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February 21, 2021

Novak Djokovic

Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

Press Conference

N. DJOKOVIC/D. Medvedev

7-5, 6-2, 6-2

CRAIG TILEY: I'd like to propose a toast to Novak, who as you all see again tonight, exemplary performance. I remember back in 2008, you christened and transformed tennis courts. That was your first year winning. I remember that experience. It was a special moment.

From then to now, nine Australian Opens. Congrats, Novak. Thanks for the example you set to everyone else in the game, beyond just the tennis. We all appreciate it. True champion. You deserve it. On behalf of everyone here and in the rest of the world, congratulations.

NOVAK DJOKOVIC: Toast to you as well, for everything you have done, and Tennis Australia.

CRAIG TILEY: A team effort.

NOVAK DJOKOVIC: It's a team effort, but I know how many hours you have put into making this happen, so thank you.

CRAIG TILEY: Cheers, to Novak.

THE MODERATOR: Questions, please.

Q. Despite the scoreline in the final, do you think this was the most difficult of the nine Australian Open titles for you?

NOVAK DJOKOVIC: Each one is different. It's hard to compare. But it has been definitely emotionally the most challenging Grand Slams that I ever had with everything that was happening, injury, off-the-court stuff, quarantines. It has been, least to say, a roller-coaster ride in the last four weeks.

Of course I'm not the only one that has experienced that, talking about quarantine. I can't complain. I mean, I probably had it the best I possibly could have comparing to the other players, some that had to stay 15, 20 days without exiting the room and training.

A lot of mixed emotions, as I was saying on the court, with the media, tennis players getting here in the midst of pandemic. I mean, a lot of suffering, a lot of sacrifice. At the beginning we didn't feel so welcome, judging by what media was writing about tennis players and being here.

I think when you draw a line in the end of the day, I think it was a very successful tournament for Tennis Australia, for Australian Open, for Australian country. We all wish to experience more of the tournaments like this in our schedule. It's going to be highly unlikely that we will see crowds anywhere else except here. Maybe few other places. But the way it looks like, it's going to keep going for some time.

So I'm very thankful that the Australian government and Australians managed to allow crowd to be on the stands. We almost kind of forgotten how that feels.

So, yeah, I mean, it was very challenging for me to keep my mind serene and keep my focus directed into what matters the most. I mean, I have put a lot of energy and time, along with my team, to be here sitting with a trophy. So I'll take a lot of positives out of this month here in Australia and see what's rest of the season is going to look like.

Q. What does number nine mean to you, 18th major? And do you really not like champagne?

NOVAK DJOKOVIC: When you're a young tennis player, I think 99.9 percent of players, kids that get a racquet in their hands, start dreaming about what they want to achieve, it's a Grand Slam, winning a major.

So, of course I tried to remind myself, pinch myself, of how important this is. Even though I have been fortunate to win many majors and play in many major finals in my life, I do enjoy the success every single time even more because I know that the longer the time passes, the more difficult it's going to become for me to get my hands on the major trophy because you have, of course, new young players coming up that are as hungry as you, maybe even hungrier, and they're coming up and they're challenging me and Roger and Rafa. They have been mostly dominating the slams in the last 15 years.

I mean, I don't feel like I'm old or tired or anything like that. But I know that, you know, biologically and realistically things are different than they were 10 years ago for me. I have to be smarter with my schedule and peak at the right time. So the slams are the tournaments where I want to be able to perform my best.

Now, after achieving the historic No. 1 for the longest weeks at No. 1, it's going to be a relief for me because I'm going to focus all my attention on slams mostly. When you are going for No. 1 rankings, you kind of have to be playing the entire season and you have to be playing well, you have to play all the tournaments.

My goals will adapt and will shift a little bit, which means that I will have to adjust also my calendar - not have to, but I will have an opportunity to do that which, as a father and a husband, I'm really looking forward to that. Judging by what we're seeing around the world, having family on the road with me will be a very difficult task, because if I'm going to travel around, I have to take my coaches and everything, and we have rules in place that don't allow really more people than I think two people on the tournaments to travel with you, other than slams.

