NEW YORK – Ahead of the start of the U.S. Open on Monday, Aug. 31, the tournament's marquee players spoke to the media on Saturday at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center. Here's what we learned.
Top players are rooting for Serena—even her competition
Roger Federer: “Yeah, I hope she does it, number one,” Federer said. “Number two, of course it’s intriguing and interesting to see, you don’t get this kind of an opportunity many times in your career, or in tennis, for that matter, so it will be very interesting to follow. We’ve had it on the men’s side, a few times, where a few guys have won three in a row, going for the fourth, but it never got done, in recent years, and now for her to do it…We know she’s already won four in a row, so now to get it in the same year…I think it’s the same as the Serena Slam, in my opinion, but I know people see it differently. It’ll be very interesting to see.”
Simona Halep: “If I will not be in the finals, then I want her to win,” Halep said. “If I’m in the finals with her, then I want to win.”
Novak Djokovic: “I am sending her good vibes, I hope she does it. She’s a true champion and she’s impressive what she’s managed to do so far at her age to win three Grand Slams. It’s quite incredible. I know how tough it is both men’s and women’s tennis. It really doesn’t matter, the competition is really high. It’s tough,” Djokovic said. “In order to achieve that, you really have to be committed at your highest abilities throughout the year, especially French Open and Wimbledon, which are just a couple of weeks (time) and that’s the most difficult period of the season.
Djokovic also said he’d love to be in Serena Williams’s position someday: “I sincerely hope from your mouth to God’s ears,” he said, responding to a question about his own chances of winning a calendar Grand Slam. “That is the only thing I can say. I’ve been close and that gives me enough reason to believe that I can achieve that."
There may be a way to crack Serena’s invincibility
Federer pointed out one area where Serena could falter: “Best of three set matches, it’s more of a sprint to the finish line than best of five, where you feel like you can have a run at an opponent, and all that,” he said. “There’s a little more danger in a best of three set match, so that’s why she needs to be focused from the very beginning.”
Halep is 1–6 against Serena in her career but she acknowledged that Serena didn’t play her top tennis last October when the Romanian earned her sole victory: “It goes very fast. It was a great day for me. I know she didn’t play her best. I know that I went on court and I had nothing to lose. I was just going to enjoy the time,” Halep said. “I played her early in the tournament, which is better than in a final, because in a final she gives everything. It was a great moment for me and I believed. I still believe.”
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Murray expects Kyrgios to mature—and isn't worried about their match
Andy Murray took a forgiving stance on Nick Kyrgios’ most recent controversy, saying that the Australian is still young and thus vulnerable to mistakes: “He’s a young guy and we all make mistakes, and everyone here when they were 19, 20 would have done some bad things and made some mistakes, and for him, it’s unfortunate that’s its happening in front of millions [and] millions of people,” Murray said. “And I think it’s wrong, a lot of the things that he’s done, but I also think that he’s still young, and everyone’s different. People mature and grow up at different rates. Not everyone’s exactly the same. Everyone is different. He’ll learn, and I don’t think he’s a bad guy. I don’t think he’s a bad person at all. He’s an unbelievably talented guy with a lot of potential. He’s going to be around the top of the game for a while. I just think a little bit of patience is important when it comes to Nick because he’s a young guy and it isn’t easy growing up in the spotlight.”
Murray isn’t letting his marquee opening round matchup against Kyrgios affect his preparation: “For me it’s just a tennis match and I go about the match in the best way possible by getting all the things, getting all the tactics, and everything sorted and you know, tailor my practices the next few days around his game style and that’s what I’ll be doing,” Murray said. “You don’t obviously pay attention to the other stuff.”
Murray defeated Kyrgios at the French and Australian Opens this year and is 3-0 career against the Australian. But he de-emphasized his history of success against Kyrgios: “Every match is a new match. You can learn, obviously, from those previous matches, see what things worked and what things didn’t, but he might come in and do something completely different against me next time, so I need to be prepared for that,” he said. “He’s quite an unpredictable player so you need to expect that when you go on the court.”
