x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Djokovic’s hire of Becker as coach coming under increasing scrutiny

Novak Djokovic needs to win Indian Wells or Miami to convince skeptics about his decision to bring German tennis legend Boris Becker on board as coach.

Novak Djokovic hits a return against Victor Hanescu at the Indian Wells Masters on March 9, 2014.  Michael Nelson / EPA
Novak Djokovic hits a return against Victor Hanescu at the Indian Wells Masters on March 9, 2014. Michael Nelson / EPA

Novak Djokovic always knew he was taking a gamble with German legend Boris Becker as coach, but the Serbian wanted fans and critics to wait for “half a year” before making any assessments.

Unfortunately, those pleas have gone unheard. Djokovic was forced to defend his decision after the five-set loss to Stanislas Wawrinka in the quarter-final of the Australian Open, his earliest defeat at a grand slam tournament since the 2010 French Open, which brought a 28-match winning streak to an end. He had to do the same after being knocked out by Roger Federer in Dubai.

“Look, I think people are expecting a little bit too much, expecting me to play with my left hand,” he said after the loss to Federer.

“Everybody has been asking me every day, ‘What have you been improving?’. We are working on certain details in my game, but it’s nothing significant that I’m going to change. I’m not going to play serve and volley.”

But he has been trying to and that, perhaps, might be worrying for his fans. A pre-Becker Djokovic would never serve-volley at 8-7, 40-30 down in the fifth set of a grand slam showdown.

Instead, he would have parked himself on the baseline and forced his opponent to earn the point. But against Wawrinka, the Serb attempted a volley and missed.

Djokovic attempted and missed a few volleys against Federer as well and, for the first time since 2006, he arrived in Indian Wells without a title in the first two months of the year.

To be fair, he has played only two events, but then he has been following this schedule since 2011 and, in two of the past three years, he had won both the Australian Open and Dubai.

Questions are being raised, especially since Djokovic was on an impressive winning streak when he announced his partnership with the German legend. After losing to Rafael Nadal in the US Open final last year, the world No 2 had gone on to collect titles in Beijing, Shanghai and Paris before defeating the world No 1 Nadal to win the ATP World Tour Finals in London.

Last week, Becker’s former coach and manager Ion Tiriac expressed his doubts publicly in an interview with German newspaper Bild.

“I don’t know if Boris Becker is a good coach,” Tiriac said. “Actually, I don’t even know if he is a coach, or maybe only someone trying to become a coach.

“A coach should be someone who knows players more than they know themselves, who guides them and their thoughts, who gives the right amount of help, enough to make him indispensable. Look at what [Ivan] Lendl has been doing with Andy Murray. That’s serious work. Ivan has managed to work on Andy’s psychological side extremely well.”

Djokovic is confident Becker can do the same for him, but if he returns from the United States without the Indian Wells or Miami title, he might have a difficult time convincing even his staunchest of allies.

arizvi@thenational.ae

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