LONDON (Reuters) - Novak Djokovic has always been a player willing to try anything and anyone to improve his game and he now hopes that the presence of Goran Ivanisevic in his coaching team will help keep him one step ahead of the chasing pack.
The 2001 champion was courtside on Monday when Djokovic began the defence of his Wimbledon title by impressively beating Germany’s Philipp Kohlschreiber 6-3 7-5 6-3.
Having previously worked with Boris Becker and Andre Agassi, Ivanisevic is the third Wimbledon champion he has hooked up with.
“He’s someone I’ve always looked up, he was something of a hero of mine and we’ve been friends for a long time - though usually on the opposite side of the net,” Djokovic said of Ivanisevic, who Djokovic said he helped, as a wide-eyed teenage hopeful, to that 2001 triumph by delivering him snacks during his pre-tournament training camp.
“It didn’t take too much time for us to really feel comfortable one next to another. I spoke to (coach) Marian (Vajda) and we agreed that we were looking for someone who was a former champion, someone who knows how I feel on the court, someone that has been through that.
“It was a very successful period with Boris. We’re hoping we can have the same with Goran.”
Djokovic, 32, came into the tournament having decided not to play a grasscourt warm-up event and he must have been a little edgy having lost to Kohlschreiber in straight sets on the hard courts of Indian Wells earlier this year.
The 35-year-old German was playing his 15th successive Wimbledon, but in eight of those he had gone out in the first round.
Djokovic made an inauspicious start, double-faulting his first point en route to being broken, but quickly found his feet to reel off the next four games and win the first set 6-3.
The two men then traded heavy blows in crowd-pleasing rallies not often seen these days on the grass but the champion gradually took command to take the second set 7-5 and cruise quickly through the third.
“Opening round matches are always tricky, he has a lot of experience and beat me this year,” Djokovic said. “He can play good quality tennis, he takes the ball early, so it was a great test for me.
“The break in the first game wasn’t the start that I was looking for but I think I came with the right intensity. I answered back really well and played a pretty good match, it was a good quality.”
Djokovic arrived in London this as number one in the world and on the back of a stellar 12 months but said when he walked out on Centre Court he took time to reflect on how different things were a year ago when, still on his way back from elbow surgery, he was unsure of himself.
“I did kind of go through the feelings, rewind those memories, the last championship point against Kevin Anderson last year in the final,” he said.
“Last year I dropped out of top 20, I was still struggling coming back from injury and to find the desired level of tennis. Approaching this tournament now it’s been different for me. I think I have a bit less pressure, more confidence in my game.
“Last year it was just huge to win this trophy. This is the biggest tournament in the world and to win here meant a lot for me. I felt a huge relief and after that I started to play my best tennis.
“Today if felt great being the first to play on Centre Court... it is the cradle of our sport and it has a special place in my heart and my career.”
Reporting by Mitch Phillips; Editing by Ken Ferris and Alison Williams