Courts' loss of pace puts bounce in Djokovic's step

Serb ready to face the challenge of grass as he bids for first title in SW19
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The Independent Online

She said she was from "the Monaco newspaper" and apologised for arriving late in Novak Djokovic's press conference. She had a question for the world No 2, who has not played a competitive match since his 43-match winning run was ended by Roger Federer in the semi-finals of the French Open this month. "You had this losing streak of one, so what are you going to do to change that?" she asked.

"I will try to look up to some women players who have been so consistent with their wins, for example like Caroline Wozniacki," Djokovic replied. "I don't know if you've heard about her. She's been winning so much. She's become a role model for all of us ATP players. So I'm going to try to look at some of her matches and try to break this losing streak of one."

Wozniacki, a neighbour of Djokovic's in Monaco, likes to add spice to press conferences. Her surprise appearance among the media yesterday followed her attention-grabbing performances at the Australian Open, where she invented a story about being attacked by a kangaroo.

Djokovic took it all in good spirit.The 24-year-old Serb, one of the game's natural jokers, has every reason to smile. He has had such an outstanding start to the year, winning seven titles, that he had earned enough rankings points to qualify for the season-ending World Tour Finals in London – which bring together the eight players with the most points gained in a calendar year – even before the French Open.

Although he has twice made the semi-finals at Wimbledon, grass has always been Djokovic's most challenging surface. Last year he was taken to five sets in the first round by OlivierRochus, the world No 68, and lost in straight sets to Tomas Berdych. In the two previous years he had gone out to Marat Safin and Tommy Haas.

The transition from clay to grass is testing. "It's really hard to get from the slowest to the fastest surface in just couple of days' time," Djokovic said. "Grass is the fastest surface, but it is slower than it used to be and the ball bounces higher, which I think is more suitable to my style of the game, to the baseliners. That's why we see more rallies on the grass courts nowadays."

Djokovic, who will replace Nadal as world No 1 if he reaches the final here, will go into Wimbledon without any competitive grass-court matches after pulling out of the Aegon Championships at Queen's Club to rest. His only public appearance on grass so far this year was a 47-minute victory over Gilles Simon in The Boodles exhibition event at Stoke Park.

Nevertheless, he is hardly short of matches. "I feel good physically and mentally," he said. "I feel I have the strongest approach to Wimbledon that I've ever had because of the confidence that I have and because the last six months of the year have been the best of my career. I didn't play at Queen's because I had to take some time to rest. Maybe an extra match would mean a bit more, but I think it's enough, because I've played a lot of practice matches with different players in the last couple of days."

He also skipped the Monte Carlo Masters, the traditionalstart to the European clay-court season, after winning tournaments in Indian Wells and Miami. "It turned out to be a good decision," Djokovic said. "Monte Carlo came after I'd had a really exhausting season on hard courts in the United States, and then I had a fantastic clay court season. Hopefully skipping Queen's can be a good decision."

Had it taken him long to get over losing to Federer in Paris, in what was judged one of the matches of the year? "It was obviously a big match, a lot to play for. I just had across the net from me a player who played better that day. Because of that it didn't take me much time to recover from the loss.

"It was great to be part of a fantastic match. It was unfortunate that the loss had to come at that time, but that's sport. You just carry on."

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