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CNN International: Open Court

Aired May 12, 2011 - 06:30   ET


ANNOUNCER: Djokovic has claimed the second Grand Slam of his career, winning the Australian Open.

ANNOUNCER: The world's number one, Rafael Nadal wins the first ATV Masters of the season.

ANNOUNCER: Novak Djokovic has become the first player to win the Australian Open.

ANNOUNCER: Rafael Nadal to win the Madrid Open.

ANNOUNCER: Seems to be unbeaten in 2011.

PAT CASH, CNN ANCHOR: He's the player of season so far. He is now world No. 2. Soon he'll be facing his toughest test of 2001, here in Roland Garros, in Paris.

This month on OPEN COURT, Pedro Pinto heads to Serbia to meet the man of the moment, Novak Djokovic.

Back to the future. The search for the next French superstar.

And it is all about hitting the right note. Trace the origin of the tennis string.


PEDRO PINTO, CNN SPORTS CORRESPONDENT (voice over): As tennis tournaments go the Serbian Open is about as relaxed as they come. It is a relatively new tournament but what sets this apart from the others is it is a family affair-a Djokovic family affair.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm George (ph) Djokovic and I'm general helper of Serbia Open.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Marco (ph) Djokovic, player but injured.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Goran Djokovic, director of Serbia Open.

Serbia Open is published by my brother, Novak's father, and me, I'm running this, the tournament owned by family Djokovic and everybody knows that. This is the third year of the tournament.

PINTO (on camera): In France the whole venue is called the Djokovic Tennis Center. All the eating and drinking is done at Novak's Cafe & Restaurant. And at the club shop you can get everything Novak. There is no doubt which Djokovic is the big star around here.

Shake the hand of the hottest man on the circuit. How are you?


PINTO: I didn't burn, eh?

N. DJOKOVIC: Looks wild? (ph)

PINTO: Look wild? (ph) Definitely.

I mean it must be amazing for you coming here and seeing all these people just wanting to get as close as they can to you?

N. DJOKOVIC: It's great. Yes, it is nice to see that the people really appreciate what you are doing.

PINTO (voice over): Off the court, Novak has always been a big hit with fans. But so far this year he's been unstoppable on the court as well. After four months he is still undefeated and is now closing in on John McEnroe's record of 42 straight wins.

N. DJOKOVIC: The last couple of months I do play the best times of my life. And I am on an incredible run. Did I expect that? No, definitely.

PINTO (on camera): When you are playing like this, how confident do you feel? Tell us, what is the difference when you are playing this well?

N. DJOKOVIC: I am confident that I am a different player from last year. I'm emotionally stable. I am very confident. I am fast on the court. And I'm just consistent. You know? Everything kind of came together.

PINTO (voice over): But the springboard to his individual success this season came at the end of last year, at the Davis Cup. Novak played a key role in helping Serbia win the trophy for the first time ever.

N. DJOKOVIC: The Davis Cup title is the most special moment in my tennis career. Winning this trophy is something different. Why? Because this trophy is won with a team and with a whole nation.

VUK JEREMIC, MINISTER OF FOREIGN AFFAIRS, SERBIA: Well, today we are giving passports, diplomatic passports, to the Serbian tennis, national team. As of today they will be formal diplomats of Serbia.

PINTO: What did the Davis Cup mean for the Serbian people? Not only for tennis for sports here?

ALEKSANDAR STOJANOVIC, JOURNALIST: If you can win and become world champion, from Serbia, that means that every kid can dream about it, you know? To become world champion, that is most important. He's bigger than anyone here at the moment, you know? President, prime minister, ministers, actors, whoever. PINTO (voice over): As Novak's status grows globally, so does the family tournament. But despite a host of top names it was the hometown hero who took the honors. After Serbia came Madrid, where he ended Rafael Nadal's two-year unbeaten run on clay. He now has the world No. 1 ranking firmly in his sights.

BORIS BECKER, FORM WORLD NO. 1 TENNIS PLAYER: The world ranking is like our Bible. Like we watch it every week and it doesn't matter what anybody says, the first thing on Monday morning, what any tennis player does is check your ranking position.

So, naturally Novak must be checking the rankings every day now, how much he is away from No. 1.

PINTO (on camera): How hungry are you to become world No. 1?

N. DJOKOVIC: Ah, we're very hungry.


It is my life, my lifetime goal, my highest ambition, my dream as well. But I'm still, you know, 23, 24 this year. I still believe that I can play for many more years to come.

