Monday, 3 January 2011

The heat is on Djokovic

Courtesy: The Australian

Not a dozen strides from the front door of the first tournament of the year and the prospects are highly encouraging for Andy Murray. The British No1 had been doubled over, gasping for breath, while practising in the 39C (102F) heat of Western Australia and the coach on the next court could only watch and admire.

Marian Vajda has been the quiet, invigorating force behind Novak Djokovic since 2006, in which time the Serb has won the Australian Open, three years ago, reached two further grand-slam tournament finals and led his fledgeling nation to the Davis Cup, while Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer have played "After You Claude" with the game's biggest spoils.

In that, he is much like Murray. Both are players who can point to the fact that in most other periods they would have had many more trinkets on their sideboards.

Djokovic and Murray will be 24 in May, the age at which they become fully rounded as people and players. Vajda, a Slovak, thinks the next two years will be telling.

"I'm very impressed with what I see of Novak and Andy," he said. "They are strong, fit men with great attitude and spirit. They are reaching their maturity. To see them both out there today, in the heat, doing what they are doing shows me how much they want more successes."

This is the time of the year when no one can be sure where the edge they require will come from. Does playing indoors in Perth have an advantage over the humidity of Madras (Chennai)? Does Brisbane replicate Melbourne's conditions better than Doha?

The Middle East is where Nadal and Federer are sharing the court this week, with their lucrative fees for playing the ridiculously named World Tennis Championship in Abu Dhabi last weekend as further incentive. It really should not matter where they play.

When Djokovic took the Australian title he had won each match in the preceding Hyundai Hopman Cup in partnership with Jelena Jankovic. Clearly he hopes that a repeat is possible in the company of Ana Ivanovic, who looked exceeding lean and mean on her first winning appearance against Yaroslava Shvedova, of Kazakhstan, yesterday.

Djokovic, the world No3, who then defeated Andrey Golubev 4-6, 6-3, 6-1, is as eager to please as ever, wearing what looked like a purple marigold in his buttonhole at the official reception and indulging in a Vegemite taste test for his Australian hosts (he rolled it on his tongue and professed his love for it, which went down extremely well).

There is definitely something fresh in Djokovic's demeanour that augurs well for his prospects in 2011.

Ever since he produced what he described as a "stupid" performance against Tomas Berdych in the semifinals of Wimbledon last July, he has risen in stature and command of himself and his surroundings, not least at the US Open, where he saved three match points in the semi-finals against Federer and pressed Nadal all the way in the final.

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