WIMBLEDON, England — Defending champions Roger Federer and Serena Williams and former champions Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal and Maria Sharapova spoke with the media over the weekend in advance of the start of Wimbledon on Monday. Victoria Azarenka and Great Britain’s No. 1s, Andy Murray and Laura Robson, also held news conferences. From discussing the seeding question to designating favorites to handicapping their chances, here are some of the best quotes. Even Andy Roddick got a shout-out.
• Not surprisingly, Nadal has no problem being seeded No. 5, behind David Ferrer, whom he beat in the French Open final just two weeks ago. “I am No. 5 and David is No. 4. He wins his privilege to be No. 4 before me, and that’s it.”
Federer agreed. “For me, it’s not even worth the talk because it is what it is. It’s not like he’s unseeded. He is seeded within the top eight. He is seeded, so you don’t face him in the first round. Quarterfinals are still a long way away, if you like. It was never supposed to be easy winning Grand Slams.”
In fact, everyone was toeing the party line. “I have no issue with the seeding,” Murray said before adding, “I’d rather Rafa and Roger were on the other side of the draw, but they’re not.” Honesty.
• Djokovic was asked for his thoughts on seeing Murray, Federer and Nadal all on the bottom half of the draw while he anchors the top. “Well, I think it’s going to be a great Monday for tennis [smiling].” The bottom half of the draw plays Monday.
• Who does Federer see as his toughest rival at Wimbledon? Murray. ”I haven’t thought about it a whole lot, but I think Murray played great last year throughout Wimbledon and the Olympics, and now again at Queen’s. So for me he seems like maybe most natural on this surface of the other guys. But then, the other guys are already Wimbledon champions, Rafa and Novak. Ferrer’s in the top four. He’s also very good on grass. But to me Andy sort of stands out a little bit over the others.”
Asked if Murray should feel more or less pressure now that he’s won a Grand Slam tournament, Federer says he should feel less. “But as long as he hasn’t won Wimbledon, the press will always bug him about that,” Federer said. “But who cares about that really?”
• Murray says the pressure of playing at Wimbledon actually helps him produce his best tennis. “I like being nervous before a match. Maybe some players don’t like that. I get very nervous before matches here, but I often feel like that helps me play my best tennis. It maybe helps me concentrate better. Some people may feel like they make bad decisions on the court or they don’t move as well or whatever it is. I just feel like it makes me focus my mind a bit better.”
• Everyone likes to think it was the U.S. Open or Olympic gold that changed him as a player, but Murray points to his loss to Federer in last year’s Wimbledon final as the turning point. “I think in my career there’s normally been quite gradual sort of progress most years with my results and things. And I think, yeah, the Wimbledon final was really tough, but I played well in that final and basically I’d gone for it. … I went for it and lost the match kind of on my terms. I felt I didn’t just sort of sit back and wait. I think that’s maybe why I managed to recover from that defeat well. I didn’t come off the court thinking kind of, What if? I got back on the practice court five, six days later and I felt great; whereas when I’d lost in Slam finals before ‑‑ well, you saw my results for a few months afterward. I hadn’t dealt with it particularly well.”
• It’s incredible to think of the difference between where Williams was at this time last year, when she came into Wimbledon having not won a Slam in two years, to today, when she’s the defending champion and winner of three of the last four majors. Williams says she’d rather not be the favorite. “[F]or me, when I’m going into a tournament and I’m always, like, not the favorite, it always feels good. Unfortunately, that’s not so often. This year, it’s definitely a little more pressure being the favorite. But, as Billie Jean King said in inspiration from the WTA, 40 years, pressure’s a privilege, and I take it as a privilege.”
• How does Williams transition from clay to grass? Simple: She practices on hard courts. “Growing up, I saw how Andre Agassi always practiced on hard court, so all my career I’ve done what he did: I practice on hard court. In preparation for the grass, I just play on hard. … I was so inspired. I felt like I wanted to do what he did. It’s worked for me. Venus did the same thing. It’s worked for her. I think it’s pretty good.”
• Djokovic crashed Sharapova‘s interview to ask her what she though of his impression of her at The Boodles earlier this week. Sharapova obliged. “I don’t do any of those things anymore. None of those. I don’t stick my ass out anymore, OK? I don’t do this with my hair anymore. You haven’t watched me play recently. … You’re actually starting to look a bit like Roddick when you’re imitating. That’s how he serves.”
• Serena may not want to talk about her personal life, but she credits Patrick Mouratoglou for his ability to keep her motivated. “Patrick, he means a lot to me. I was just talking to him randomly a couple days ago, and I said, ‘Wow, in a year we’ve won three Grand Slams, two gold medals.’ And he said, ‘You’ve [gone 74-3 since last year's French Open].’ I said, ‘Really?’ He’s like, ‘That’s pretty good.’ I said, ‘No, it could be better.’”
