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‘In a New York Minute’ with… Novak Djokovic

Novak Djokovic serves against Stanislas Wawrinka during their semifinal match on Day 13 of the 2013 US Open.
By Sandra Harwitt
Saturday, September 7, 2013

World No. 1 and men’s top seed Novak Djokovic is playing in his seventh straight US Open semifinal today and is looking to reach his third Grand Slam final of 2013, but he will have to get by Switzerland's Stanislas Wawrinka first. Djokovic has dropped only one set en route to the semis -- in his quarterfinal match against Mikhail Youzhny.

In the latest installment of “In a New York Minute,” the 2011 US Open men’s champion talks about his favorite New York restaurants, his friendship with actor Robert DeNiro, his interest in becoming a talk-show host in the future and much more. Once you’ve settled into your hotel, what’s the first thing you like to do in New York?

Djokovic: Well, I’m not staying at the hotel. I’m staying at a house at a friend’s place in Alpine, N.J., actually. I’m staying there for the last few years. New York is definitely one of the most amazing cities in the world. There are so many things to do. There’s always something to do when you go there -- that’s why they call it the city that never sleeps. When you are in the city, where do you like to spend time?

Djokovic: I love Central Park. That’s my favorite place there. I’m a nature lover. I usually come to the US Open with a big team, my girlfriend (Jelena Ristic) and a little dog, so we love to go walking around there and have a nice lunch at the Boathouse in Central Park. This is definitely something I look forward to. Have you had a chance to ride the New York subways?

Djokovic: I haven’t, but my girlfriend did, and she said she enjoyed it very much. So I might have that experience with her this year. Have you met any celebrities at the US Open or in the city? Who are some of your favorites?

Djokovic: DeNiro - Robert DeNiro. Yes, yes, we’re in touch for the last few years. We are friends ever since he came for the first time to watch me play at the US Open in 2007. Since then, I’ve seen him quite a few times, and he’s one of the owners of Nobu restaurant, so we’ve had a few times dinners there. I hope if he’s able to come with his family he can come watch me play, and we can spend some more time together. Are you into any U.S. sports and New York sports teams?

Djokovic: You know, I’m very much interested in going to see Yankee Stadium and to see the Yankees play, and also the Mets, but there’s never time because every day we are committed to our schedules. But the first available opportunity, I want to go. And I’d like to see the Jets football. I’m obviously a big sports fan, and I’d like to see what it’s like to have like 100,000 fans in a stadium. In tennis, we don’t get to experience that because we have maximum capacity of around 25,000 in Arthur Ashe or Davis Cup with 30,000. It just amazes me to see so many people gathered to support an athlete. You’re a good showman with your imitations and such. How would a Novak Djokovic one-man show go over with the public?

Djokovic: Maybe a talk show – “The Tonight Show” -- I can take away the spotlight from Jay Leno (laughs). The show business and the entertainment world attracts me, and I do see myself doing something in that maybe in the future. Tennis is my priority for now, so I’m going to stick with that; it’s what I do best. I think that tennis is a very respected sport worldwide because it has protected its image, but I feel like times have changed, and we need more entertainment. And I believe New York is the perfect stage for tennis because it brings the entertainment that lacks in our sport with the entertainers and the music. Do you ever take in a Broadway show?

Djokovic: Yes, yes, I have been. I watched “The Lion King” last year, and I went to see Cirque Du Soleil, one of their shows. I love it. It’s a unique experience. If you had to pick a fellow player to be your tour guide around New York, who would it be?

Djokovic: Fellow player -- Serena Williams because she spends time in New York, and she always talks about New York as the best place in the world. So I guess she would be the right guide. Do you have any favorite restaurants in the city?

Djokovic: Yes, Nobu. And there’s also one sushi place that a lot of tennis players know about that is called Nippon on 52nd and Lexington. I used to go to Smith & Wollensky steakhouse, but not anymore because I don’t eat anymore steaks. And there’s also one Serbian restaurant that is called Kafana, and it’s a very traditional name. It’s like traditional Serbian cuisine. I was there, and I was very impressed because, actually both times I was there, they had some music in the restaurant. That’s what I like to see in a restaurant, combining some great food with entertainment. Have you done a lot of shopping in New York?

Djokovic: Oh, my girlfriend loves that part. Nah, I’m kidding. We did go to Fifth Avenue, Saks Fifth Avenue. We’ve been around. SoHo, too. New York offers different varieties. It’s very urban, but different parts of the city offer different kind of cultures: a bit more artistic, a bit more modern, so that’s why spending a day there feels like a roller-coaster ride.