PINTO (voice over): After the break we look at Djokovic, the joker, and his life off the court.

N. DJOKOVIC: You know, I'm like, "have a cup of tea, Darling."

PINTO: As we are in Roland Garros we take a look at the state of French tennis.


PAT CASH, CNN ANCHOR, OPEN COURT: Welcome back to OPEN COURT. This month coming to you from Roland Garros, in Paris. We know the French are a proud, successful tennis nation, but there is one current statistic that is a little bit of a sore spot. Now, I should really whisper this around here, but whilst the women have done pretty well, the men haven't won a Grand Slam singles title for almost 30 years.

(Voice over): Yes, it has been a frustrating period. It is a far cry from the days when the four Musketeers dominated the game back in the 1920s and '30s. Over the years the French produced a string of talented players and Davis Cup winning teams, but have been a little light on the Grand Slam singles titles. There have been some popular exceptions, with Yannick Noah's win here in 1983 and Mary Pierce in 2000, Amelie Mauresmo was the last one to claim a Slam winning Wimbledon in 2006.

(On camera): So, is French tennis in crisis? Well, who better to ask than a couple of buddies that I was on tour with, French legend and Davis Cup here Henri Leconte and the man who coaches these top players, Eric Winogradsky.

OK, let's talk French tennis. Henri, where do you see the state of tennis in France, in general?

HENRI LECONTE, FORMER WORLD NO. 5, TENNIS PLAYER: Everybody loves tennis. Everybody knows that tennis is everywhere and we are very lucky to have the French Open. That has given a lot of credit to tennis. And we have a good organization of the French federation from the juniors and all the preparation before. Like, you know, from 10 to 16, 17, 18. As you know, as you see, we are all kind of very good junior champions, but for the rest (UNINTELLIGIBLE) everything get organized and getting better.

ERIC WINOGRADSKY, COACH, FRENCH TENNIS FEDERATION: But right now it is a very good step to know that, a very good junior will win like about 70 percent of his matches. And as soon as he get a senior, he will win around 30 percent.

CASH: What kind of men win the French Open here? Why do people get so nervous and coming to Paris and playing?

LACONTE: There is two things. First of all, there is more pressure. You know, like, you have won in Wimbledon, with Marion (ph), with Team Inman (ph), it was a lot of pressure from the press. Everybody was expecting him to win. We have the same thing here.

Me, I did very well until the final. When I went to the finals I (EXPLETIVE DELETED) in my pants. You know, since I went in the final, I-you know, I blew up.

CASH (voice over): Potentially France's greatest Grand Slam prospect is in the women's game. Their top ranked player is Marion Bartoli, who finished runner up at Wimbledon in 2006. She is having a bit of a resurgence, reaching the final of the Indian Wells Masters. But what sets Marion apart is her coaching set up. She relies solely on her father who wasn't even a tennis player.

MARION BARTOLI, WORLD NO. 12 TENNIS PLAYER: Definitely more than just a father and a daughter. I think we are-we almost know what the other one is thinking about, even without talking. You know, even sometimes when I just look at my dad, outside of the court, I can feel what he wants to tell me. Which is very important as well.

DR. WALTER BARTOLI, COACH: I never played, but you know, when we start together then I find some exercise for my own, and step by step, you know, I love this job. It's a job.

CASH (voice over): Yes, Marion and Walter are unique, but what I find curios that France is still able to produce champions at the junior level, but not able to replicate that success at a senior level.

Kristina Mladenovic won junior Roland Garros in 2009, but is so far struggling to establish herself at the higher level. She is coached by Georges Goven, former coach to some of the top French women.

(On camera): Hello, old friend.

GEORGES GOVEN, KRISTINA MLADENOVIC'S TENNIS COACH: Pat, long time seeing you, eh? CASH: You are still old.


GOVEN: I'm old, I'm getting older, but I'm still there.

CASH: You are still there.

GOVEN: Kristina?

CASH: How are you?

GOVEN: Kristina, you are going to have a great pleasure to train a little bit with a CNN tennis player, a former champion, a great player. He is going to give us some information and advice on your game.

Get your weapon.

CASH: Get my racket?

GOVEN: Get your weapon.


OK, ready to go.


GOVEN: Kristina, you need advice the volley.

CASH: The volley, yes?

