If you are a supporter of Novak Djokovic, you will be relieved to know that he was not injured carrying that monstrous Tel Aviv trophy to his next stop at the Astana Open.
“No,” he said in a Tuesday interview with ATP Media in Kazakhstan. “That’s an original size that stays in Tel Aviv. We got the smaller replica version. It’s better, more convenient for travelling.”
Djokovic collected that gleaming silver trophy (it was almost as wide and tall as his torso) by defeating Marin Cilic in the Sunday final 6-3, 6-4.
“Winning gives you confidence,” Djokovic said. “I haven’t played an official tournament in three months, so it’s been a while. I’m just excited to compete more.”
Indeed, since winning his seventh Wimbledon title in July, he had only played two Laver Cup matches heading into Tel Aviv. After winning four matches in Israel, he’ll try to go one better in Kazakhstan, an ATP 500 event. The journey begins Wednesday when he plays Cristian Garin of Chile in the first night match (6 pm local time) at the National Tennis Center. The Serbian star holds a 2-0 ATP Head2Head advantage over Garin, most recently a straight-sets victory in last year’s Wimbledon Round of 16. Botic Van de Zandschulp awaits the winner in the second round.
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It’s a fresh start for the 21-time Grand Slam singles champion after what has so far been a turbulent, disjointed season. A year ago, though, Djokovic couldn’t have been much better.
He won the Australian Open, Roland Garros and Wimbledon, then found himself one set from a calendar-year Grand Slam. He was trying to join Don Budge (1938), and Rod Laver (1962, 1969) as only the third man to achieve that spectacular feat, but Daniil Medvedev denied him at the US Open.
Nevertheless, Djokovic finished the season having won 55 of 62 matches and positioned himself to take control of the three-way race with Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer that found them all tied with a record 20 major titles apiece. It didn’t quite work out that way.
Nadal began the year by winning the Australian Open and Roland Garros, although the Serb narrowed the Spaniard’s lead to 22-21 by winning Wimbledon.
Djokovic said that despite the similar indoor hard-court venues, conditions in Astana differ greatly from Tel Aviv.
“Tel Aviv was fast, so if you serve well, the ball skids through the court and you get a lot of free points,” said Djokovic, who served exceptionally well in Israel. “Here, it’s not such a great asset. It’s tough to penetrate the court. You have to use the tactics of clay, constructing the points.
“It’s going to be much more physical.”
Djokovic, despite playing only 34 matches this year (28-6), is the only ATP Tour player to collect titles on three different surfaces: Rome (clay), Wimbledon (grass) and Tel Aviv (hard).
“Considering the small amount of tournaments I played this year, it’s a great success to play consistently well on the different surfaces,” Djokovic said. “That’s always a goal to play well all around.”
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His immediate goal, of course, is to win this Astana Open, but there is a larger challenge as well. Djokovic is currently No. 15 in the Pepperstone ATP Race to Turin, and there are only five weeks left in the regular season. Provided he remains inside the Top 20, he will secure a Nitto ATP Finals berth based on his status as a current-year Grand Slam champion.
“Hopefully, I can accumulate some points that will secure me a spot in Turin,” Djokovic said. “That’s one big goal to the end for the year, to qualify.”