Feliciano Lopez: Djokovic is on another level now

Lopez has been a part of four Davis Cup wins. Lopez, who’s in India to play for Nagpur Orangers for the ongoing Champions Tennis League leg of Chennai, spoke about how Nadal needs to improve a little more for the upcoming season; Novak Djokovic’s exceptional form; Spain’s chances in Rio Olympics; and having yesteryear top players as coaches.

Feliciano Lopez has been a part of Spain's four Davis Cup wins.   -  R. Ragu

Feliciano Lopez may not have been as successful as his countryman, Rafael Nadal, but he has had his share of achievements. Lopez has been a part of four Davis Cup wins. Lopez, who’s in India to play for Nagpur Orangers for the ongoing Champions Tennis League leg of Chennai, spoke about how Nadal needs to improve a little more for the upcoming season; Novak Djokovic’s exceptional form; Spain’s chances in Rio Olympics; and the choice of having yesteryear top players as coach.

In Lopez’s opinion, Nadal has been better in the second half of the year. He said, “I think he is doing better. I think he has improved his level in the last three months. He was playing better in Asian tournaments — Beijing and Shanghai. After that his performances went a little bit higher than the rest of the season. This is a process. It is not going to happen in one or two days. He has to face the top players quite more now—Roger, Andy and Novak of course.”

 

“Rafa may have lost his confidence a little bit this year. It was very difficult to work on the situation, to be back in the top two or top three because the other three guys are playing great, especially Novak. 2016 is going to be a new challenge for him. I think he has to improve a little bit more and he is looking forward to 2016, he really wants to be there and he has shown that in the last few months after coming back from injuries and tough times that he went through.”

Lopez was not hesitant to accept that Djokovic was perhaps having the best time of his career. He said, “Novak is on another level right now. He has put his game in another level where everybody has found it difficult.”





The relationship between a player and coach is a matter of belief and trust. If a player doesn’t believe in his mentor’s stock and method, then the partnership is not going to work out. In the case of Rafa, he trusts his uncle Toni and Francisco (Roig). He thinks that they are the best people to guide him.


When asked whether Nadal needs to change his coach, keeping Thomas Johansson’s observations that it is the trend now for players to hire past top players to help them improve their game and guide them not only on the court but off the court too, Lopez felt it is very tough and something very personal.

“The relationship between a player and coach is a matter of belief and trust. If a player doesn’t believe in his mentor’s stock and method, then the partnership is not going to work out. In the case of Rafa, he trusts his uncle Toni and Francisco (Roig). He thinks that they are the best people to guide him.”

Rafael Nadal expressed surprise over the choice of hard courts at Rio Olympics, given the fact that most courts in Brazil are clay. However, Lopez was not surprised about the decision, stating that tennis courts at Olympics have always been hard except on a few occasions.

“I’m not surprised. Although I know that Rafa would love for it to be held on clay surface,” he laughed.

Speaking about Spain’s chances at Rio Olympics, Lopez said, “I have played a couple of Olympics but it is always a challenge, it is always different. In my case, it was really sad how we lost the men’s doubles to the French guys in semi-finals in London. It was very sad. Hopefully we have chance in Rio. I am very motivated to play another Olympic games.”

The Spaniard feels that currently it is very difficult for young tennis players to win big tournaments.

 

“For them to win big events right now they have to beat Rafa, Roger, Andy and Novak. For these young guys, for a 20-year-old, first of all they have to make an impact in the tour which is not easy because they still have to work on their bodies to be strong enough, they have to play a very long season and once they reach the top 100 or top 60s or 50s, they have to beat those big guys, which is sometimes very difficult. If you see the statistics, those big guys have won almost all the grand slams in the last five or six years.”

He added, “There are great guys like Thanasi Kokkinakis, Nick Kyrgios, Grigor Dimitrov, they are great players but to beat those top guys, it is quite impossible now.”

Talking about his own game, Lopez said he was quite happy with his career so far. “I just do my best. I reached the quarter-finals four-five times in grand slams. I have reached semi-finals, I have won few titles. I have won Davis Cup four times. I have had a great career. I am happy with everything I have achieved. Could have been better? I don’t know.”

Spain has had a torrid time in Davis Cup since ending up runners up in 2012. In 2014, they were relegated from the World Group. Lopez feels since the loss against Germany in 2014, everything went wrong for Spain.



After playing for 15 years, I have to take care of myself; I have to be very smart. I was trying to play fewer tournaments in the last two-three years. We have many players from our country inside top-100 but those players have not played Davis Cup because we were always there playing. Right now it is time for them to make a step forward, to play Davis Cup.


“Last time I played when Carlos Moya was the captain, we lost the first round against Germany and then everything went wrong. We went to Brazil, we lost. We thought with the team we had, it was enough. But we lost. Then next year after being 2-0 up, then something really strange happened. From being 2-0 on Friday, we went on to lose 2-3 to Russia. I think for my generation—for me, for Rafa, for Fernando (Verdasco), for David (Ferrer), we have been playing for ten years in a row now, Davis Cup and we have been very successful. I have won Davis Cup four times.”

He added, “After playing for 15 years, I have to take care of myself; I have to be very smart. I was trying to play fewer tournaments in the last two-three years. What went wrong is basically that the top players of the country did not play much. I think we have good players enough to be in the World Group even though we are not playing so much. We have many players from our country inside top-100 but those players have not played Davis Cup because we were always there playing. Right now it is time for them to make a step forward, to play Davis Cup which is completely different than any other event they have played.”

Talking about the future crops playing Davis Cup, Lopez said, “They have to play it now. It is time for them to take the responsibilities right now. We are going to play but not that much and because for us it is not our priority right now. Even though we love playing for the country, especially in my case, Davis Cup has been very special for me. I think it is a great competition.

I hope next year we can beat and then we can get back in the World Group. Once we are back in World Group, everything will be easier. We have been through tough times.”