So, yeah, I'll have to wait and see how my schedule is going to look like. I haven't made any commitment actually after Australia. I'm just trying to marvel in this success and enjoy it as much as I can.

Q. You've won the tournament, nothing to hide from any of the players. Could you share with us the injury and what you've done over the last nine days to get yourself to where you are now?

NOVAK DJOKOVIC: It is a tear, a muscle tear, of the abdominal oblique muscle. I felt it right away when it happened against Fritz in the third round. That's what I said in the post-match interview. I was kind of guessing, but I felt just that it's a tear because of the snap and the way I felt after that.

I know there's been a lot of speculations, people questioning whether I'm injured, how can I recover so quickly, it's impossible to do that. I get it. I mean, look, everyone is entitled for their own opinion, and everybody has the freedom and the right to say what they want, criticize others. I just felt like it was a bit unfair at times. But, hey, it's not the first nor the last time.

What we have done in the past nine, ten days, you'll get a chance to see in details probably end of this year when the documentary comes out. I've been filming a lot of things that I've been doing here, but also in the previous months, six months. We're planning to take that documentary out end of this year. You will be able to see more of the routine of recovery, stuff that was going on behind the curtain.

Q. When you were Medvedev's age, you had six Grand Slam singles titles and had lost to Roger and Rafa in two other finals. You talk about the younger generation being hungry. Why have they not been able to have the breakthroughs that you had at the same age?

NOVAK DJOKOVIC: Well, they have definitely the quality to reach the heights of major tournament trophies. I mean, they've proven that. Dominic has won it in US Open. I think just Roger, Rafa and myself have managed to always play our best tennis at slams. We have the experience of knowing what to do, how we can win matches in best-of-five on different surfaces. I think that's made it more challenging for guys that are in the next generation, up-and-coming.

I mean, Dominic has contested in several Grand Slam finals before he actually got a trophy, got a win. How long is going to take for maybe Zverev or Tsitsipas or Medvedev to do the same? I don't know. But they seem awfully close. I mean, Medvedev was definitely a guy to beat today. I mean, 20-match winning streak. Tsitsipas, Zverev, Medvedev, they all won World Tour Finals, multiple Masters 1000 events and high ranking. They have all contested in semis and finals of slams, so it's just a matter of time. But hopefully not so close.

Q. You talked a little bit about the criticism. We asked Goran about it. He said it was something that he took pretty hard. How did you react behind the scenes? How tough was it? How did you put it aside when you went on court?

NOVAK DJOKOVIC: For me, the main thing was to really direct all my thoughts and attention and energy into what matters for me the most, which is try to recover, do everything properly, stick to the routines, to the things that make me feel comfortable, and put myself in a best possible state, condition, and position to win matches.

That's what I've done. It's much easier said than done. I've invested a lot of energy, mental energy mostly, to that.

My team that has been staying with me the last couple of weeks in the house, we watched tennis, but we were not following, at least when I was with them, maybe they were following when I was not with them, the news and stuff like this, getting involved and speculating, discussing, having conversations between us about what someone said in the media or whatever.

I know that's completely unnecessary for me. It did come to me. I mean, sometimes it's really difficult to avoid it in a way. I mean, some of the things that some people say, of course, it does come across here and there when you're watching a tennis match, commentary, someone mentions it, whatever. In some way or another it comes to you.

Of course, it's not nice to hear that. I mean, it also seems unfair from some people that kind of criticize and judge without really checking before. But as I said, it's not really the first time. I have so much experience with this because it happened so many times in my life, in my career, that I experience that. It will probably not be the last one.

Look, at the end of the day everyone who has the stage has the right to say what they want to say. It's a matter on my side whether I'm going to react or not, in which way I'm going to react. I didn't allow it to hinder my performance. I think winning the trophy is in a way my answer.

