Novak Djokovic believes that he and Boris Becker will form a great partnership and the world No2 says he is certain that he and the German legend will get along well.
Djokovic made a surprise announcement last week, revealing he has hired Becker as his head coach – a decision which has raised many eyebrows amongst pundits and fans. And while many predict that two type-A personalities like Djokovic and Becker may clash, the Serb says he’s not worried about that.
“Of course he’s a very strong personality, he’s German,” Djokovic said of Becker. “He’s very disciplined but also he has this fun side of him and he’s open-minded.
“I grew up in Germany, I basically spent between the age of 12 and 16 a lot of time in the Niki Pilic Tennis Academy, close to Munich. I took German in school.
“I understand how the German mentality works and I know it’s a lot of hard work and commitment but also he has this different side of him, he’s very open-minded, he’s a storyteller and I’m sure it’s going to be a very comfortable relationship for both of us.”
Numerous coaching changes have taken place amongst the top players in recent months and many have brought in ex-champions to help them step up their game.
Andy Murray seems to have started the trend, bringing in Ivan Lendl, who has guided the Scot to his first ever Grand Slam. Kei Nishikori is working with Michael Chang, Richard Gasquet has teamed up with Sergi Bruguera and now Djokovic is with Becker, but the 26-year-old Serb says his decision was not influenced by Murray’s success with Lendl.
“I think for Andy, Ivan Lendl did a great job. Since he came on board he won two Grand Slams and Olympic gold medal so he definitely helped him in his game. But my decision to start working with Boris hasn’t been inspired by the fact that Ivan is working with Andy,” said Djokovic.
Becker, who will be joining Djokovic in Abu Dhabi this weekend, where the Serb is the two-time defending champion, was famous for his serve-and-volley aggressive style and the German could help his new protégé improve that aspect of his game.
Djokovic says he’s already been approaching the net more this past season and says Becker will continue to help him work on that, insisting that Marian Vajda – his coach of eight years – will continue to play an integral part in his team.
“I think we have a great understanding between the three of us (Djokovic, Vajda and Becker), because Marian is also in the mix and that’s very important because he has worked with me for the last eight years,” said Djokovic.
“I won my first and 41st tournaments with Marian Vajda and it’s extremely important that he’s part of all these discussions and conversations and analysis of what I need to do on the court to improve and get at least one or two or five per cent better, as much as possible of course.
“I did work on my net game. I did work on approaching and using the opportunities that I build for myself with my groundstrokes, with my baseline play. Because I’m a baseline player but I wanted to stay closer to the line and come to the net and I was doing that really well but that was all the result of the work that I’ve done with Marian and I’m going to try to continue doing the same with Boris.
“We’re not going to make any major changes because I feel like I’m already a complete player.
“I’m not going to start serving and volleying because I’ve never done that. I’m going to put a mix here and there but my game is going to be the same with certain adjustments with the positioning on the court and that’s more or less what we’re going to do.”
While he joked that the main reason he chose to add Becker to his team was to improve his German language skills, Djokovic went on to explain: “He’s a six-time Grand Slam champion, he won so many trophies in his life, he was a former No1, and speaking to Marian in the last few months of the year, we both came to the conclusion that I’m going to need another legendary player that can eventually help me understand better what I need to do in particular situations, especially in the Grand Slam final stages. To give me that mental edge.
“He can identify with me because he was in those situations so he knows what I go through, so that’s what one of the biggest reasons he’s on board.
“So I believe the combination of Boris and Marian will be the winning combination for me and that I will manage to get better and improve my game and this mental strength in the most important tournaments and the most important moments of the match.”
Djokovic will kick off his MWTC campaign on Friday against the winner of the match between Murray and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga.
It’s possibly the most anticipated moment this weekend at the Mubadala World Tennis Championship.
The world will be watching when Andy Murray steps on the court to take on Jo-Wilfried Tsonga today (Thursday). It will be the Wimbledon champion’s first appearance since a Davis Cup showing in September, after which he ended his 2013 season prematurely due to injury.
