PARIS, May 26 (Reuters) - Novak Djokovic was destined for the number one spot and multiple grand slam titles even as a lanky teenager, his ex-coach said on Thursday while secretly hoping the Serb’s winning streak is ended by his new charge.
Riccardo Piatti worked with Djokovic when he was 17 and 18 and now watches on with pride as the French Open second seed threatens to sweep all before him, having gone on a 39-match winning streak since the start of the year.
The Italian, who now works with Djokovic’s projected fourth round opponent, Frenchman Richard Gasquet, reckons nothing has really changed in the Australian Open champion’s game to spark his charge to seven titles already this year.
“There is nothing different, it’s a normal thing that Djoko is now the best,” Piatti told Reuters in the players’ restaurant at Roland Garros.
“When we worked together I thought he could become number one in the world at the level of Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer because Novak always worked hard as a kid, with the family, and he was very focused and determined to be world number one.
“He battled so hard and is still fighting hard and I think he is deserving his success.”
Djokovic, who will replace Nadal as world number one if he reaches the final here, has been coy about a new gluten-free diet which he says has helped him stay fit and improve his game.
Piatti rejected any notion that the 24-year-old was taking risks with his health.
“It’s impossible, impossible, it’s a good thing that he is doing, it’s enough just to go to a nutrionist and ask what you should eat and they’ll explain it,” Piatti said as top names munched spaghetti nearby.
“But the problem with tennis players is that they are always travelling the world eating in restaurants and it gets difficult. Novak on the other hand is very serious from this point of view and it helps him, the results are following.”
Djokovic, yet to reach a French Open final, has a tough draw here and meets former U.S. Open champion Juan Martin Del Potro of Argentina on Friday with the dangerous Gasquet lurking.
“I hope Gasquet can win if they play,” admitted Piatti, expecting a boost from the home crowd to help his man.
“Djoko is definitely the player who is in the best form so it will be difficult but they’ve already played at Indian Wells, Richard played a decent match and I like it when Richard plays the big players, it boosts his level of play.”
Thirteenth seed Gasquet, briefly suspended in 2009 after testing positive for cocaine, takes on Brazil’s claycourt specialist Thomaz Bellucci on Thursday and both Piatti and part-time coach Sebastien Grosjean believe he is improving every match.
Retired Grosjean, a former top 10 player, said the controversy two years ago is long forgotten.
“At the moment I think he is feeling very, very good and I’m not only talking about tennis, he feels good about everything,” fellow Frenchman Grosjean told Reuters.
“With everything that has happened, he has won through with maturity. That story is now behind him. In the last few months he has rediscovered confidence in his tennis, he has rediscovered shots that he had forgotten.”
Additional reporting by Chrystel Boulet-Euchin; To query or comment on this story email firstname.lastname@example.org