Having picked up where he left off in 2011 by winning this year’s Australian Open for grand slam title number five, Novak Djokovic is fast becoming as dominant as Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal ever were at the top of the game. But in an exclusive interview with The Tennis Space, the man who back in 1973 was the first official world number one, Ilie Nastase, says that Nadal, Federer and Andy Murray all have chances to win grand slams this year and weighs in on the prize money and schedule issue for good measure.
How has Djokovic become so good?
I talked to him at the French Open two years ago and he asked me ‘what do you think I should do, for me’. I said ‘you play great but you need confidence’. After he won (the Australian Open in 2011), he called me and said, ‘you’re right’. I know him because he used to practice in Romania when he was 11 years old, for one year, with a former Romanian player. He came because it’s not far from Serbia.
Why is he so dominant, now?
When you’re at that level, Federer or Nadal, they need confidence in their head. I’m sure if Federer wins another tournament he is going to go on, because that’s how it is. At the moment, Djokovic wins everything because the confidence is there. It can also change, maybe next year Nadal can come back or Murray, I think Murray has a chance. Murray needs a big win, I think, and it’s best to be a grand slam. I think if he wins one grand slam he will win more. It’s hard in this era. (Tim) Henman could have won if (Pete) Sampras was not around. People think Henman was no good but he was very good, he just played in the era of Sampras…
Djokovic has the mental edge as well?
Look at Nadal, now he doesn’t win (against Djokovic). He has the game but because he doesn’t win it plays in his head. The guy beat him three times, four times and he starts to think about it. But I think this can turn around, I don’t think Djokovic can win for ever. No one can.
The players are complaining about prize money at grand slams and problems with the schedule. What’s your take on all that?
OK, 14 weeks out of 52 weeks, maybe plus Davis Cup and another six weeks (of smaller tournaments), I don’t think is too much. Might be too much for the guy who wins every day, like Nadal or Djokovic, but they have the choice not to play exhibitions and not to do other things. All the players in my era, we played singles, doubles and mixed doubles and we played 31 weeks a year. Of course it was not the same demanding tennis like today, that’s for sure. I would be an idiot not to recognise that. But again, you cannot tell me that 14 (main tournaments) is a lot. If they didn’t play tournaments, they would play exhibitions.
And what about the issue of prize money?
The people who were the reason for professional tennis, they didn’t make any money. That’s my only regret. I made some money, I’d be selfish if I don’t say that – but (Rod) Laver and the other guys, (Ken) Rosewall (Lew) Hoad, those guys deserved to make money then but they didn’t. They sacrificed a lot for others. I think today the players make a lot of money and they shouldn’t complain.
Ilie Nastase was speaking to The Tennis Space at the Laureus Sports Awards in London