Nick Kyrgios was in a cheerful mood in his pre-event press conference as he showed up to discuss his opener against Radek Stepanek, which will no doubt be a fun affair. Bring your popcorn, folks!
The young Aussie revealed that Stepanek, who at 37 is 16 years his senior, is a good friend of his and had actually offered to help him on tour a little bit, considering Kyrgios has no coach.
“Not so much coaching. Yeah, he was just helping me a little bit. So it’s just, like, I’m playing him now, it’s pretty crazy,” said Kyrgios.
Good mood or not, there was bound to be an edgy moment from the world No. 18, although this one might have been justified and more on the hilarious side.
He was asked a question about Novak Djokovic, and what stands out in his game, and after answering, the same reporter questioned him on who he thought the favourite for the Wimbledon title was.
“Probably Djokovic. It’s a silly question,” Kyrgios said smiling. “No more questions for you, bro.”
Another journalist wondered if he has been following the rugby and his views on England beating Australia. The response was: “I’ve been playing computer games.”
Britain’s Johanna Konta is a top-16 seed for the first time at Wimbledon, which means she gets to be in the special locker room dedicated to top-16 seeds. She let out a secret though. There’s no big difference between either locker room.
“I think it was more just, you know, being excited to see if there’s any difference in the locker rooms,” Konta said. “But the showers are the same size. The towels look the same. I think, yeah, once that initial excitement ‘oh, it’s something new’, then, yeah, you start thinking about things that are more important.”
On the practice courts, Roger Federer had an interesting choice of practice partner, Jiri Vesely – the only player besides Andy Murray to defeat Novak Djokovic in a complete match this year.
That’s not the reasoning behind the choice thought since Czech Vesely is a lefty which makes him an appropriate preparation for Federer’s first round opponent, the left-handed Guido Pella.
For the first time in his career, Novak Djokovic arrives at Wimbledon as reigning Roland Garros champion and the Serb is relishing the feeling.
Three weeks ago in Paris, the Serb became the first man since Rod Laver in 1969 to win four consecutive majors and completed the career Grand Slam, capturing the French Open crown that had eluded him for so many years.
Looking to become just the second man in history – and first since Don Budge in 1938 – to win five grand slams in a row, Djokovic is once again the hunted man at the All England Club this fortnight.
The world No. 1 is on an astonishing run of dominance that has confounded everyone, most of all his opponents.
When prompted to choose the thing he admires the most about Djokovic’s game, world No. 2 Andy Murray said: “I think the consistency. He obviously plays every shot well. He doesn’t have weaknesses in his game. He does everything well. Plays well on all of the courts. But his consistency and drive over the last few years has been incredible.
Via @christophclarey: Novak Djokovic is 187-17 since Boris Becker joined his coaching staff to work alongside Marian Vajda.— Richard Deitsch (@richarddeitsch) June 26, 2016
“The amount of finals he’s played, there’s been barely any matches that he’s played that you’d call upsets in the last, I don’t know, 15, 16 months, since Doha last year.
“He made, what, every single final through until he pulled out in Dubai earlier this year. I don’t know if that’s ever happened before, where someone’s pretty much gone over a year consistently reaching the finals of tournaments. That’s the most impressive thing.
“In an individual sport, if you have a really bad day, wake up, you feel terrible, you lose at this level. He hasn’t had really any of those results or those matches over the last few years. That’s impressive.”
That consistency is something Djokovic admits has been his ultimate goal and it’s something he has laboured to achieve. He is targeting a third consecutive Wimbledon title, and fourth overall, and would take his grand slam tally to a total of 13 with victory this fortnight.
“I can certainly say that I’ve been working hard to get that consistency, I think, for myself throughout the years on the tour, on all different kinds of surfaces, trying to better my game as my career went on. Trying to be dedicated to my own progress, my own improvement,” said Djokovic ahead of his opening round today against British wildcard James Ward.
“Obviously, I’m at the peak of my career at the moment. I see still lots of room for improvement, things that I can work on. That’s something that encourages me. That’s something that keeps me grounded, gives me more reason to practice.”
As the case in previous years, Djokovic has not played any warm-up tournaments on grass leading up to Wimbledon, with the exception of one exhibition match at the Boodles, which he lost, to David Goffin. The 29-year-old is confident however in his preparation.
“Winning Roland Garros was obviously one of the most memorable and beautiful moments of my career but it also it took a lot out of me,” conceded Djokovic. “I thought that it’s more important for me to just rejuvenate and rest a little bit from tennis and then come back preparing for Wimbledon.
“I’ve played a match in Boodles. I’ve played a lot of points in the practice sessions these four or five days, trying to be on the grass as much as I can. Thankfully, the weather was allowing me to play each day on grass. So I’m really keen on getting on the court. You obviously will not know exactly how you feel until you start to play.”
Djokovic remains on track for a calendar-year Grand Slam – winning all four majors in one season – which is something Serena Williams came close to pulling off last year before falling just two matches short at the US Open.
