Saturday, March 9, 2019 - Novak Djokovic practices during the BNP Paribas Open at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden in Indian Wells, California. (Kathryn Riley/BNP Paribas Open)
There’s much at stake. Having leapfrogged Pete Sampras with major No. 15 at the Australian Open, Novak Djokovic is now within two of Spaniard Rafael Nadal, and five of Swiss Roger Federer, on the all-time Grand Slam charts.
If he stays healthy and plays his cards right, the 31-year-old — a five-time BNP Paribas Open champion — might just end up with more Slam hardware than his chief rivals when all is said and done. If he can have the kind of multi-major years he had in ’11, ’15, ’16 and ’18, that count will grow fast.
So why in the name of Major Walter Clopton Wingfield would the Serb complicate things by getting wrapped up in the political side of the sport, serving as President of the ATP Player Council?
“I tend to ask that myself, as well,” mused Djokovic after his Indian Wells opener, a 7-6(5), 6-2 win over American Bjorn Fratangelo.
Focus is everything in this sport, after all. And Djokovic suddenly finds himself representing the players in a time of change.
“I feel that it’s my responsibility, in a way, as a top player, to contribute to the sport in that way,” he explained. “I take the role of president of the council very seriously, and I try to contribute as best as I can. It’s not my natural environment, so to say, but I’m ready to learn and I’m open-minded. I care about the current generation and also the future generations and the future of this sport.”
“If, with my status and my position in the world of sport and tennis, I can influence that positively, then why not? Yes, it takes away energy and time, but I know I do it from the right place in my heart and with the right intent.”
His role sure didn’t seem to affect his focus in the second half of 2018, when the Serb went back-to-back at Wimbledon and the US Open. A year after shoulder surgery, he’s back at No. 1, and a favorite this week to capture his record sixth title at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden.
German vet Philipp Kohlschreiber hopes to stop Djokovic’s run in the third round on Monday, when they face off in Stadium 1. Though Nole owns a commanding 8-1 lead in career head-to-heads, Kohlschreiber’s lone win came on a big stage. The world No. 39 famously tripped the Serbian up in the third round at Roland Garros in 2009, 6-4, 6-4, 6-4.
Kohlschreiber, who reached a career-high No. 16 in 2012, is riding high after a second-round, 6-4, 6-4 dismissal of talented Aussie Nick Kyrgios. He’s just the kind of crafty veteran who can give Djokovic fits.