• If Serena wins her sixth Wimbledon title, she’ll have one more than Venus. “This is the first year I believe I’ve played Wimbledon and Venus hasn’t been here. So I feel so lonely. I feel like something is missing. So I talk to her all the time — more than usual. We stay together and I’m still staying in the small room because she always had the bigger room. I just can’t imagine being in the bigger room. So she told me before I left, ‘Snap out of it. It’s time for you to pass me.’ So that was really encouraging. So hopefully I’ll be able to do it.”
• Nadal says he shouldn’t have played Wimbledon last year, when he lost in the second round to Lukas Rosol. “Last year I played here because it is a tournament that I love, but I was not ready to play here. That’s the real thing. I play with a [knee injury] from the first day. After Roland Garros, I feel that my knee was not there anymore. … I try my best. I don’t have nothing to learn about that year because it is not an excuse. Rosol played a fantastic fifth set. He probably beats me if I was healthy. … But that experience for me last year was too much. I suffer too much. If you are in the final rounds and if you have to protect or play with an [injury], it’s fine. But playing with an [injury] from the first day doesn’t exist.”
• Sharapova hasn’t played a grass lead-up tournament since 2010, when she made the final of Birmingham. There’s a method to the madness. “The reason I don’t play a warm-up event is because of so many tournaments back to back. It’s always just nice to get back to working, to playing, working on a few things here and there. Sometimes when you get in a groove of playing so many matches, you lose that work ethic a bit.”
• Djokovic had a sheepish smile when asked him if he’s gone back to look at the infamous point at 4-5 in the fifth set of his French Open semifinal against Nadal where he touched the net. “To be honest with you, I looked at it the same night and I haven’t looked at it since. … Look, I lost the match. Maybe that was one of the most important points that I ever had on Roland Garros. It was unfortunate really. I haven’t paid attention on the net. I ran into it. I guess the rules are rules. The chair umpire made that decision. I haven’t seen where the ball bounced. My argument was that the ball bounced out of dimensions of the court, but doesn’t matter. I lost the match. Now I have to move on.”
• Yes, Azarenka knows about Serena’s Rolling Stone article. And, no, she has no comment on it. “I think it’s kind of difficult to avoid that. It’s all over the place. So, yeah, I have read her comments. I don’t have any comments on that, though, because I think there is always a benefit of a doubt to a person, what happened really. Only two people really know what happened. I know what it’s like to be misunderstood sometimes. So, I mean, I’m not defending or saying any part of the person. But, if I need some explanation from somebody, I’ll go ask them directly.”
• Federer laments the fact that courts across all tournaments have slowed down, including the grass at Wimbledon. “I think it’s a bit of a pity, yes, because I think it would be nice to see more players out of their comfort zone more often, as well. Now you can just play the same game on clay, on grass, on hard courts. That was not really the idea about having different surfaces in the first place.”
Federer says the game would look much different if the grass were the same speed as it was 15 years ago. “I think we would have had more dangerous draws overall. Because the way it is now, you always feel physically or with consistency you can still get to the goal; whereas before it was a return here, it was one passing shot there that would decide the outcome of the match.
“I would probably be a different player, as well. I would be probably serve-and-volleying more often today or at all times. I would have evolved, totally different. But I realized rather quickly that serve-and-volleying against great return players on a regular basis was just too hard, so I had to improve my baseline game. That’s what then brought me some success really. Then many, many players realized that, as well. Lleyton Hewitt was a driving force behind that kind of play. It’s interesting how it’s all evolved now.
“Today it’s hard to pick any guy within the top 20 where you say, ‘This guy cannot play on grass at all.’ You feel like everybody can. Before you had maybe five of the top 10 where you thought, Hmm, this guy is definitely uncomfortable on grass, and then the other five are very uncomfortable on the clay. Today you don’t have that anymore, which gives everybody a better opportunity to play well and win. At the same time, it’s a bit of a disappointment, as well.”
• Federer isn’t concerned about who “the next Roger Federer” will be because he doesn’t want to see “a next Roger Federer.” “I wouldn’t want to see another guy like me, another guy like Nadal, another guy like somebody else. We’re all very different, and that’s good that way…. I think it’s always a bad idea to base your game after someone. I had a little bit of that situation with [Pete] Sampras. Everybody compared me to him. If you look and analyze the game, the character, we’re actually incredibly different. So I didn’t want to be known as a second Sampras, like others don’t want to be the second Federer. They all need to create their own identity. I think it’s also important that the media always respects that and don’t always look for that second someone. There’s always a first of everything for everybody.”
• How many times has Murray seen the video clip of him hitting Ivan Lendl at a recent exhibition? “I’d say double figures probably.” Has he enjoyed it every time? “More each time, actually [smiling].”
• Wise words from a 19-year-old: Robson, when asked about the back-and-f0rth between Serena and Sharapova: “It’s none of my business.”