Novak Djokovic speaks on a golden era of tennis
After putting on a 'striptease', Wimbledon top seed gives voice to what has made him one of the great players in a golden era of the game
Reuters in London
Novak Djokovic lived up to his reputation as the "Djoker" on the men's tour by warming up for Wimbledon by performing a hip-swinging striptease for fans at an exhibition match - albeit rather playfully to his waist.
What is in no doubt, though, is that thousands of people will be flocking to Wimbledon this week to watch a more serious Djokovic play as the Serb launches his bid for a second title at the grass-court grand slam.
Lucky to be drawn on the other half of the draw to Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Andy Murray, the world No 1, dressed in pristine white from neck-to-toe, was in a reflective mood as he sat down for a chat.
The winner of six grand slam events escaped to an underground bunker at the All England Club to say he feels neither lucky nor unlucky to be playing in a golden era of tennis and would most like to have taken on Pete Sampras from the past.
Q A lot of players outside the "big four" regret their careers have coincided with this exceptional era, do you feel lucky or unlucky to be playing in this age because in any other era you might have already completed a calendar slam?
A There is no need to start asking yourself "what ifs". From one side you could say that maybe I could have won the calendar slam or maybe five more grand slams if I wasn't in an era with Federer and Nadal.
But on the other hand if I wasn't in their era, I don't know if I would be where I am at this moment because with my top two rivals, I've had such a rivalry, such incredible matches over the years that it took my game to another level. The rivalry also made me improve, made me understand what I need to do to get better on and off the court.
Q The game has become extremely physical now, are you at all worried about the long-term damage this will do to your body?
A Every professional athlete goes through a lot of pain, is concerned and does think about 'what is going to happen to my body when I finish with my career?' But I am doing everything I can with the people around me to stay healthy, take care of wellbeing. Not just about my body but also with what I eat and what I drink, my lifestyle and to decrease stress as much as we can.
Stress is one of the worst enemies of human kind and the cause of many diseases. But I see myself continuing to do sport because once you are in professional sport, the body is used to exercise. So if you stop doing exercise and don't do anything for years, your body will respond and send you signals that you need to do something. I guess I will do sport and I'm happy for that because I love sport and have dedicated my whole life to tennis.
Q If you could have played any player from the past, who would it be and why?
A It would be Pete Sampras because he was my idol and somebody I was looking up to when I was young. I never got to play him and I would probably like to play him here at Wimbledon.
Q How do you think you would have matched up against him?
A He would be a definite favourite because he has won this tournament so many times. But I would like to play him at all four grand slams, that would have been very interesting to see.
Q There have been a lot of negative sports stories around in 2013, like Lance Armstrong's drug confession, match-fixing in soccer, the doping trial in Spain. Do you feel all these stories have only harmed the sports concerned or is all sport paying a price?
A In a way, yes. Media influence is so strong now that any story that makes the headlines has a huge reach globally. Many people obviously get that wrong message about certain sports because of those cases you have just mentioned and that is something we definitely don't want.
In tennis we don't want illegal things, we don't want players betting, we don't want players failing doping tests. Compared to other sports, tennis is still in a very good place, especially men's tennis. It has a great competition, has a great era of fantastic champions who are great promoters and ambassadors of our sport.
We all have this responsibility of keeping this clean image of the sport. Of course, you can't always guarantee what other players will do but we are very much aware of this responsibility that we carry.
Q You were criticised by some of your peers after retiring from your quarter-final match at the Australian Open in 2009 when you were the defending champion. How satisfied are you to have silenced those critics who had questioned your fitness four years ago?
A My motivation was not to silence them or to get any kind of revenge because I don't seek that.
I was looking forward to really understand what I need to do in order to improve as a tennis player and as a person.
Also [I wanted] to improve my health, to get it to the best possible condition where I can consistently play well and recover and be able to play the whole year without getting injured or having the breathing problems that kind of followed me from the early stages of my career. I managed to do that with adjustments and diet changes.
Now I feel really good, I haven't been injured very much in my career which is a very encouraging fact for the future.
Q Since you've changed to a gluten-free diet, what do you miss eating?
A Ha ha, there are certain products that I am missing eating from Serbia. There is a product called "plasma", it's like a biscuit that contains gluten that I grew up on. That's something that I miss very much. But look, it's for my own good and I know that. I know how well I feel on the court and in life in general.
Q Wimbledon looked very different during the Olympics last year. Do you think there is anything from the Olympics that Wimbledon should adopt permanently?
A I think the colours were interesting to see in Wimbledon. We respect the tradition here in playing in all white and that's a very conservative environment.
But the Olympics Games was something different and [made Wimbledon] very urban. Colours all around, players coming out with tracksuits of the colours of their countries. You saw purple backgrounds to the courts, it was interesting.