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Djokovic sick of undeserved ‘quitter’ tag

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Originally published on: 26/02/10 15:35

Think Novak Djokovic and a few images immediately spring to mind. The fluid ground strokes and all-court game that took him to last season’s Australian Open title and No.3 in the world, perhaps.

Or the service parodies he produced during training at Wimbledon a few years back, that cemented his status as the Tour joker.

But then, there’s one image that no tennis fan wants to see – Djokovic approaching the net mid-match and telling his opponent and the umpire that he can’t go on.

The Serb, who defends his title at this week’s ATP event in Indian Wells, was most recently slammed for pulling out of his Australian Open quarter-final with heat exhaustion – against, of all people, Andy Roddick, who had poked fun at Djokovic’s ‘injury’ record at the US Open last year.

“It’s just that this reputation which has been going around – I don’t think it’s right”

Searing temperatures in Melbourne undoubtedly made playing conditions uncomfortable, and the Serb was not the only player forced off-court – but Djokovic enhanced an unfortunate reputation as a quitter. After all, it was not the first time he had done so.

In 2006, Djokovic retired when two sets down in his French Open quarter-final against Rafa Nadal, and in 2007 he quit during his Wimbledon semi-final against Nadal, blaming a blister on his toe.

Despite these high-profile withdrawals, the 21-year-old believes the criticism is unjust.

“It certainly isn’t pleasant when something isn’t right and people are talking about something which isn’t true,” said Djokovic, a more bullish character now than the joker of seasons past. “But I’m tired of proving whatever I need to prove.”

“I’m just playing tennis for myself and I always have put my health as a priority to everything. Tennis is probably my life at this moment, but it’s not the only thing in my life.

“It’s just that this reputation which has been going around, I don’t think it’s right. But everybody has a right for their own opinion.”

Djokovic switched rackets at the end of last year, and admits that he struggled in the first few months of 2009.

“This was quite a big decision for me,” he said. “It took really quite some time to get used to the new racket. I was patient and waiting, just waiting for my chance. I was playing quite good in Australia but unfortunately I had to withdraw from the tournament.”

With Roger Federer and Rafa Nadal contesting another classic in Melbourne and Andy Murray’s 2008 season drawing plaudits from all and sundry, victory at last month’s Dubai Open could not have come at a better time for Djokovic.

“Overall, since the start of the season, I played much better in the last two months. Dubai gives me a lot of self confidence now and belief. I think I’ve proven to myself that I still have a lot of quality and I can do well.”

The Serb is keen to establish an aura of maturity and drive – even down to the signature falcon motif from his Adidas clothing line this season.

“It’s one of my favorite animals, and I think it describes in some ways my personality as well,” he said. “I play a pretty aggressive game, and I’m very emotional, and I’m kind of connected to that bird.

“My grandfather used to call me always when I was younger, ‘falcon, falcon’ – doesn’t make any sense in English, but in our language it does.”

The hunting theme is apt for Djokovic, who leads the chase behind Federer and Nadal. “Well, you’re always hunting something, right, in your life? It’s a process.”

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