Don't think men's world No 1 Novak Djokovic can possible improve his game? Think again, says his coach, Marian Vajda.
Novak Djokovic 'is committed to be No 1' in the new year
ABU DHABI // A year ago, the coach Marian Vajda wanted his star pupil to improve his serve and his forehand.
On the eve of the Mubadala Abu Dhabi World Championship, which Djokovic is playing for the first time, Vajda has identified another area where the Serb star can improve his game: at the net.
"This season, I would push him to be more aggressive and go to the net with volleys," Vajda said Tuesday night.
"The tennis now is not slow, but there are a lot of rallies; the guys are very fit and it's tough to get to the net. But if you can be more aggressive at the beginning of a point, it can be very helpful."
Vajda, a Slovak and Djokovic's coach since 2006, when the player was 19 and ranked 87th in the world, conceded the 2011 season "was a fantastic year. I didn't expect the streak that he had" to open the season, 41 consecutive victories.
Vajda said the pieces fell into place just when Djokovic was beginning to doubt himself.
"Novak is committed to be No 1. He was before, he is now and for the future," Vajda said.
"He was working for that for a long time, and even when he had a period of time when he didn't believe in himself, he still knew what he wanted.
"He lost badly to [Jurgen] Melzer in the quarter-finals at Roland Garros in 2010, lost the Wimbledon semi-final badly to [Tomas] Berdych and he started to realise he had to improve or he could forget about No 1.
"He was losing because he had no serve and forehand, those key shots. His serve was terrible in 2010; we can say it openly. Eliminating bad habits and better technique helped, and his confidence grew. He improved physically, and with confidence comes winning, too."
Vajda, 46, and a former professional, conceded that Djokovic faded in the final months of the year, in part because of a shoulder injury he aggravated when he played Davis Cup a few days after winning the US Open.
He believes his pupil is healthy again, and is looking forward to his first Abu Dhabi tournament.
"It's a great tournament before the start of the season," said Vajda, who spent part of his first day in the UAE on the golf course.
"It's amazing to get so many quality players to play three matches, if you get three.
" I think this can help him a lot because it's the best practice matches you can get, without too much pressure. It's fantastic."
Djokovic plays Gael Monfils on Thursday at Zayed Sports City, and the winner faces Federer in the semi-finals on Friday, a session which is sold out.
Vajda hopes Djokovic can continue his stay at the top, but he wonders how many long runs at No 1 will be possible in the future.
"But my philosophy is, if you can finish No 1 once, you can do it again," he said.
Children's tennis clinic takes place this week, a6