Tennis-Becker gamble pays off for Djokovic
LONDON, July 7
LONDON, July 7 (Reuters) - When Novak Djokovic jumped on the super-coach bandwagon and hired Boris Becker, the appointment came straight out of left field and appeared to be a baffling one.
Three-times Wimbledon champion Becker had never shown any inclination towards coaching, was neck deep with his media and business commitments and as a classic serve-and-volleyer, his playing style could not have been more different to Djokovic's baseline power game.
But just as Ivan Lendl found the lure of working with Andy Murray hard to resist, Becker was intrigued by the challenge of working with a man who, like him, owned six grand slam titles.
Six months later Djokovic hit the jackpot when he finally ended months of torment and frustration by edging out Roger Federer in a pulsating five-set Wimbledon final on Sunday for his seventh grand slam title.
Despite the joyous scenes that unfolded in the players' box, with the Serb clambering up to hug his German mentor, many were left wondering what exactly Becker's impact had been.
Whereas Federer provided plenty of evidence of why he too had hired a grand slam champion - in his case Becker's great rival Stefan Edberg - by approaching the net 67 times and winning 78 percent of his serve-and-volley approaches during Sunday's battle, Becker's influence was less tangible.
It was nevertheless omnipresent in Djokovic's mind.
"He knows exactly what kind of challenges I have to face mentally to play big tournaments and big matches," a bleary-eyed Djokovic, wearing a navy polo shirt, chinos and dark grey loafers, told reporters at the All England Club on Monday.
"He was so successful at Wimbledon... so of course he understands the movement and the kind of game plan that can be successful.
"What we talked about most is how to be mentally strong ... trying to prepare myself psychologically for what is expected on court... especially in the critical moments of which there were many yesterday.
"Boris contributed mostly from the psychological perspective because of his broad experience," added Djokovic, who before Sunday had lost five of his previous six grand slam finals.
The relationship, however, did not gel immediately despite Djokovic naming Becker as his head coach and relegating Marian Vajda to a part-time role even though the Slovakian had guided him to through 41 title triumphs.
"Because of the difference in our characters and differences in our approach, it took time to find the right chemistry. Last couple of months were very successful and Marian Vajda contributed to that," said the 27-year-old.
"It wasn't part of the schedule for Marian to be in Rome (in May) but I considered that tournament to be a turning point in my relationship with Boris because Marian graciously accepted to be there and spend time together with Boris.
"We won that tournament, the three of us, and it was a time when I started feeling much closer to Boris and understood what message he's trying to convey to me.
"There were a few things he said that were important but most of all it is the mental toughness and the self belief.
"He believes in my game, he knows that I have the game to win this tournament and I just needed to hang in there and stay tough regardless of what I go through on the court."
The sheer relief at beating a rival who Djokovic called "the most loved tennis player in the world" was palpable on Monday afternoon as the beaming Serb wandered around the vast grounds of the All England Club exchanging high fives and handshakes with many a passerby.
His demeanour was in total contrast to the player who had trudged off Centre Court at the end of an electrifying fourth set after Federer had saved match point at 4-5 down to level the contest at two sets all.
"I needed some time to refocus and forget about what happened in the fourth set, forget about the missed opportunities and move on," said the Belgrade native.
"I had this positive encouragement to say to myself, and even though you go through different emotions during such an important match and there are times when you have doubts, especially after the fourth set the disappointment that brought with it the fear and all these different demons inside.
"When you start fighting them that's the biggest fight that you can have. That's what I experienced and I managed to have my conviction stronger than my doubts in this moment and managed to push myself the very last step to win the trophy."
The victory was not only worth 1.76 million pounds ($2.96 million), it also sparked a week of celebrations as it elevated him back to the world number one ranking on Monday - just two days before his marriage to his long-time girlfriend Jelena Ristic.
No wonder he was licking the red icing off the number 1 shaped cake he was presented with on Monday.
"This is my passion, this is my life and this is something that I always wanted to do. I feel it is a destiny for me to play tennis," he said.
"I don't take tennis as a job, as a commitment or as an obligation. I take tennis as love and passion and something I enjoy doing. The inspiration I have just having a racket in my hand is remarkable." ($1 = 0.5956 British Pounds) (Editing by Rex Gowar)
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