Murray pointed out that Kyrgios, who has a better record in Grand Slam matches than Masters 1000 matches, plays well in high-profile events: “To be honest, I think he likes playing on big stages. That’s where he’s played his best tennis throughout his career,” Murray said, pointing to Kyrgios’ poor record outside Slam events last year. “I would expect him to be ready for the match. He gets himself fired up for the big events.”
Federer plans to maintain his Cincinnati form
Federer’s aggression showed in Cincinnati, and he discussed how he would maintain that aggression in New York: “If I’m going to do it here, as well, at practice so far conditions definitely allow you to do it. I think the ball flies faster here. The surface is slightly different than last week, so a slight adjustment to be done there,” Federer said. “I’m just really focused on my first round. It’s really tough to be playing Leonardo Mayer, so I have to come back to reality after the good week I had last week and go from there.”
Federer isn’t worried that his form peaked in Cincinnati: “I feel if I peak early I could probably play well in the next match, as well. But then again maybe looking back at Wimbledon, now, maybe I peaked too much against Murray, then didn’t quite play just as good as I did against Murray that I did against Djokovic. Still, Novak causes different problems than Murray does, so maybe it’s also matchups at times and some days you just don’t feel as good,” Federer said. “Of course I hope to save best for last, and usually you play better against the best players, because you just have no choice. It’s straightforward in the mind.”
Djokovic on how Federer is playing now versus 2011: “It’s hard to say. I think his aggressive game is better. I think he’s using every possible opportunity to come to the net and finish off the points. As I said, he likes things to happen very fast on the court with the one, two punch game, where probably Murray, Nadal and myself will like a little bit more time, an extra one or two shots to construct the point,” Djokovic said. “So I think he knows that, tactically trying to take the time away from us when he’s playing us. He looks fit as well. He doesn’t seem to be exhausted too much.” Djokovic also said Federer has scheduled his tournaments well.
Federer was asked if he got his schedule perfect this season, and he had a perfect response: “For Cincinnati it worked out well, apparently, and if I win here, then yes, it was a perfect schedule,” Federer said. “If I lose in three days, then maybe not.”
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Federer’s ambush return strategy could make an appearance
Federer said he may continue to use his Cincinnati strategy of rushing forward on return, depending on circumstances: “It’s not really easy to practice this against other players because you feel like you don’t want to make fun of them or yourself or whatever you’re doing, you want to do the right things that work for everybody, so he gets a good practice in and me too,” Federer said. “So I haven’t been doing it that much this week, but we’ll see how the tournament goes and against who I play and what the scoreline is and when do these second serves come around, but of course I would love to use it.”
Djokovic praised Federer for adjusting his game: “Credit to him for doing that and figuring out ways to adjust his game and come to the net and win that match. That’s what he’s done. He deserved to win in the finals of Cincinnati. No question about it. It’s me and the others to respond,” Djokovic said. “That is what is so special about the rivalries. We always have taken the best out of each other and make each other improve and evolve as players and get our game to another level.”
Rafael Nadal is confident in his game
Nadal begins this year’s U.S. Open in an unfamiliar position, but he isn’t worried that he’s not a favorite: “We’ll see who the favorite is in a couple of weeks,” he said.
He says he’s more relaxed now than he was earlier this year: “My stress is much less than it was at the beginning of the season. I’m feeling better myself. As a tennis player, I’m feeling better today than I was a couple of months ago,” Nadal said. “I’ve worked a lot these last couple of months. I know the process; it’s a challenge for me to find the level of play that I’ve been at a lot of times in my career.”
Nadal discussing the importance of confidence sounds like a philosopher discussing whether the chicken or egg came first: “To have the confidence back you need to win. If you’re not winning, then you won’t have high confidence,” Nadal said. “To win you need to play well. To win a lot you need to play very well and have a lot of confidence, and I’m playing well today.”
