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01 October 2023

Dubai Tennis: Djokovic pays tribute to coach Becker

By happy coincidence their similar paths on the tennis court have an important parallel off it as well. (AFP)


Novak Djokovic previewed his defence of the Dubai Open title this week with a tribute to the role of his head coach Boris Becker in the spectacular advances made in the 14 months they have been working together.

During that time the Serbian has won two Grand Slam titles, taking his total to seven, and built an overwhelming lead as world number one - now nearly 4,000 ranking points, almost 45 percent more than his closest rival, Roger Federer.

Some of the credit, he claims, should go to Becker, a tennis legend whose experience in winning six Grand Slam titles and two Davis Cups with Germany have helped Djokovic cope with the psychology of continuously being at the very highest level.

"Especially in the second half of 2014 things started to get together and clicked for us in the relationship, on and off the court," Djokovic says.  "We never had an argument, we never had a fight.

"Now it's been a little bit over a year and I learn constantly something new from him from a psychological point of view, mostly because he has been in these situations before.

"So he understands what I go through, the challenges that I face, the obstacles that I need to overcome to win big titles and to be number one in the world, because he was there," Djokovic added.

By happy coincidence their similar paths on the tennis court have an important parallel off it as well. Both became fathers at a similar age, both while trying to maximise exceptional talent at its peak.

"We talked a lot about that and how that is influencing your tennis and your career, and how you can organise your life in order to get that flow moving," Djokovic revealed. "Obviously that gave him a new energy, new motivation.

"He tried to use it not as anything negative, as a distraction, or something similar, but as a source of happiness, a source of new motivation, something that gave him a way of going out there and being even better on the court.

"It requires obviously more people, and a better organisation because a baby is not easy to handle - but it is possible.

"It's a challenge but it's all a matter of organisation with your close ones and understanding what your priorities are, and the support that you get.

"Roger Federer's the best example of this. We are talking about one baby - and he's got four!"

 The only problems which emerged in the Djokovic's relationship with his head coach came with a slip of the tongue. Attempting to explain how Becker had contributed something new to his success, Djokovic managed instead to utter: "He contributed something new to my sex........."

This was a blooper from which he eventually recovered by saying: "I guess my PR's hands are sweating now," before correcting himself good-humouredly with: "as I say he contributed a lot - yeah!"

Djokovic concluded: "We still want to achieve a lot, Boris and I. We feel like it's only a beginning. We have won two Grand Slams together and played a final at Roland Garros, and so there is a lot of good success there, but of course there is always high expectations for him and for myself.

"It was the first time that he was involved as a coach on this high level. For some time he was not involved, so it was something which was exciting for him, something which challenged him to go back on to the tour.

"And it's great to see not just him, but other tennis legends being active on the tour today. It brings a new light. It brings something fresh to our tour."

Djokovic will Tuesday start his bid for a fifth title here, with his nearest rival being the second-seeded Roger Federer, who has a record six titles. Federer starts Monday against Mikhail Youzhny of Russia, twice a former finalist.

However Djokovic was also scheduled to play Monday in men's doubles. He is partnering a Serbian compatriot, Laslo Djere, in a first round match against Daniel Nestor, the Belgrade-born Canadian who has won eight Grand Slam men's doubles titles, and Rohan Bopanna of India, holder of the doubles title here.