Following minor back surgery and weeks of rehab, Murray is finally ready to join the world’s elite at the invitation- only event in Abu Dhabi, to test himself ahead of next month’s Australian Open.
“I feel pretty good. I trained well, prepared well for the season. I did my rehab as best as I could. But we won’t really know until I start playing matches how close I am to being 100 per cent and that’s what I hope to get out of playing in Abu Dhabi,” Murray tells Sport360.
The 26-year-old Scot spent the last few weeks in Miami going through what could be described as a torturous fitness regime.
Horror stories of his time on the Versa-Climber – an exercise machine that mimics the experience of continuous climbing – his extreme workouts and hot Bikram yoga sessions are a common outcome of his preseason training each year but Murray admits that things were a bit more frustrating this time around because of his injury.
“The tennis side of things was hard because obviously I didn’t play for a number of weeks. So that’s a little bit frustrating because when you haven’t played, you have pretty high expectations of what you should be able to do and you need to keep reminding yourself that you need to be patient,” he says.
“The pre-season went well, I didn’t have any setbacks with my back but the tennis at times was a little bit frustrating.”
Although no one wants to sit out a big chunk of the season nursing an injury, the break Murray was forced to take allowed him to mentally switch off from the grind that is the ATP World Tour.
Following his emotional Wimbledon victory, a few months break did have a few perks.
“I think in some ways just being in the same place for a long time, helped. I got to spend five or six weeks at home, and five or six weeks in Miami – I have a place there – so it was nice just being in familiar surroundings,” he admits.
“I feel pretty fresh mentally going into the new season. That’s one of the things when you’re on the tour and you don’t have any breaks, there’s a lot of travelling, you go to the same tournaments, the same places and that can become quite repetitive.
“So it was nice in some ways to be away for a couple of months and hopefully, I will be nice and fresh for the new season.”
The two-time major champion was voted the BBC Sport Personality of the Year last week, in recognition for his Wimbledon triumph that ended a 77-year British drought in the men’s singles tournament at SW19.
The Scot’s relationship with the British public and media has not always been easy but after he made the final at Wimbledon in 2012 and followed it up with a gold medal showing at the London Olympics, Murray’s home crowd started to come around.
His emotional speech after his final defeat to Roger Federer in 2012 and his triumph at the All England Club in 2013 have turned him into a hometown hero and the award he just won is testament to that.
“It was nice at the end of the year to finish it like that. It’s obviously different than what you achieve on the court because it isn’t something decided by the public. So to get the support of the public after a year like I had was very nice,” said Murray.
One man who has been a huge factor in Murray’s success over the past two years is his coach, Ivan Lendl, who captured the last of his eight Grand Slams back in 1990.
What started off as a surprise and odd partnership, turned out to be as fruitful as a coaching relationship can get, with Murray getting the monkey off his back and winning his first major nine months into their union.
“I think the fact that he’s been through the same ups and downs that I’ve had – I had never won a Grand Slam when I started working with him and he was the only other person that had lost his first four Grand Slam finals,” Murray said of Lendl.
“So having him in my corner for that, to talk me through the emotions and how to come out the other side of it, made a huge difference. I have a tremendous amount of respect for everything that he’s achieved on the court so all the things that he says, you’re going to listen to a bit more intently.”
It seems the success of the Murray-Lendl combination has set off a series of shock hires amongst some of the top players as teaming up with an 80s star appears to be the latest trend.
World No2 Novak Djokovic recently added Boris Becker to his team, and Murray says the German will be an exciting addition to the tour.
“Any time you can have past great players involved in the sport, it’s good for tennis. Obviously now we just have to wait and see how it works out.
“To see what changes Becker can bring to Novak’s game and how it will help him. Any time you can get players like that… that involved in the sport… is a good thing.
“I think we’ll see whether or not it is a trend. Right now, there’s a lot of players involved that have won Grand Slams. Michael Chang is working with (Kei) Nishikori now, obviously myself and Lendl, Becker and Djokovic, (Sergi) Bruguera is now working with (Richard) Gasquet… so yes it’s probably happening a bit more and more but there’s still coaches out there that have never played, like Nadal’s uncle (Toni Nadal), that works extremely well for him. It’s just about what works best for each individual player.”
