US Open talking points: Novak Djokovic 'thrives on pressure', Naomi Osaka admits mistakes

Season's final Grand Slam begins on Monday with Serbian looking to make history

The final Grand Slam of the season is upon us and the top stars of the US Open talked in New York ahead of Monday’s main draw kick-off.

Here are some highlights from a busy media day at Flushing Meadows.

All eyes on Djokovic, and he knows it

World No 1 Novak Djokovic is on the cusp of history this coming two weeks at the US Open as he bids to become the first man since Rod Laver in 1969, and the first player since Steffi Graf in 1988, to sweep all four majors in the same calendar year.

The Serb, who is also going for a record-breaking 21st Grand Slam title which would see him surpass Roger Federer and Rafael’s tally of 20, says he “can’t wait” to get his campaign going but is well aware of the pressure on his shoulders, especially in the absence of his two greatest rivals.

“I'm hugely inspired and motivated by that, no doubt. But at the same time I know how to balance things out mentally, with lots of expectations obviously around,” Djokovic told reporters at the Billie Jean King Tennis Centre.

“My participation here, without Rafa and Roger participating, I feel it. I know there's a lot of people who are going to be watching my matches and expecting me to do well and fight for a Slam.”

This is the first time Djokovic arrives to New York having won the opening three majors of the season. When he clinched a second Roland Garros crown in June — it is historically his least successful major — Djokovic says he “felt it could be possible” to complete the Grand Slam.

“I thrive under pressure. This is what you work for day in, day out, all your life, to put yourself in a unique position to win grand slams and to make history. At the end of the day I'm a big tennis fan, fan of history. I admire this sport. I love it. I have this chance, and I'm going to try to use it.”

As for the chasing pack, world No 2 and former US Open runner-up Daniil Medvedev made it very clear about the intentions of the rest of the field in New York.

“We're here to not let him win the US Open,” said the Russian.

Lessons learnt for Osaka

Defending champion Naomi Osaka appeared in high spirits during her pre-US Open press conference and fielded questions.

The four-time grand slam winner has had a tricky few months and hasn’t made it past the round of 16 in any of her last five events, but insists she is feeling good about her game as she targets a third trophy in New York.

Osaka sparked an important conversation about mental health when she announced during the French Open she wasn’t going to take part in any press conferences in efforts to preserve her well-being. Things escalated fast as the four Slams warned her she could be disqualified from their events if she continued to skip the mandatory press conferences and the Japanese star withdrew from Roland Garros after her opening match.

Reflecting on her decisions from last spring, Osaka said on Friday she could have handled things in a different manner.

“Honestly, I feel like there's a lot of things that I did wrong in that moment, but I'm also the type of person that's very in the moment. Like whatever I feel, I'll say it or do it,” said the 23-year-old.

“I don't necessarily think that's a bad thing. I think there's a lot of things that I learnt to do better. Of course, I don't feel the same situation will happen again. I would say maybe think it through a bit more in the way that, like, I didn't know how big of a deal it would become.”

Vaccines remain a hot topic on tour

On Friday, the tournament announced that the New City mayor’s office has mandated that “any US Open attendee will be required to provide proof of at least one dose of a Covid-19 vaccine to enter the grounds of the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Centre”.

Journalists must also be vaccinated if they wish to attend press conferences in person in the main interview room at the stadium.

Players, however, are still allowed to compete on tour without being vaccinated. Djokovic hopes it stays that way.

“I feel like that should be always a personal decision, whether you want to get vaccinated or not. So I'm supportive of that. So whether someone wants to get a vaccine or not, that's completely up to them. I hope that it stays that way,” he said.

Bianca’s new perspective

Back at the US Open for the first time since she won it two years ago, Canadian Bianca Andreescu has new coach Sven Groeneveld in her corner and a fresh approach to her budding career. The Dutchman has encouraged her to ditch her mentality of focusing too much on results and they’ve plotted together a long-term vision for her game.

“I have to tell myself I'm not the same person back then [in 2019] than what I am now. Taking so much time off, I feel like it helped me in many ways. But then getting into that competitive mindset, it kind of brought me back a little bit. I feel like that's also a reason why I haven't had the results I wanted,” she explained.

“But I'm really trying to focus on process and long-term because I'm also only 21. I want to be able to do what 21-year-olds do. I feel like in 2019, it was just tennis, tennis, tennis. I got burnt out towards the end of the year.

“I really looked at everything. I'm in a really good place right now. It's also, like, day by day you have to experience new things and kind of just adapt as the days go by.”

Tsitsipas gets his dream collaboration

On the eve of the Open, world No 3 Stefanos Tsitsipas got to meet up and collaborate with Seth Phillips, the man behind the famous Instagram account ‘Dude with Sign’.

The Greek star had posted several photos in the past of himself holding up a sign with various messages on it, inspired by Phillips’ work.

“My initial goal when I started this is to someday get to meet him and get to do a collab with him. I'm glad it happened here,” said Tsitsipas, who himself is a passionate online content creator.

“He's someone that I kind of look up to a lot. Something simple as what he does, in a way it is much more complex than it looks like. The way he spreads messages, the way he entertains people is unique on its own.”

Updated: August 29th 2021, 3:36 PM
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