Novak Djokovic admits his elbow is not 100 per cent healed but he commences his Australian Open campaign on Tuesday with a new service motion that puts less pressure on his injured joint and a positive outlook irrespective of his lower ranking or physical condition.
The six-time Australian Open champion has been hitting the practice courts at Melbourne Park — wearing a flesh-coloured sleeve to protect his elbow — joined by his coaches Andre Agassi and Radek Stepanek (see video above).
During his six-month hiatus due to injury, Djokovic worked with his team to tweak the way he hits the serve and while he is yet to test it in an official match capacity, he believes it makes him more efficient and it places less load on his elbow.
“It was obviously the part of my game that I had to address because of the elbow issues. I’ve worked on it for last couple months with Radek and Andre,” Djokovic told reporters in Melbourne on Saturday.
“Obviously the beginning, even though the service motion comparing to the old ones, it’s not entirely different, but at the beginning even those small tweaks and changes have made a lot of difference mentally. I needed time to kind of get used to that change, understand whether that’s good or not good for me.
“So far it’s been working really well. I had only Kooyong match where I could really try it out (defeated Dominic Thiem). I had a lot of practice sets. I’m happy with the new motion, you know, new service motion. I don’t want to say ‘new serve’, but new service motion.
“Some corrections, I guess, some improvements to the technique, which I think are allowing me to be more efficient with the serve, but also allowing me to release the load from the elbow, which is obviously something that I have to do because I have that injury.”
Djokovic was not sure he would be competing at the Australian Open but his doctors assured him he wouldn’t be causing any extra damage to his elbow by playing. They will be assessing further options for his injury following the opening Grand Slam of the season.
When asked if surgery remains an option, he said: “There are some other options, long-term options, that I will obviously revisit and address post-tournament. Right now I should focus on this.”
Djokovic is seeded 14 this fortnight as his ranking took a hit during his absence. The 30-year-old Serb, who begins his quest for a record-extending seventh Australian crown against American Donald Young, admits his approach to this Slam could be different with him being the hunter rather than the hunted.
“I still know what I’m capable of, and I believe in my own abilities to win against the best players in the world. I know that if I get myself to desired level of performance — mental and physical — that I can actually have a good chance to go far in the tournament,” said Djokovic.
“Now, whether my approach is different to this year’s Australian Open to other previous years, probably yes. It’s different circumstances. But it is exciting. Honestly, it’s a good place to be.”
DJOKOVIC’S POSSIBLE AUSTRALIAN OPEN PATH
R1 Donald Young
R2 Gael Monfils/Jaume Munar
R3 Albert Ramos-Vinolas (ESP x21)
R4 Alexander Zverev (GER x4)
QF Dominic Thiem (AUT x5)/Stan Wawrinka (SUI x9)/Roberto Bautista Agut (ESP x20)
SF Roger Federer (SUI x2)/David Goffin (BEL x7)/Juan Martin del Potro (ARG x12)
F Rafael Nadal (ESP x1)/Grigor Dimitrov (BUL x3)
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