Novak Djokovic: 'We can't expect just to shorten the season'

The Serb understands his fellow players' complaints about the packed calendar, but as a tournament organiser in his native Belgrade, he also knows it is not as simple as cutting back the number of events. The world No 4 talks to Paul Newman in Shanghai about the need for a third way...

Novak Djokovic arrived for the interview with food rather than tennis at the top of his agenda. "I've just had an unbelievable lunch," the 22-year-old Serb said here at the Shanghai Masters yesterday. "The food here is just incredible. It was sushi, international cuisine, everything."

In a week when the game's leading players have been complaining about the demands of the tennis calendar and the impossibility of maintaining form and fitness through an 11-month season, it was informative to hear the views of someone who is ideally placed to see both the positives and the negatives in the running of tennis, whether he is referring to the chefs or the chiefs.

Djokovic views the arguments from both sides of the uneasy player-tournament divide within the Association of Tennis Professionals, which runs the men's game. He is not only the world No 4 and one of the representatives on the ATP Player Council (alongside Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal) but also responsible, along with members of his family, for the running of the Belgrade clay-court tournament, which was held for the first time earlier this year.

The Serb, who arrived here on Monday night fresh from his tournament victory in Beijing at the weekend, has already sought out Adam Helfant, the new executive chairman and president of the ATP, to register his seal of approval for the two tournaments here in China during the tour's Asia swing.

"It's always important for somebody who works in the ATP to know what the players feel like and how the players like or dislike the tournaments," Djokovic said. "Usually players go to them when they dislike something, but I needed to go and say how much I like the Beijing and Shanghai tournaments. All the small details are just right: the locker rooms, the showers, the balls, the space, the playing room, the quality of the food, everything is of a very high level. This should be an example to all of the other tournaments."

While Djokovic has sympathy with the likes of Andy Roddick, who 24 hours earlier had used the words "ridiculous" and "short-sighted" in discussing the tennis calendar, the Serb preferred to stress the positive response from Helfant to the players' concerns and to emphasise the new mood of co-operation he senses within the game. Djokovic has been at the forefront of discussions that will culminate in a summit meeting of the leading players at next month's ATP World Tour Finals in London.

"The top players will meet in London and then again at the Australian Open in January," Djokovic said. "We will work on doing something that is comfortable to both the players and the tournaments in the future. The tournaments still understand their job and their obligations better than we understand their job – and vice versa. But the players now are more united than ever.

"The current leadership of the ATP is willing to do a lot of things for the players. We have already talked about it at the US Open and we have to dedicate the whole half-a-day meeting to this, because it's a very sensitive task. It affects both players and tournaments. We can't expect just to shorten the season by a month or two, because that would hurt certain tournaments.

"We have to make a compromise. The ATP is an association of tournaments and players together. The bottom line is that you don't want to have injured players. The schedule, in my opinion, is too long, but we have to go step by step and try to solve it."

Djokovic said an improvement in communications between players, tournaments and administrators was a crucial first step in resolving the current differences. He believes a failure on that front in the past has led to some tournaments taking players for granted, with some of the Masters Series events especially at fault, although he exempts the current competition here from any such criticism.

"The tournaments are aware the best players in the world are going to have to come to their events," he said. "I don't say they don't want to improve, but they are not thinking in that direction. I don't think there has been enough communication between the players and the tournaments. In one sense it's just as much the players' fault. Players talk between each other and in the locker room about things that can be improved and then when the time comes to talk and really do something about it they stop."

He added: "I haven't been in tennis for that long, but what I can say is that we have a lot of young guys at the top who are willing to do a lot of good things for tennis in general."

Djokovic had the perfect chance to put theory into practice when his family bought the licence to stage a clay-court tournament in his home city of Belgrade earlier this year. In the space of six months the venue at the Milan Gale Muskatirovic club in the Serbian capital was completely rebuilt.

"The main goal and the priority was that every single person who came as a guest at our tournament would feel good," he said. "That's what we tried to do, starting from the restaurant and the availability of the courts through to the hotel and transport. I asked the players and everyone was happy. Now we have a year to prepare for the next tournament and we are still adding some things. We made more space at the centre court, a pool next to the courts, a bigger players' lounge. There are always things to improve."

While Djokovic's parents and uncle looked after most of the practical arrangements for the tournament, the 2008 Australian Open champion took a personal interest in ensuring that player facilities, such as the practice facilities and locker rooms, were up to scratch.

The Djokovics also wanted the tournament to show the Serbian nation in the best possible light. "After the finals we spread this big Serbian flag all over the whole court and we had the Serbian police academy and the Serbian army perform on the court with three planes flying over," said Djokovic, who won the singles title. "We made a whole show and wanted to leave a good impression on the people who were there and who were watching."

Djokovic begins his campaign in the Shanghai Masters here tonight against Italy's Fabio Fognini. The Serb's recent results – his run to the US Open semi-finals was his best Grand Slam performance of the year and was followed by victory in Beijing – mean that, whatever he does here, he will recapture the world No 3 ranking from Andy Murray next week. Murray did not play last week and is missing here while he continues to recover from an ankle injury.

"It certainly feels great to get the ranking back because I think I deserved it, playing well in the last two or three months, but I'm aware that it's also because Andy has missed the last two weeks in a row," Djokovic said. "I'm trying not to pay too much attention to the rankings because calculations can distract you.

"I just want to continue playing tournament after tournament and staying in good shape and good form. Physically I'm feeling very fit now and mentally I'm motivated to achieve good results."

Bill Gates, founder of Microsoft and co-chair of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation
businessUber, Snapchat and Facebook founders among those on the 2015 Forbes Billionaire List
news... and what your reaction to the creatures above says about you
Jihadi John
newsMonikers like 'Jihadi John' make the grim sound glamorous
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

Money, corruption and drugs

The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

150 years after it was outlawed...

... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

You won't believe your eyes

Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
Ian Herbert: Peter Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

The England coach leaves players to find solutions - which makes you wonder where he adds value, says Ian Herbert
War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn
Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

The shadow Home Secretary on fighting radical Islam, protecting children, and why anyone in Labour who's thinking beyond May must 'sort themselves out'
A bad week for the Greens: Leader Natalie Bennett's 'car crash' radio interview is followed by Brighton council's failure to set a budget due to infighting

It's not easy being Green

After a bad week in which its leader had a public meltdown and its only city council couldn't agree on a budget vote, what next for the alternative party? It's over to Caroline Lucas to find out
Gorillas nearly missed: BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter

Gorillas nearly missed

BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter
Downton Abbey effect sees impoverished Italian nobles inspired to open their doors to paying guests for up to €650 a night

The Downton Abbey effect

Impoverished Italian nobles are opening their doors to paying guests, inspired by the TV drama
China's wild panda numbers have increased by 17% since 2003, new census reveals

China's wild panda numbers on the up

New census reveals 17% since 2003