An overhauled lifestyle and an off-court makeover have helped Malek Jaziri become a top-60 player for the first time in his career and the Tunisian is hoping the changes he made can aid his cause at Wimbledon this fortnight.
Jaziri, the highest ranked Arab in both men’s and women’s tennis, opens his campaign on Monday against American Steve Johnson, who won his maiden ATP title in Nottingham just two days ago.
Having reunited with his Serbian coach Dejan Petrovic last February, Jaziri says he’s taken a more professional approach to the sport.
“I feel good, I played two tournaments on grass this year, more than usual. I practiced good, playing more ATP events… the last few weeks I’ve been playing well, I made some good results, I improved my ranking, I’m in my best ranking right now, so I’m playing a good level of tennis. I’m doing more professional things outside the court,” Jaziri told Sport360 at the All England Club.
“I stopped eating gluten, I’ve lost four or five kilos already. I made a few tests and I’m intolerant to some food, including gluten. I can only eat goat cheese but no other kind, I can’t eat tomatoes, beans, dried fruit, almonds… in Tunisia we buy fresh almond from the street and I love it but I can’t eat it anymore. Everything I like I found out I can’t eat it,” he said with a laugh.
“I stopped eating sugar or drinking coke and I eat smaller portions than before. I feel much better.
“My coach encouraged me to do that. I have other things I need to improve as well.
“I’m doing yoga now because I’m not breathing well on the court and I feel that if I improve these things I can be much better.
“I do well against the top players but I sometimes lose my concentration for a second and it’s all over. Against (Roger) Federer in Halle, I was 4-1 up in the second set, then 4-3, and I was serving and had advantage and then I challenged a call. I should’ve just focused on the next point. These kind of things. I need to work on my concentration to go to the next step.”
Since reuniting with Petrovic, Jaziri has been travelling to most tournaments with his coach, and here at Wimbledon, he also has a physio and a yoga instructor with him. At the mature age of 32, Jaziri is by no means at the start of his career but he has no regrets over any of the time behind him and the different choices he could have made in the past.
“I’m not thinking about that. Sometimes I said ‘wow, what would have happened had I done all this before?’ But Malek from today is not Malek from before. I’m not the same player and I was not mature, that’s a personal thing,” he says.
“The second thing, the people around me… I was practicing in Tunisia and I was playing for fun, I wasn’t doing anything professionally and bit by bit I won some matches and I found myself playing with the best players in the world. That’s the reality.
“During Roland Garros I was telling them ‘you guys have a tennis culture, you have players before you, you know the way and how to arrive there’. In my case nobody told me anything, I only knew Futures.
“When I went to Spain I started to play Challengers. Before that, the first time I entered Roland Garros, I was a sparring partner when I was 24 and half-years-old. That was before my comeback (from a knee injury that sidelined me for two years). Since that, I started to believe that I can do it.
“So I started my career late and I didn’t use my body like the other guys. So now, thank God, I’m healthy, I’m working, and most importantly I’m enjoying the game, having fun, I’m married, I have a kid (a one-month-old named Malek), enjoying life, I’m doing what I like…
“The good thing is that tennis has changed these days and you can play longer. Look at Karlovic, he’s 37, Stepanek, 38, Tommy Haas, he’s injured but he’s 38, Federer is turning 35, Ferrer, 35, Feliciano Lopez, the same… Tennis has changed.
“Each year I’m getting more experience and more confidence. You have to make your place, earn the respect of the guys on the court by beating them. And for sure I feel that other players regard me differently now and I’m very comfortable on tour.”
Unlike previous seasons where Jaziri has played more Challengers than ATP events, this year, the Bizerte-native has contested 11 ATP tournaments, along with the Australian and French Opens. He also picked up two Challenger titles in Guadeloupe and Guadalajara.
His best Wimbledon result was making the second round in 2012. After winning his first round that year, he found out he had made it into the Olympics, thanks to a wildcard. This time around, he is into the Olympics draw via direct entry, courtesy of his ranking.
“Last time in 2012, I won my Wimbledon first round on Court 6 and then I found out I was in the Olympics. Tomorrow I play on Court 6, so here we are again and hopefully it will bring me luck,” he joked.
“But no, it’s very important that I’m in the Olympics main draw with my ranking. The Olympics was an objective of mine this season and it’s an honour to represent my country. I got experience too from the last Olympics and hopefully this Olympics will be better for me.”
Looking ahead to his opener against Johnson, Jaziri added: “I play well on hard surfaces so for me grass is, if I get used to it, and I play a few matches here… okay, it’s not an easy draw first round.
“Johnson has beaten a lot of guys the last two months, he’s playing very well. He’s in his best ranking too, I think he’s top-30 now. It’s not easy. I already played him before. But I’m playing good too and it’s not the Malek from before, I have more confidence. We’ll see what happens on court.”