GOVEN: He was one of the best players in the world.

CASH: What do you mean, one of the best?

That's more like it.

The volley is like a half a ground stroke. It is almost like a slice.

What you do a little bit is just chop through this, like sharp. So, sometimes when you don't get it right, wheee! Or ba-boom.

You have good hit. Yeah, you are using this, the shoulder's muscle. Yes. So, it is-ploo.

Good serve.

She must be the No. 1 prospect?

GOVEN: Well, one of many. She has won over, you know, you can see, but you can't tell. The problem is with (UNINTELLIGIBLE) players, I think we have mythology, we have the financial, money to do it.

CASH: Yes? GOVEN: And we have the structure. Now to make a champion is different. You have to have the extra thing, that we come from nowhere.

CASH: Yes, good. Oh, that's a big serve. I'm not going give that one back.


CASH: The pleasure was mine.

MLADENOVIC: Thank you.

CASH: Good luck.

I've never been run around by an 18-year old girl like this before.

Well, in my opinion Kristina has gotten the game to make it in the big league. It might come down to whether she can keep her body healthy, and of course, the all-important mental toughness.


CASH: Well, one man who has displayed that mental toughness time and time again is Novak Djokovic. Here is the second part of Novak's chat with Pedro Pinto.


PINTO (on camera): Off the court you are known for being a fun guy. Everybody describes you as being charismatic. You are nickname has been mention, as The Joker. How would you describe yourself off the court?

DJOKOVIC: I think I would leave that to the people who are close to me to describe me as whatever they think. But I always try to enjoy my life when I'm off the court as much as I can. I try always to be very outgoing, very communicative with the people, very honest.

PINTO (voice over): One man who probably knows Novak better than anyone else is Davis Cup teammate and close friend Janko Tipsarevic.

JANKO TIPSAREVIC, WORLD NO. 33 TENNIS PLAYER: We have this tradition of Monte Carlo players party, where players are imitating and making fun of other players. And it just hit me that nobody did an imitation of him and he is imitating so many guys.

DJOKOVIC: We are talking about Serbia now. (UNINTELLIGIBLE) ball the other day. (UNINTELLIGIBLE).


They are not in good shape, so they want me to take over.


DJOKOVIC: I was laughing so hard, you can't even imagine. Because I was there, and I was being a part of the show.


PINTO (voice over): In my time of knowing Novak, I've only ever experienced his friendly and funny off course persona. But things were about to change.

DJOKOVIC: How about a football match?

PINTO (on camera): I'd love to play.

DJOKOVIC: OK, so we will-I'll get you a shirt and shorts.

PINTO (voice over): And that was that. I was about to see Novak's competitive sporting instinct up close, very close.


PINTO (on camera): You want to put me on the wing?

DJOKOVIC: Middle, yes.

PINTO: Have you looked at me?



PINTO (voice over): Things went pretty well until the final whistle, then it came down to a penalty shootout. Janko scored.


So did Novak. And then it was the turn of yours truly.

(On camera): Are you serious?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Don't even try to miss.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It will certainly be your head. Now come on.

PINTO (on camera): Really? The whole contest?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Go, go, go. It's all yours.


PINTO: I'm sorry. I'm sorry.

DJOKOVIC: It's OK, you can-

I was very disappointed when you missed the penalty. I cannot believe it. I mean, you are Portuguese, you are missing the penalty in that crucial moment. There was no pressure. There was no pressure at all.

PINTO: No just the fact that you said that- DJOKOVIC: You had to make it. You had to make it.

PINTO: -this is for Serbia.


PINTO: And the goalkeeper came out with an incredible reflex.

DJOKOVIC: That's true. That's true.

PINTO: But you are competitive, though. You don't want to lose at anything, do you?

DJOKOVIC: In most of the sports I am very competitive. You know, even when I play for fun. You know, I like to win. Who doesn't like it, you know? But still enjoy it at the same time.

PINTO (voice over): I'm pretty sure that much of Novak's success is down to his upbringing. Brought up in a country that was ravaged by war, he has a sense of perspective and realism that you rarely find in top sportsmen.

DJANA DJOKOVIC, NOVAK'S MOTHER: He's a very simple guy. He's very modest. He is not something-he never said anything like I want, a huge car, I want something like a house. No, he is not-never, he never was interested.