Q. Does it hurt you to get that constant criticism that seems to always follow you?

NOVAK DJOKOVIC: Yeah, of course it hurts. I'm a human being like yourself, like anybody else. I have emotions. I don't enjoy when somebody attacks me in the media openly and stuff. Of course, I cannot say I don't care about it or whatever. Of course, it does. I have to be honest.

But I think I've developed a thick skin over the years to just dodge those things and focus on what matters to me the most.

Q. When Goran was in here before he said after New York, after the tough loss in the final in Paris, the tough weeks here, you really needed to win this championship. Would you agree with that? I don't mean to make you choose which child you love more, but do you like this court better than Centre Court at Wimbledon?

NOVAK DJOKOVIC: I would agree with my coach, of course. I have to agree with my coach. Yeah, I mean, taking back the time to six months ago when we restarted the season, I won Cincinnati tournament in New York, then had that disqualification at the US Open that obviously did affect me mentally, emotionally, to go out from the tournament like that when I was actually on a run. Didn't lose a match to that point in the whole year, just feeling great.

Of course, it did affect me through the rest of the season. I was kind of up and down with my performances. Managed to clinch the No. 1 at the end of the season, which was the goal. Just playing without crowd on the stands, it felt a little bit strange and maybe just a little bit lack of motivation.

So, yeah, of course I wanted to start this year in the best possible fashion. Coming to Australia, it always brings that extra dose of confidence to me because of my record here and because of how I play in Australia. Which leads me to your next question.

I mean, as a kid I was dreaming to win Wimbledon and become No. 1 of the world. I reached that in 2011. Wimbledon in many ways is a very special event, is a very special tournament, a very special court. But if we see things from a perspective of results, what I've made in my career, I mean, Rod Laver is the court.

Q. You spoke before about your schedule. How hard is it for you to have been away from your family? Does that drive you more?

NOVAK DJOKOVIC: Well, when I'm on the road of course I have to try to use the most of my time on the road and make my absence from the home valuable, try to make a big success as a reason why I've traveled so far and for so long without seeing my kids and my wife.

Of course, I miss them. I mean, at times it rips my heart apart, to watch my kids. Thankfully to technology you can see them on FaceTime and everything. But not being close to them, being separated for a long time...

But there are so many people around the world that suffer much more than I do, so I can't really sit here and complain. Of course, I've been very fortunate in my life. I truly do miss them. I can't wait to see them.

And I don't like champagne. Someone asked me about champagne (laughter).

Q. You spoke a bit about your goals and your schedule. Last year you won the Australian Open, you said, I want to go the whole season unbeaten. Is that something you still harbor as a goal? Long-term, Goran was just saying he thinks Rafa is definitely going to win one or two more French Opens, which would take you needing to pass him to around 23. Do you then start looking at people like Margaret Court and Serena's record?

NOVAK DJOKOVIC: Look, I don't plan to go unbeaten the whole year. I'm not thinking about that. But I certainly want to win every match that I play. So I hope that answers the question in a way.

I will have to revise my schedule comparing to the last year or any other season before this. I explained my reasons why. Obviously time away from family definitely is something that has an impact on me. I'll have to see with these rules and regulations and restrictions in place all over the world, Europe, not being able to take my family on the road is something that is a big problem for me.

In terms of calculating the amount of slams that Rafa predicting might win French or somewhere else, myself, getting closer to maybe Roger's, Rafa's record, Serena, Margaret...

Look, everyone has their own journey and their own way of making history. They've made history already. They made a tremendous mark in our sport. I'm trying to build that and develop that myself in a very unique, authentic way that is suitable to me.

Whether I think about winning more slams and breaking records, of course. Of course, I do. And most of my attention and my energy from this day forward, until I retire from tennis, is going to be directed in majors, trying to win more major trophies.

Q. After getting injured in the third-round match, how realistic did it seem to you that you could win this title again? How worried were you about that?

NOVAK DJOKOVIC: I was quite worried. I did not look realistically that I could actually play. I didn't know until two hours before the fourth-round match. That's when I stepped on the court and played for the first time since the third round.

