Before the Masters 1000 event of Monte-Carlo began, the top four seeds, Novak Djokovic, Daniil Medvedev, Rafael Nadal and Stefanos Tsitsipas (Dominic Thiem withdrew), complied to the pre tournament press conferences reserved for the best players.
Here are samples of each :
You obviously haven't played since Australia, which is not a typical schedule for you. Is there any specific adjustment you feel you need to make, whether mentally, physically, to feel prepared for the clay season?
Well, not in particularly. I have had some periods in my career where I didn't play a tournament for maybe a couple months, and then came back. So I don't think there is anything special I have to do in terms of preparation in order for me to feel my best on the court. I've been training quite a lot on clay. Actually ever since I pulled out from Miami, I was hitting on clay. Here in Monte-Carlo actually where I reside with the family, it was convenient and feels great. I feel physically prepared. Mentally I missed tennis the last couple of months that I haven't been competing. I look forward to my first match. It's unfortunate we don't have a crowd, but it's a common thing nowadays. Hopefully we'll be seeing crowd very, very soon in big tournaments in Europe.
You said that you're able to stay at home this week, which is a unique situation. Can you expand a little bit on the restrictions, what you're able and not able to do in this case?
Well, they're constantly changing the rules. The ATP has put forward the protocol that we have to follow in all the tournaments, regardless of the « so to say » regulations of the local authorities and the governments. We are in a so-called safe environment. I wouldn't call it a bubble because it's not really a bubble, but it is a safe environment, so to say, where they reduce, I guess, the risk of transmission of the virus as much as possible. But it's great that us who are residents here have a chance to sleep at home, for sure. We have that housing option. But you have to be in the bubble and basically stay at home and come back, come to the tennis. I'm not exactly sure, let's say, of every detail of that rule. What I've told you is what I know. I just kind of got into the bubble, into the safe environment today. It doesn't change much for me anyway since I decided not to go into the safe environment earlier. I just did it today because I wanted to be free and kind of go around and not have the restrictions. But as of today anyway I'm in the tournament mode. Most of the time I'll be spending on the courts.
Can you tell us how you feel getting into this sort of home tournament for you, with the setting this year, special setting? How is it?
Really happy to be here. I like the tournament. Played good once here. Can stay at home, which helps with all the bubbles and everything. Really lucky to be able to stay at home this week. Yeah, just looking forward to my first match. Have a lot of space this year without the fans. It's very unfortunate that we won't have any fans. Now all the club is for us. It's definitely one of the most beautiful tournaments in the world right now.
I'd like to know, if you find yourself No. 2 seed on a clay tournament, while Rafael Nadal is No. 3, is it something that you find almost unbelievable, acceptable of course?
I mean, it's just funny because, well, I'm not the best clay court player. But I'm seeded higher than him in Monte-Carlo which he won maybe 10 times, maybe more, I'm not sure. Yeah, it's probably not going to mean anything during the tournament, but let's see. Actually, I don't even know if he's in my part of the draw or in Novak’s. That can make a huge semifinal if he's in Novak's part.
Can you tell us what you think about clay? Is it one of your favorite surfaces? In the French Open you lost four times first round in four appearances. Do you like the surface or is it the worst surface for you?
I'm not hiding this, I don't like clay. I'm not going to South America, although I like to travel. I would like to go there once in my life, of course. But I'm not going to go there instead of Rotterdam, Marseille or Dubai. I'm not going to play on clay in South America during that time. But especially after what happened two years ago, I know I can play well on this court. Every time I practice on clay, after when I play my match, I try to do my best, but it's difficult for me. I hope I'm going to have good results this year after the good work I've been doing. But honestly, there's nothing I like on clay. There's always bad bounces, you're dirty after playing. I really don't enjoy playing on clay.
You haven't played since Melbourne. First of all, how are you? We know how much you love this place. How does it feel to be back here in Monte-Carlo, in this beautiful club, even though it's a bit different this year?
Good. I am feeling good. Thank you. Yeah, I took a while after Australia. This is my second tournament. It’s true that the situation we are facing doesn’t help to play that often. But, yeah, this is an important part of the season for me. I think I did the right work to be ready. So let's see. But, yeah, happy the way that I am playing. For the moment my body is in good shape. I am excited about playing here in Monaco again, Monte-Carlo. As everybody knows, is one of my favorite tournaments without a doubt. I love being here. Of course, we're going to miss the crowd, the normal tournament. But we are happy. Well, I am happy that we are still able to play. Being here is always good news for me. Excited, happy, hope to be ready to give my best.
It has to be weird not having played any tournament since Australia, starting the clay season when we all know how much it's important to you? What are the expectations? How are you dealing with the situation?
No, I am good. Honestly I am confident. I am playing well I think. I'm practicing well these couple of days here in Monaco, in Monte-Carlo, before the tournament start. So I feel ready. It's true that I didn't play much. At the same time is true that I had good success in the past without playing much. My mindset is the same as always,. I’m just trying to be ready for Wednesday. Going day by day. Tomorrow another practice. Just trying to be ready for the first match, and let's see.
We haven't seen you since Melbourne. In the meantime Novak broke the record of weeks at No. 1. As someone who has been at the top of the game for so long, how hard it is to be 300 or more weeks at No. 1? How big is that record in regard to tennis history?
Well, honestly during this period of time, for the last years, there have been a lot of records broken. Three players did a lot of important things in the history of our sport. Now that's another great achievement for Novak. So well done for him. Just need to congratulate him. I don't know what this one means for the history of tennis. Just another record broken. That's it. Well done for him.
How are you feeling entering this clay season? How do you feel about your game and physically?
I've practiced a lot of days on clay. I've been feeling well. My body is in good shape. Currently I feel like I'm working a lot on my physicality when I play friendly matches on clay. I think that's going to be the most important aspect in my game during the clay court season.
How do you feel here with the setting, with no public? I know you've been used for a while to play in these conditions. Some players say it's cool to have more space in the club, even though they regret the public.
It's way better to have space for the players, have us move around a little bit more. Obviously miss the public a lot. We can't wait to have them back. Right now I'm enjoying being here. As I said, there's a lot of space. That definitely puts out a better atmosphere between the players, as well. It's always a fun tournament to be watching and playing, the Monte-Carlo Rolex Masters.
How do you see the current situation with COVID, not as a tennis player, but as a human being? Is it tough for you not to be at home, be able to see your friends or family? Is it the same? How do you live that?
It has been difficult to kind of grasp. It has affected me in certain ways. I think being away from the normal everyday life that I was used to living, being kept away from human interactions… In the very beginning I thought it was going to be easy, and that I wouldn't suffer as much. But it ended up being difficult and psychologically excruciating. I'm happy we are heading towards a direction that is going to show something better. There will be solutions very soon. I'm sure the governing bodies and ATP will do a great job on protecting the players and making the best out of it to have the tour come back to normality and have players feel comfortable and have the atmosphere come back. I do believe we're going to see a change soon. I can't wait for this to happen, for all of us to be able to get back to normal conditions of tennis.