After Abu Dhabi, Murray will head to Doha for his official season kick-off and while the Brit says he’s feeling healthy, he’s being cautious about setting goals for 2014 just yet.
“I think the number one priority right now is to get back on the court playing matches and to feel healthy,” he said. “And once I get back on the court and I’m playing matches and I’m coming through them okay then it’ll be a lot easier for me to decide what I’m going to try to achieve this year.
“Because practice and training have gone well but until you’re actually playing matches, you never know how exactly you’re going to feel and that’s why Abu Dhabi will be a great preparation for me.
“So I can see how my game is and how my body’s feeling against the best players in the world.”
Jo-Wilfried Tsonga is pain-free and ready to take on the best in the world this weekend in Abu Dhabi, and the Frenchman says he is certain he can bring his A-game in 2014, with the help of his new team.
Tsonga, who suffered a knee injury at Wimbledon last year which forced him to miss the US Open, had ended his coaching relationship with Australian Roger Rasheed last August and has hired French duo Nicolas Escude and Thierry Ascione as his new joint coaches.
And the world No10 believe his new entourage can assist him in achieving his ultimate goal – winning a Grand Slam.
“I’m feeling good. I haven't had any pain in my knees for four weeks now,” Tsonga told reporters in Dubai on Monday, ahead of his first match of the Mubadala World Tennis Championship on Thursday.
“I changed my staff, so I have a new team with me. For a couple of weeks now we’ve worked on my body and my tennis. Everything is going well. I’m sure I will be a better player than last year, so I’m very excited about the new season.
“I made this (coaching) choice just because I really believe that it will be positive for me. With my new team I really believe I can do it (win a Grand Slam).”
Tsonga opens his Abu Dhabi campaign against world No4 Andy Murray, who will be making his first appearance since a Davis Cup showing last September having been sidelined with a back injury that prompted him to undergo minor surgery.
“I’m very excited to play Andy on the first day," the Frenchman said. "It’s going to be a special match for him because it’s going to be the first one since he got injured. I just expect to see how my level is and if I’m fit or not.”
Tsonga, a former world No5, has slipped to No10 in the world following a season that started well with an Australian Open quarter-final and a first Roland Garros semi-final, but was later plagued by injury.
The charismatic 28-year-old exploded onto the scene when he made the Australian Open final back in 2008, but is yet to reach that stage at a major since then.
“For me it’s important to look back and see I’ve already got to a final and to be confident and really believe that I can do it again and maybe do even better than what I did in 2008,” said Tsonga.
“I prepared really well these last couple of weeks. I’m very confident.”
Tsonga has managed to beat each of Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic, Roger Federer and Murray in Grand Slams but it’s those four players who have dominated the majors in recent years.
The Frenchman however says he's glad to be playing in this era, claiming he’s been reveling in the thrill of the chase.
“I think it’s better because for me it’s a bigger challenge,” said Tsonga. “Roger, now I don’t know what he dreams about. I dream to win my first major, he’s got already 17.
"Or even Rafa or Novak they won everything. Maybe Novak needs Roland Garros or something like this but they’ve won everything. So for me, it’s even more exciting than for them because I haven’t won a major and that’s my goal.
“It’s never easy. When we play tennis, it’s not about second. It’s not like if you run a 100m. So you never know really how far you are. But the only thing I know is that I did it in the past, I was really close and I did a lot of effort these last couple of weeks on my practice. I still believe I can do that.
“Impossible is nothing – like my brand (adidas) says," Tsonga added. "I know I still have the passion. It’s what makes me dream about majors.”
Looking back to his special run at Roland Garros last summer, where Tsonga carried the hopes of his home crowd all the way to the semis, the Frenchman says it gave him a chance to prove he is just a good a claycourter as he is on any other surface.
“It was special, especially that at the beginning of my career the French people said that I’m not a clay court player," he said. "So for me it was a good chance just to say ‘I can play and you can count on me on clay courts too’.It gave me a lot of confidence and I think I will play better and better on this surface.”