Father-to-be Novak Djokovic may be the favourite to win the 2014 US Open, but the world no. 1 and top seed is taking nothing for granted ahead of his first match, against Diego Schwartzman on Monday 25 August.
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‘I know that there is one thing for sure: everybody is starting from scratch,’ Djokovic said before the tournament. ‘Everybody starts from Monday. Whoever ends up on Monday with the trophy is the winner.
‘It's very open. I think nowadays the competition level is higher because you have players who are ranked around 15, 20 in the world who are working very hard who have developed their skills, and the quality of the tennis that they are playing is higher than, let's say, five years ago, in my opinion. That makes it harder for top players to win this tournament.’
Djokovic has two good reasons to emphasize the ‘everybody starts from Monday’ idea: To temper the expectations of those who have written the world no. 1 into the final already, and to remind everybody (and himself) that his subpar US Open Series performances can and probably will be firmly relegated to the past once the main event begins.
Since capturing the Wimbledon title in July and marrying longtime girlfriend Jelena Ristic shortly afterwards, Djokovic is 2-2, taking six sets to beat Gilles Simon and Gael Monfils and losing in straights to Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Tommy Robredo in Toronto and Cincinnati respectively.
Djokovic frustrated during a match in Cincinnati (Photo by Jonathan Moore/Getty Images)
It wasn’t what we expected from Djokovic, who looked poised to dominate the US Open Series after reclaiming the world no. 1 ranking and with Rafael Nadal absent. The Serb looked distracted and occasionally listless on court and there has been some speculation that impending fatherhood – Djokovic and Ristic are due to become parents in October – might be taking its toll on Djokovic’s focus.
‘I with no doubt have only positive and joyful feelings approaching fatherhood, and hopefully, it's going to happen in less than two months,’ Djokovic said.
‘Then I'm going to enjoy it and try to take as much energy as I can, positive energy to kind of transfer that to the tennis court. But without a doubt, life changes. Priorities change. My priorities: my family, my wife, my future kid. Tennis is definitely not No. 1 anymore.’
But Djokovic made it clear that he isn’t exactly consigning tennis to the back-burner just yet.
‘I have high expectations for myself,’ the 2011 US Open champion said. ‘I always have. Especially at this stage of my career where I feel like now is the time that I'm at my peak physical strength. I want to use this time of my career as much as I can to win as many matches as possible.’
Djokovic has ‘only’ won the US Open once, but he’s reached the final for the past four years (as well as in 2007) and is certainly predicted to do so once more, despite the presence of Toronto champion Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and 2012 US Open champion Andy Murray in his quarter of the draw.
World no. 79 Diego Schwartzman, Djokovic’s first-round opponent, is a less intimidating prospect: He will be playing in the main draw of the US Open for the first time when they face off in the second night match on Arthur Ashe Stadium on Monday 25 August.
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