For a world No 4, Novak Djokovic does not strike the sort of fear in the opponent's mind as much as those preceding him on the rankings ladder. Except for a surprise Australian Open victory in 2008, the Serbian's fitness has not been top notch and his career has been devoid of any major achievements on the big stage. Even the world No 1 Roger Federer has pointed out that he has retired from matches in three of the four grand slam events during his career. But Djokovic is determined to buck the trend and his titles in Dubai earlier this year and his home event, the Serbian Open, have been a step in that direction.
He now hopes the addition of Todd Martin to his coaching team will be the catalyst he needs to win another grand slam title. Whether it was the effect of the American's addition as a mentor last week or not but the Serb announced he meant business when he cruised into the second round with a crushing 6-3, 6-1, 6-3 victory over former top 10-player Ivan Ljubicic of Croatia. The fourth seed Djokovic has been trying to improve all aspects of his play from his attacking skills to his all-round game and believes twice grand slam runner-up Martin is the man to help.
"I was thinking about working with somebody that can help me out with my serve and my volley game," Djokovic said. "You know, somebody with a lot of different variety and somebody that has been on top of the men's tennis and somebody that has a positive attitude and great experience. "I think Todd is a perfect guy for that. He always looks for positives, and this is exactly what I need." Djokovic will also be looking to add some positives to his image with the local crowd by hiring the American after the unsavoury remarks he traded with current world No 5 and home favourite Andy Roddick in 2007.
Both traded sarcastic comments after Djokovic was accused of faking injuries to get two time-outs before beating Tommy Robredo in a long drawn out match and then winning over Roddick in the quarter-finals. After his win on Tuesday, Djokovic said Martin will work alongside his existing coach, Marian Vajda, and that the new arrangement was working well so far. "We have had a lot of hours on the court daily and of course fitness with my coach, really trying hard to work on some things to improve the game and get ready for the most important tournament in this period of the year," said the Serb.
"Todd's a person that can help me a lot in any way, using his experience. He brought freshness to our team, which is always welcome. "I just really look forward to it. So far the things have been functioning quite well for all of us." Djokovic is also planning his assault for next year's campaign at Melbourne Park by taking a cue from Federer's schedule of playing at the invitational Kooyong Classic to fine tune his preparations before the opening grand slam of the year.
Apart from missing the 2008 tournament with glandular fever, Federer has been a fixture at the leafy Kooyong Lawn Tennis Club since 2004, and has used it as a springboard to three Australian Open titles. The defending champion, however, has still not confirmed his participation and he has been making noises about cutting back on his workload after the US Open. "My latest conversation was about a week ago, and I'm given to understand that the likelihood of [Federer] coming is better than 50-50," the tournament director Colin Stubs said. "Obviously it would be the icing on the cake."
The tournament guarantees all players in an eight-man field three matches on the same outdoor hard surfaces used at Melbourne Park for the Australian Open. * Reuters