It looked okay. The pain was at the level that was bearable for me. I just accepted the fact that I'm going to have to play with the pain. Of course, we always play with the pain in professional sports. It's part of what we do, who we are. But this was a different kind of pain, a pain that comes from an injury rather than soreness or whatever.

Whether I was aware of the fact that I'm going to possibly make more damage and risk more damage to this injury? Yes, I was aware of that. As I was saying previously in the press conferences, if there was any tournament, it's going to be here and it's going to be any major where I would risk worse injuries or damage in order to try to give myself a chance to go far in the tournament.

Of course, I haven't done it myself. Medical team, my physio, has done tremendous work. With God's grace, I managed to achieve what I achieved and I'm very thankful.

Q. Earlier Daniil Medvedev said when he thinks of the big three, he considers you guys Cyborgs in a good way for what you've done for all these years. How would you describe the big three and what you've accomplished for more than 15 years and the evolution to keep fending off younger challengers?

NOVAK DJOKOVIC: The Three Knights of Tennis (laughter).

Daniil, first of all, I have to say that he did really pleasantly surprise me with his kind words in the closing ceremony. Thank him for that. He's a great guy. He showed why. He's very humble, showed a lot of humility and respect. I mean, I think of him greatly on and off the court. On the court it just wasn't his day today, but he had a tremendous run and I'm sure we'll see more of him in the future.

Yeah, I don't know how else I would describe the three of us. I mean, I guess I'm not thinking about it in that way so much. Roger and Rafa inspire me. That's something that I've said before. I'll say it again. I mean, I think as long as they go, I'll go (smiling).

I think in a way it's, like, a race who plays tennis more, I guess, and who wins more. It's a competition between us in all areas. But I think that's the very reason why we are who we are, because we do drive each other, we motivate each other, we push each other to the limit.

Q. When you look back on the past 12 months, especially when you were hit by the COVID-19 and later injuries, finally you overcame them and achieved another milestone, what are your overall raw emotions after such a challenging year?

NOVAK DJOKOVIC: Well, year just started. The new season just started.

Last season was as it was, six months of no tennis in the middle of the season. I've been fortunate I think in my career to always start the seasons very well. I mean, nine years I managed to start with a win in Australia. That in a way sets the tone for the rest of the season for me.

It's why I love coming to Australia and I have always extra motivation to perform well in the Australian summer tournaments, especially Australian Open, because I know if I win here, then it just gives me huge wind in my sails for the rest of my year.

Yeah, it's very strange times. Crowd, no crowd, restrictions, quarantines. Every country, every tournament is different. It takes a lot of effort to adjust and to adapt mentally to that. It's not easy for players. You've seen a lot of injuries, and they actually came in the stomach, abdominal area, Berrettini, Dimitrov, even Dominic Thiem. So many players, top players as well, that are considered the fittest, kind of separate themselves from the rest of the players because they're so fit and ready. But this quarantine and these kind of circumstances has definitely had a toll on our bodies.

How the year is going to look like after that? We don't know. But it's definitely not ideal. But it is what it is. I think it's better to play, especially slams, than not to play at all.

Q. I'm sure you don't need any more motivation, but it seems you enjoy the battle of the generations, keeping the younger guys at bay. Is that something that kind of drives you?

NOVAK DJOKOVIC: Not really, to be honest. I don't source my motivation from there. I have a lot of respect for anybody really, young guys, older guys, whatever. They're all going through the hardship and the tough hours on the court, off the court, to be able to play at the highest level of tennis. So I have tremendous respect for anybody that is in the tennis shoes and competing at this level.

But, of course, I will say that there is a lot of quality in tennis from the younger guys that are coming up. I was mentioning before they're very close to start winning major titles more consistently.

But Roger, Rafa, myself are still there for a reason. We don't want to hand it to them and we don't want to allow them to win slams. I think that's something that is very clear. Whether you communicate that message or not, we are definitely sending that vibe out there. I'm sticking to that.

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