20. 05. 2009. · Novak Djokovic dominated the recent Serbia Open, a first ATP-tier tennis event to be held in his homeland. The Serbian number one won his 13th career title in Belgrade, while tennis fans in Serbia had the privilege to see the player’s entire camp, in which one of the most important roles is occupied by Djokovic’s manager, Alon Kaksuri.
Thrilled with Belgrade and with what he saw during the week of tennis at the M.G.M. sports complex, Kaksuri says he takes pleasant memories from Serbia Open.
“I travel the world all year round, but what the Djokovic family has done here is incredible. Everything is amazing. The venue is located by the river, and the tennis facility itself is terrific, much like the Novak cafe. The central court is as if it’s made for a Grand Slam tournament. This event is the best advertising campaign Serbia can have. Many still don’t realize the magnitude of this whole thing, but Belgrade has been enlisted in the ATP calendar, together with the likes of New York, Paris and Wimbledon. I am sure many will want to come to Belgrade and see what is organized here. And many great players will be coming, too, I’m sure. You should be proud of this event. After all I’ve seen, I can only wish I was Serbian,” said Kaksuri.
Do you often visit Belgrade together with Novak?
“I’ve been here many times and it’s always been nice; I can say I’m in love with this city. Everyone is really polite, everything is fantastic, especially when it comes to the tennis tournament.”
You are believed to be the man behind the scenes in the Novak Djokovic team and that you are in charge of pretty much everything – from booking hotel rooms to signing sponsor contracts.
“Novak is the boss, as well as his family. Everyone else is there to help and do their bit to help make Novak an even better player. I’ve been with Novak since his age of 15. I am his manager and by definition I am responsible for the professional and commercial aspects of his career. I think the most important job is to create a perfect surroundings for Novak, one that would be conducive to getting the best out of him. My relationship with him and his closest ones is literally as if we were one big family – they help me, and I help them. When they said they wanted a tournament in Belgrade, I was there to connect them with the owners of the Amersfoort tournament, who were later to sell them the licence.”
Novak recently hired a new fitness coach – Gebhard Phil-Gritsch.
“My job was to hire a new man. It wasn’t hard, as Gebhard is really a sought-after coach. We’d been looking for the best possible expert, but also someone Novak would easily get accustomed to. Moreover, Novak’s family has learned a lot. Now they are so good at what they do that they are capable of putting together an ATP event without anyone’s assistance.”
It was your idea that Novak should work with Marian Vajda.
“I remember Marian when he began working with Novak, but even before that, when he coached Dominik Hrbaty. It was my idea to bring Vajda in Novak’s team. We were really lucky to have done that as he is a great guy and an top-class coach, one who’s also grown into a personal friend of Novak’s and his family over the years. Even if they stop working together one day, they will surely remain friends.”
Djokovic’s fine results make it easier to attract sponsors and contracts.
“A great thing about Novak is that he is not only an excellent tennis player, but also a complete person. He is likeable and people want to be in his company. He will always work for sponsors if they are the ones whose products he endorses. For example, he is currently the ambassador of Head company. He played with Head racquets as a boy, but the company were really enthusiastic to get Novak Djokovic on their team again. They have developed special racquets just for Novak, as well as a great commercial which has been airing lately.”
What are your most immediate priorities nowadays?
“Now that he won the Serbia Open, we have other aims. I don’t like to discuss the future, but our wish is for Novak to win two European Grand Slams – the French Open and Wimbledon. I think that is not unattainable.”
Is it hard to harmonize all the ideas and plans? Have you ever had disputes?
“No, we haven’t. Novak is an grown, mature person, and he always says what is on his mind. We may not always agree on everything, but even if we reach that point, we look to find the best possible solution. We talk about all aspects of his career. He is a very smart guy, and he is not one of those people who just say yes or no. He thinks about everything.”
You have worked with other top tennis players, such as Marat Safin.
“That experience helps me in my cooperation with Novak. I don’t want to work with more than one player at the same time, because you can’t do your job professionally. I’ve worked with Dinara Safina when she was the world’s number one. It’s only a matter of time before Novak gets there too. I don’t want to apply any additional pressure on him. He has all he needs – he is confident and I believe no one wants to play him at the moment, which is a good sign.”
You will have seen many of Djokovic’s matches live. Which one is your favourite?
“I’ve witnessed many of his great matches, but I think I most enjoyed the one against Federer at the 2008 Australian Open. It was his first Grand Slam title after beating the player who had before that been virtually unbeatable in Australia. He was very convincing from start to finish.”
Have you had a chance to play a match of tennis against Djokovic?
“No, I haven’t, and I don’t intend to. I play tennis for recreational purposes only and for fun. Everyone thinks that because I am in tennis I have to know everything about it and be good at it. It feels nice, but I know what the truth is.”