Djokovic says he's stronger than in 2011
Djokovic said that his recent losses to Murray and Federer didn't affect his preparation entering the Open: “I was getting ready to the fittest and most prepared for this tournament regardless of what happens in Canada and Cincinnati. Of course, I did want to win both in Canada and Cincinnati, but it didn’t happen. But as I said previously, they deserved to win because they were better players on the court,” Djokovic said. “It only changes in terms of me understanding what I did wrong, what has happened in those matches, analyzing it, talking with my team, with my coach especially. Trying to develop the right approach to prepare myself and to get better. Of course, it’s quite different playing best of three and best of five. In a Grand Slam, you have the most motivation you can have, so I’m looking forward to that.” Djokovic said he was preparing so that he’d peak in New York.
Djokovic said that it’s hard to compare himself now to his form in 2011, when he won three Grand Slams. But he tried: “I think physically I’m stronger and I’m able to endure longer than I did in 2011 and maybe there are some slight differences in the game, but generally as you grow older you’re kind of maturing and you’re trying to develop your game and get your game to the highest possible level,” Djokovic said. “I think this season, results-wise [is] pretty close to 2011. What I achieved in 2011 is hard to repeat, so this season is definitely just behind that one.”
Nishikori is dealing with higher expectations
Kei Nishikori enters the 2015 tournament in a much different place than last year after his finals appearance in 2014, but he says he wants to treat this year’s event just like last year’s: “I try not to listen too much to outside things. I think I’m very focused and excited for [the] first round,” Nishikori said. “I’m staying in the same hotel, same team again. I think it’s important to do the same thing like last year, especially I was doing really well last year, so I try to prepare like last year and just play good tennis on the court.”
Nishikori on his loss to Marin Cilic in last year's final: “It was really disappointing to lose in a final, but at the same time it’s great experience and I learn a lot of things from last U.S. Open and after that I play really good tennis,” he said. “I won two tournaments in a row right after and played good in London, too, so I very appreciate this time last year and I played really well after that.”
Halep’s confidence is up after past Open struggles
Halep hasn’t made it past the fourth round at the U.S. Open, and she partially attributed her struggles in Flushing to confidence: “I think in the past I didn’t believe that I had the chance to do great here. Now, I’m feeling better and I’m feeling more confident,” she said. “I had two great weeks before here and I think it’s going to help me. I’m just going to enjoy it and I’m not going to think about the pressure. Actually, I play well when there’s pressure, but not too much.”
She joked about her lack of success in New York: “Maybe there are too many things to do off the court here,” she said with a laugh.
Halep on her short break and coach Darren Cahill: “I had four weeks after Wimbledon. After four days, I started to miss it,” she laughed. “I spoke with Darren, my coach, and he told me I still had to stay away from my racket.” She says she went running a lot and spent time with friends and family in Romania.
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Sharapova feels prepared despite health issues
Maria Sharapova acknowledged that she has to be realistic: “Of course you have to be realistic and limit your expectations, but it’s never quite easy, because you’re a competitor,” she said. “Especially when you step out on the court, you always expect yourself to do the best you can, but that’s never easy for a very big competitor.”
Wozniacki is ready despite quick turnaround from New Haven
Caroline Wozniacki feels New Haven was useful: “I did get a lot out of New Haven. The main thing is my body is holding up and I feel really good. I got a few matches,” she said. “I feel really good coming into here.”
Wozniacki’s rumored boyfriend, J.J. Watt, has a starring role on HBO’s Hard Knocks, which is following Watt’s Houston Texans this year. She was asked about what a tennis version of Hard Knocks would look like: “Tennis and football are two different sports. Football is a team sport. Tennis is an individual sport. Every player is different,” Wozniacki said. “Every player is getting coached in a different way. Some players like a harsh coach. Others like a more positive coach. You can’t tell from player to player on how they would react.”
Djokovic and Mickey are good friends
Djokovic was in full Djoker form, bringing along Mickey Mouse to his press conference: “Have a friend joining us today, I hope you don’t mind,” he said as he took the podium. “He’s just going to observe and listen, not answering any questions today.”
Djokovic said Mickey would be attending Arthur Ashe Kids Day: “Kids day is a wonderful event. I’m going to take Mickey to the kids day as well. He’s excited. You want to say something?” Djokovic asked, looking at Mickey. “He’s in a state of meditation right now.”