SRDJAN DJOKOVIC, NOVAK'S FATHER (mother translating): He never changed in about 15 years.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And having all of this success, and not just now, he had all of this three years ago, when he was 21. And just to-how can I say, like, keep it cool. And being like so down to earth and modest, is just a surprise for me. I cannot promise that I would be the same,

PINTO (On camera): Novak you haven't changed the way you are so far, promise me that if get to World No. 1, you are not going to change.

DJOKOVIC: I will have to disappoint you. I will change. And it is going to be really hard that we'll have another interview.


PINTO: You won't talk to me anymore. Too big for me.


Too big, just too big. But it will mean a lot when you do get there. And to be serious.

DJOKOVIC: If I get there.

PINTO: Promise me-when you get there, promise me you are not going to change the person you are.

DJOKOVIC: I promise.

PINTO: OK. I thank you, Novak, for your time.

DJOKOVIC: My pleasure.


CASH: A super player on the court and a great personality off the court.

OK, time for a break.

(voice over): And when we return we ask, what does a 19th century violin have to do with the modern game of tennis?


CASH: Welcome back to OPEN COURT coming to you from Paris and the home of Roland Garros.

Now here's a question for you: What do last year's champions Rafael Nadal and Francisco Skiovani (ph) have in common? Well, the answer lies in the strings.


DON RIDDELL, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: The spiritual home of tennis is often regarded as England, but perhaps the most significant development in the history of the game took place just across the channel on French soil, 136 years ago.

(On camera): This is a rather unassuming city street in southeast France, but behind these ancient walls you can trace the sport of tennis back to its earliest roots. And now some of the world's best players are lured here by the sweet sound of success.

Eric, hi. Great to meet you.

ERIC BABOLAI, CEO, BABOLAI: Good to meet you. Welcome.

RIDDELL: Thank you. I've never been to Lyon before. It's good to be here.

Yes. I mean, Lyon is known for its gastronomy, but it is also a place for something important for tennis, where my great-great grandfather made the first ever tennis string.

RIDDELL: How did BABOLAI come to life?

BABOLAI: It was a company working on the raw materials, the natural gut raw material, for all the products you can make out of this, like, sausage skins, like cat gut sutures and also musical strings. And that from musical string, that an English guy came to see my great- great grandfather to make, with him, a specific string; and that is how my great-great grandfather Pierre Babolai invented the first tennis string. That was back in 1875, just one year after the rules of tennis were established in Wimbledon, in 1874.

RIDDELL (voice over): So, there you have it. What began life sounding like this, now sounds like this. And looks, like that.

BABOLAI: That is Rafael's racket with Rafael's string. Something he really likes is the top spin. And one year ago he went to see us, with his uncle, and asked for a specific string that could improve again his top spin. And that is how this famous black RPM (ph) string was born, I mean, we did some prototypes. He liked it. We did a lot of tests.

When the ball hits the string, actually, the string are moving. Like a trampoline, that is all sewn together. And the special treatment makes so the strings are coming back into that position more quickly, so the ball is jumping out of there quicker. And so the effect is that it improves.

Rafael is a nice guy so when he went here and he tested it and he said, "Not bad."


That was meaning it is great. And then he tried it and he went to Australia and when to the other events with it. And then (UNINTELLIGIBLE) we want this back string, what is it about?

FOICA CANONICO, HEAD OF INTERNATIONAL GROUP, BABOLAI: The process is made up of three main parts. The first one is the raw materials, which is a highly density co-polyester material. The raw material comes into a extrusion (ph) machine that makes sure that the co- polyester is very, very dense. And then it comes out into a dye to make the unique shape, which is (UNINTELLIGIBLE), to increase the level of spin, specially developed for Rafael.

RIDDELL (On camera): Rafael Nadal is going to be taking 2,000 meters of this RPM Black string to Roland Garros, restringing 10 of his rackets every single day. That is quite a lot of work, so I'm going to be lending a bit of a hand.


And if he unexpectedly drops a set in the first round, or even goes out in the first round, now you know why.


CASH: I believe that string technology has created the most significant change in the game of tennis. Not necessarily for the better. It certainly has given the clay courters more power and more spin.

Well, speaking of clay courters, I'd better make a prediction for the French Open. The men, I can't go past Rafael Nadal. And for the ladies, they are certainly more open. Why don't I go with Aussie Sam Stosur? Well, that is all we have for this month. I hope you enjoyed our little window into the world of tennis. We're back in Paris next month. Until then, bye-bye.