Melbourne – World number one Novak Djokovic on Sunday said it hurt him to see his friend and rival Andy Murray struggle so much when he played him in a warm-up match for the Australian Open three days ago.
Murray announced on Friday, a day after the match that Djokovic won 6-1, 4-1, that the first grand slam of the season could well be his last tournament as the pain from a hip injury was too great.
“Obviously to see him struggle so much and go through so much pain, it’s very sad and it hurts me as his longtime friend, colleague, rival,” Djokovic, who at 31 is the same age as Murray, told reporters in Melbourne.
“Our trajectory to the professional tennis world was pretty much similar,” the Serb continued. “His birthday is one week before mine. We’ve grown together playing junior events. We played lots of epic matches in the professional circuit. Our games are quite alike.”
He was defensive when asked about how Murray, who was extremely vocal in his support of women’s tennis, would be missed by female players, and what other male players could do to make women feel more respected.
“I mean, just we should be more respectful of each other. That’s it,” said Djokovic, who has in the past questioned whether women should receive equal prize money.
“I think there’s not much to say about it. We are all part of the same boat.”
When asked about the election of Ukrainian player Sergiy Stakhovsky, who has made sexist and homophobic remarks in the past, to the ATP Player Council this month, Djokovic said there were “a lot of positives about him.”
“You can always focus on the negatives,” said Djokovic, who is president of the council.
“Sure, there’s always a person or two or three that in the past has stated something that is maybe not appropriate. Sergiy has been very involved and contributing a lot to the politics in tennis in a positive way, trying to represent a lot of players.”
He also said he was “comfortable” with two-time grand slam mixed doubles champion Justin Gimelstob, who has been charged with assault in the US, remaining on the board of the Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP), one of the sport’s governing bodies.
“I am comfortable, as are all of the council members, because that’s what we decided in our meetings and conference calls that we had in the last couple of months on that topic,” said Djokovic.
“If he is not proven guilty, he stays innocent, or he’s proven guilty, that’s a completely different situation for us and we have to address it.
“Now he’s been there and he’s been someone that has always fought for the players’ rights and represented players in a great way. That’s highly respected amongst the players, that’s for sure.” (dpa)