Melbourne: Novak Djokovic admits he has taken a gamble by making changes to his coaching team but is hoping for great things from his partnership with former Grand Slam champion Boris Becker.
The Serb will be without the support of Marian Vijda, his coach for the last eight years, when he begins his bid for a fifth Australian Open title against Lukas Lacko on Monday.
Djokovic was quick to emphasise, though, that bringing Becker on board had been instigated by Vijda, who wanted to spend more time with his family after 35 years travelling around the world.
“Whenever you make a change in life, it’s a potential risk, right? How is it going to affect you?,” Djokovic told reporters at Melbourne Park.
“But I don’t want to think from that perspective. I’m really excited about this cooperation. I’m excited about this partnership that I have with Boris that also has been approved and supported by Marian, who is still in the team.
“He’s still going to travel with me on certain tournaments that Boris is not going to be there. We’re going to spend a lot of time on preparation.
“They have a great communication. All I see is positive results, and hope for that obviously.”
Djokovic admitted that tennis had changed radically since Becker won six Grand Slam titles in the 1980s and 1990s but still thought there was plenty he could learn from the 46-year-old German from the “mental point of view”.
“Now the game is based on the baseline, longer rallies and so forth,” he said. “I believe with his great volleys, that aggressive kind of mindset also, from that point of view he can help me.”
Djokovic said the success Wimbledon champion Andy Murray has enjoyed since adding Ivan Lendl to his team had not inspired the decision to work with Becker.
With Roger Federer having brought Stefan Edberg into his camp, Japan’s Kei Nishikori working with Michael Chang and Goran Ivanisevic guiding Marin Cilic, employing former Grand Slam champions as coaches has become something of a trend.
“It’s really positive for the sport,” Djokovic added. “Obviously, they have won so many Grand Slams between themselves, they’ve all been world No. 1, they’ve been champions, they know what we all go through in particular moments...
“They can identify themselves through us.”
Djokovic, seeded second in Melbourne behind Rafael Nadal, has not looked in much need of coaching since he lost the US Open final to the Spaniard last September. The 26-year-old won 20 straight matches through to the end of the season to claim four successive titles, including a resounding 6-3, 6-4 victory over Nadal in the final of the ATP World Tour Finals.
If such a rich vein of form was not enough to make him a favourite to win a fourth successive Australian Open title over the next two weeks, Friday’s draw added another reason for punters to back the Serbian.
While Nadal, Federer and Murray are all placed in the same half of the draw, Djokovic’s first major challenge should come from Stan Wawrinka in the last eight, with David Ferrer his scheduled opponent in the semi-finals.
Djokovic said he was even ready for the high temperatures forecast for Melbourne. “Last couple of years, everything has been very all right with my health, with my physical state,” he said.
“I’ve been working a lot with my team, making sure I’m fit and ready to play best-of-five (sets) in extreme conditions.”
Meanwhile, Becker insists predictions that he and Djokovic might rival Maria Sharapova's one-match relationship with Jimmy Connors last summer are wide of the mark, and that despite a lack of coaching credentials, he can make a difference.
“I’ve been in 10 Grand Slam finals,” said the 46-year-old. “I know exactly what a player feels like when he's in the later stages of a tournament.
“He is not happy with six grand slams, even though that is an incredible record in itself,” Becker said. “He wants to win more and he is having a good team around him that tries to make him better.”