When Novak Djokovic announced Boris Becker as his new coach at the start of the 2014 season, the news surprised tennis fans and pundits. How this partnership would work out became the topic of many a forum and tennis article, and when Djokovic lost in the last eight of the Australian Open, many wondered if the move had been a wise one.
However, a string of titles in North America and on the clay, and an emotional and brave display at the French Open, reassured Djokovic fans that the move was paying off. And with Wimbledon a few days away, the scene of Becker’s most famous moments, and one of Djokovic’s proudest, how successful the pairing up of the two six time slam champions is could very well be answered.
The decision to bring in Becker to the Djokovic camp was an inspired one, whatever the results, and much needed. Djokovic had not been able to sustain his 2011 slam results in 2012 or 2013, and had gone 1-4 in slam finals since his 3 slam winning 2011 season. Most worryingly, for fans, those slam final losses had lacked the fight Djokovic had put up in his heyday, and losses to rivals Nadal and Murray, players against whom he had once had the upper hand over, saw him outplayed and, at times, pushed around the court.
Pushed around the court is not how anyone would describe Boris Becker in his playing days. One of the most aggressive players to ever play the game, Becker was hoped to bring that aggression back into Djokovic’s game, the Serbian, on his day, being perhaps the most skilled of any of the current elite at turning defense into offense to take control of a point.
The results did not come immediately. At the Australian Open, Djokovic was edged out 7-9 in the fifth to Wawrinka, going down on a fluffed volley. While the loss was a disappointment- Djokovic was the three time defending champion- he had at least had the right intentions in trying to edge out a close match by coming to the net on the big points rather than grinding at the back of the court or waiting for an error from his nervy opponent, Wawrinka, one of the most aggressive in the game.
That net game of Djokovic was soon to pay dividends as he won titles over Federer in Indian Wells and Nadal in Miami and Rome. In all those matches, Djokovic’s net stats were impressive, his aggressive mindset seeing him stun Nadal in the final two sets of their Rome contest. It was hoped that this style would ultimately pay off in helping him complete the career slam at this year’s French Open, but Djokovic, inhibited by the the history he was chasing, could not bring his more aggressive game to the final.
Now Wimbledon has arrived, that aggression and the hiring of Becker could really pay off. Grass may not be Djokovic’s best surface, but he has a great record at Wimbledon of one win, one runner up placing and three semi-finals. His athleticism and ability to flatten out his strokes, and some well-chosen net play, could give him the edge over more natural grass courters such as Federer and Murray who will jump on any signs of passivity or doubt. It could also prove to be the decisive factor in an event that sees its top stars at their most vulnerable with Nadal’s knee issues, Federer’s ageing, and Murray’s poor run of form. Knowing he can come to the net and finish points will give Djokovic the confidence he has been missing at the business end of recent slams. And with Becker whispering in his ears that confidence should translate loud and clear on the grass courts of SW19.
It is certainly no secret that his slam history, particularly at Wimbledon, the slam Djokovic has said he most aspired to win, is why Becker has been brought in, and Djokovic’s pre-Wimbledon talk has been much about the German’s role when it comes to Djokovic’s title chances. After all, who is better to advise the Serb than the man who made history by winning the title at 17? And while the tournament was very different back then with the surface being faster and better suited to serve and volley, grass still rewards net play and aggression over defense, and a few choice moves to the net on big points could settle the difference.
Becker’s presence at the event will be no secret either, with the cameras expected to zoom in on him on crucial moments. Novak Djokovic and his fans will be hoping there will be plenty of shots of Becker come finals day with the highlight being one of the coach and his charge embracing in the player’s box after the final point has been played.
Commentary by Christian Deverille