Novak Djokovic turned up for a news conference at the Bercy Omnipalais 24 hours late but apparently fit enough to compete in this final ATP Masters 1000 event of the year.
The man who is now certain to finish the year as world No. 1 had been ill over the weekend but for some strange reason no one was allowed to talk about that, nor whether Djokovic had flown back to Belgrade yesterday to see his father, who is in the hospital with a back ailment.
As Belgrade is only a one-hour-and-35-minute flight away, it is quite possible he did make the trip, but all that seems immaterial now as rumors about Djokovic pulling out of an event that is already having to do without Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal proved false.
After professing himself fit and ready to play against Sam Querrey in his first match – he received a bye as all the top-16 seeds do – Djokovic talked about the problems that have been caused by doing away with the free week between this tournament and the ATP World Tour Finals, which now start in London next Monday.
“It is a big challenge,” he said. “Obviously I am sure that all the participants in the World Tour Finals in London will agree that this is definitely not something that goes in favor of us preparing for the most important event at the end of the year. But it is the schedule, it’s the way it is and we have to adjust. Unfortunately there are no other options at this moment. But we will discuss this matter after we finish the season. Maybe we can find some other way.”
The silly thing is, the players only have themselves to blame because it was their representatives, desperate to make the season shorter, who voted to do away with the free week.
Happily for the ATP, tickets are selling better than ever for the Finals and record crowds, which reached 254,000 last year, are expected.
“I think it is combination of Andy Murray’s tears after losing the Wimbledon final, which made him instantly more popular. The British public saw a genuine side of him for the first time. Then winning the Olympic gold and following that with the US Open title,” said tournament manager Chris Kermode. “So it’s the Murray factor as well as a spillover from the Olympics in general. People want to see live sport.”
Djokovic, meanwhile, insists he is going to try his best here in Paris.
“I can’t generalize and talk in the names of other players,” he said. “It’s very sensitive, obviously. But I always try to win every match I play. It’s not fair to myself and not fair to this tournament to get some tactics on how, maybe, I should be well-prepared for the upcoming week and not be playing 100 percent this week.”
Querrey has been listening to all the stuff that has been going on around Djokovic and insists he is taking no notice.
“I’m sure he will be ready to compete like he always does – at least that’s how I’m thinking going into the match,” said Querrey, who lost to the Serb 6-4, 6-4 in Toronto last summer.
One way or the other it is certainly going to be tougher for the tall American than his first-round match Tuesday, when Spain’s Fernando Verdasco quit at 1-1 in the second set after losing the first set 6-1.
“I noticed he wasn’t serving that hard in the warm-up and he seemed to be holding back a bit when the match started," he said. "I think he was having trouble with his shoulder.”
Win or lose against Djokovic, Querrey will end his year feeling good about his game.
“The first half of the year was average,” said the man who had elbow surgery in June last year and only returned to the tour in October. “But I think the second half of the year was fantastic. I had solid results all through, winning Los Angeles and reaching three other semifinals. No bad losses.”
Querrey will head into 2013 with a more aggressive mindset.
“That’s what I have been working on,” he said. “Trying to be more aggressive on my returns and my forehand, too. I have tended to brush the ball on the forehand too much but now I am going to take a cut at it and see how that works. I feel I have nothing to lose.”
Querrey finished 2011 at No. 93 on the ATP computer as a result of his long layoff but has got himself back up to No. 23 – and if he adopts this positive attitude, he should rise higher.
Jo-Wilfried Tsonga took another step toward qualification for the eight-man field at the ATP Finals in London next week when he fought his way through a tough battle against fellow Frenchman Julien Benneteau 6-2, 4-6, 7-6.
With his new coach, the Australian Roger Rasheed, watching at courtside, Tsonga had to withstand off a furious challenge from Benneteau at the end and was delighted to have survived.
"I’m not going to dwell on my particular level of tennis in this match," said Tsonga. "I will just remember the way I fought, the way I stayed there. I never gave up. Not a single point I let go. In the end I won and this is what I will remember."