By Abhishek Mehrotra
Tipsarevic initially caught the eye with his flashy on-court persona, tattoos and the ever present glasses. More recently though, the Serb has turned heads with his results - rising to ninth in the ATP rankings and becoming a regular fixture in the latter stages of Grand Slams.
About to embark on the Asian leg of the tennis circuit, Tipsarevic sat down with ESPNSTAR.com for a wide ranging interview. Here is Part 1 of our exchange. Part 2 will be published on Saturday.
Q: How did you get interested in tennis?
A: At the age of six and a half- seven, I was interested football. But I was a very energetic kid so my parents decided football was not enough and I started playing tennis in my primary school in the yard.
I was talented with the ball and racket, so pretty soon after that, I made the decision to stick to tennis. We didn't take it seriously until I started making it big on the international scene. I was always the best in Serbia in my age group - but once I started winning tournaments outside Serbia, the Orange Bowl and other tournaments - my family started thinking more seriously that tennis might be my calling.
Q: Did you feel any pressure to succeed while growing up?
A: I should have felt a lot of pressure because I'm not from a very wealthy family and I'm from a country that has had a lot of political problems in the past. But I never did - I had a very happy childhood and even though I was part of two wars in the past 10-15 years [Serbia has had a wildly turbulent political history], I never felt that this part of my life affected my tennis and I feel very lucky for that.
Q: Why do you think Serbia has produced so many world-class players in recent years?
A: There is no reason. It's just pure luck, but the main things are the hard work of individuals and the support of parents. We didn't and we still don't have the infrastructure to support tennis at the level it should.
Ana Ivanovic won a Grand Slam and was world number one. Nenad Zimonjic won Wimbledon a number of times and was world number one [in doubles], Jelena Jankovic was world number one, [Novak] Djokovic was world number one and has won so many Grand Slams.
Viktor Troicki was world number 12. I've been top 10 for a year now - so I just hope people in the Serbian Tennis Federation understand that if nothing is done, if some money doesn't start flowing into the pockets of people who need to create the infrastructure and invest in young talent - this generation will never happen again.
Q: But why do you think that is the case. Why is the support not there?
The simple thing is because we don't have a national tennis centre. Serbia won the Davis Cup two years ago, and the girls are in the final of the Fed Cup this year. These are results of countries like United States or Australia or Spain or France. These are countries who have over a 100 years [of tennis history] and we managed to produce these in the last 5-10 years. There are some improvements - players get some kind of support from the federation which we never did, but it's still far from where it should be.
Q: Speaking of the Davis Cup, how do you rate the experience of playing in it with that of playing in Grand Slams?
A: I love the Davis Cup more than I love Grand Slams. It's a team competition and it's a different kind of pressure.
I don't think I'm a bigger patriot than Djokovic or Troicki or anybody else who plays for the national flag. I love my country a lot, but I love it a normal amount. I play better because I play only for Serbia. There's something about the Davis Cup and other team competitions that bring out the best in me - especially when I'm playing at home.
Q: A few years ago, you said grass is your favourite surface but your best results in the Slams have come on hard courts in recent years. Has that changed your pick?
A: I [still] enjoy playing on grass courts the most, but over the last two years I've produced the best results on hard courts - whether it be indoors or outdoors.
Tennis has evolved so much as a sport and to be on top you cannot base your game on a certain surface or a certain period of the year. I thought of myself as somebody who can never play on clay, but half of my points this year have come on clay.
I played the final in Gstaad, won Stuttgart and Dusseldorf, playing the second week of the French Open, playing semis of Madrid, beating Djokovic the world number one. A personal feeling of mine is that I enjoy playing on grass the most, but it doesn't matter. People said Ferrer can't play on grass or hard courts, and he's playing better than ever. People said that Murray can't play on clay - he played semis of French Open last year and won 2000 points on the clay court swing in Europe.
Q: You mentioned how the top guys are able to play well on all surfaces. Is that because surfaces have become more similar in nature or is it because players have become more well-rounded?
A: I think the top three or four players have set the bar so high, that in order to follow up, you have to play well on all surfaces. Tennis is more about fitness than ever before and it's become more professional than ever before.
You have guys now, and I'm looking at myself, travelling with whole teams of people - with a physio, a fitness coach, a tennis coach. You just need to make tennis a way of life and you're trying to improve in every aspect of your life outside the tennis court to become a better player. It's way beyond just hard practice on the court because that's not enough to be top 10, top 5 or world number one.
Q: How do you prepare for a match against the top players? Is it any different from when you're playing others?
A: It's not a big difference. The only difference is that before the match - you need to prepare yourself to be mentally strong for the three, four or five hours you need to spend on court. Their oscillations during the match are minimal - and you need to be strong from the first point to the last because they're not going to give you anything.
Q: You were so close to making the semi-final of the US Open, but lost in five sets to David Ferrer. How do you cope with a loss like that?
At first it was disappointing. It was a big chance - Rafa [Rafael Nadal] didn't play, so somebody from that part [of the draw] - [John] Isner or Ferrer or me would pass into the semi-final. But later, I didn't look at it that way.
It was disappointing, but I didn't screw up. David played better than me at the important moments. This is tennis. It was really disappointing for the first two days, I had some nights when I didn't sleep well. But this is how it should be. If you want to become a true champion losses like this should really hurt. They should leave a small scar, but they should not affect your well-being.
Q: Are you happy with your performances this year? And what's the goal for the rest of 2012?
A: My goal for this year for qualifying for London is far from over, which is why the Asian swing is so important for me because every tournament counts. So I will do everything, but I will not let my loss to a big player like David Ferrer affect my final goal of finishing in the top eight.
I'm not happy that I didn't manage to make the next step on the Grand Slams - this was my big goal. I wanted to make the semis of at least one. But there's always next year. Tennis is a tough sport, but it's good in a way that if you don't use your chance, there's always the Grand Slam.
But the toughest year for a player is the first year in which he has broken into the top ten, because he doesn't have the element of surprise any more. Last year I came from 49 to 9and players who are not following the ranking see me at 9 - they're like ‘whoa, when did that happen?'
But being able to sustain all these guys - like Isner, [Nicolas] Almagro and [Milos] Raonic - to keep these guys behind me, and being in a position to attack [Jo-Wilfried] Tsonga and [Tomas] Berdych in front of me - this is something I'm really proud of. And this is a new experience for me, especially at this age of 28. So the fact that I didn't fall below nine is something I'm proud of.
Q: You talked about age just now. There is a general feeling that it's the older players who're dominating the sport more - do you agree with that and why do you think this is the case?
A: Of course I agree with that - it's statistics. The average age of the top 100 players is something like 27 which is crazy compared to a few years back.
I don't want to say the younger generation is spoilt. The other explanation [for older guys dominating the circuit] is that tennis has become more about fitness than ever before. So the older guys like me who have experience of how it is - not all of us are like Nadal or Djokovic who came into the top five at age 20 and stayed there.
But having the experience and knowledge I have - even though we think our season and career are so long, I'm aware it's not. It goes by in a heartbeat and you turn around and wonder what happened.
So the players at the top - Berdych, me, Tsonga - we realise how good our positions are right now - we're trying not to let it go. Trying to stay injury free - because you look at guys like [former world number one Juan Carlos] Ferrero, [Nikolay] Davydenko and you realise how difficult it is to come back to the top. So I'm trying to hold on to this position as long as I can.