x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Novak Djokovic in comfortable surroundings

New Australian Open champion has good company for the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships.

Novak Djokovic celebrates winning the Australian Open last month with his team of coaches, doctor and physicial trainer. Clive Brunskill / Getty Images
Novak Djokovic celebrates winning the Australian Open last month with his team of coaches, doctor and physicial trainer. Clive Brunskill / Getty Images

As tennis grows, reaching new corners of the globe, the intercontinental lifestyle of the players has led to a huge increase in staff.

Travelling coaches, a rare commodity in the 1970s, have now been joined by hitting partners, physical trainers, doctors and, at times, extra coaches for specific needs.

The dynamic is shifting, and more so for some players than others. Roger Federer still prefers to be on his own, but players such as Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic find comfort within their teams, which often include family members.

Djokovic, the winner of last month's Australian Open, is surrounded by his core team this week in Dubai - Marian Vajda, his coach, Gebhard Phil-Gritsch, his physical trainer, and Igor Cetojevic, a doctor who joined the entourage last July following the Serb's struggles with allergies and breathing problems over the years.

"I have a doctor in my team now that keeps up on all the things, for allergies and what I eat and things like that," Djokovic said after his Australian Open victory. "He's a great psychologist as well."

Ana Ivanovic, a former women's world No 1 and a childhood friend of Djokovic, spent some time with his team before the Australian Open and was amazed at how comfortable they were with one another.

"In Perth I had a chance to spend some more time with him and I could see also his team," Ivanovic said. "I saw how much fun they have and how relaxed they are. That's always something that's going to help you perform better because you're in a positive environment.

"That's something I've been lacking a little bit. Girls are a little bit different than guys. We are so much more stressed about everything. It was such a nice thing to see."

Djokovic has consciously picked a team he is at ease with. He had added Todd Martin, the former American professional, to his retinue as a second coach, but they parted company last year because Martin was unable to "understand" the Serb.

"I like to have fun and enjoy my life on and off the court," Djokovic said. "Everybody is physically fit, everybody is working and everybody is hitting the ball very clean and very strong. The difference is if you really can be mentally fresh, take the best out of every moment and use the opportunity that you have.

"I am very emotional. I like to be surrounded with the people that I care about the most. I have made a team of people who are with me not just in a professional way but in a friendly way as well.

"That makes it much easier for me to relax and to be myself … to be natural both on and off the court, and this is what it is all about in my opinion. All about having fun and embracing every moment because life goes too fast. We are still very young."

While Ivanovic was impressed by Djokovic's team, she said that at the moment she is satisfied with just a hitting partner and a fitness coach.

"I'm just really happy like this," she said. "It's going well. Yeah, it's been a quite a journey down that path with the coaches. At the moment, I'm just happy with the situation.

"I have a really good sparring partner and good team with me, a fitness coach. I'm just going to stick with it.

"In a way it is really good. I feel a lot of coaches try to control and they try to take charge.

"I just need someone to understand me as a person and understand what I need; someone who's going to be a little bit relaxed, because I'm such an intense person.

"I'm such a perfectionist and I over-analyse everything, so I need someone who's just going to make sure I chill out a little."

Roger Federer, the winner of 16 grand slams and 67 ATP Tour titles, is not too keen on having a big team around him. Last July, he hired Paul Annacone, the former coach of Pete Sampras, on a trial basis, but has not seen him since losing to Dokovic in the Australian Open.

"I don't think I would have been able to handle a whole career with so many people around me day in day out," said the Swiss, who was world No 1 for a record 237 consecutive weeks. "I just had a coach quite a number of times and then later I had a massage therapist.

"But then again it has become so much more physical. It's normal now to have a condition coach, a trainer and a coach.

"It's just interesting how things have evolved, but I would not do anything different in my career. I would rather practice one-and-a-half hours on court."

 

arizvi@thenational.ae

Tennis spotlight, s15