND: That’s why I had to do this. For the good of my family and for the good of my career. I didn’t want to do it but I had to.

HY: We are coming to the end of our time but can I just ask you one last question, Nole?

ND: Make it quick…..

HY: Why are you dressed as Wallis Simpson?

[At this point Djokovic and Ivanisevic leave the set]

Editors Note: We hope you enjoyed this interview. It was written purely for entertainment purposes and is fictional… or was it? 😉