Tuesday, 1 February 2011

Novak's 2nd coming never in doubt

In the three years between Novak Djokovic's two grand slam titles the Serb endured his fair share of criticism and periods of self-doubt, but the man who guided his early career always knew he would come good again.

Djokovic's stunning run to the Australian Open title which culminated in a straight-sets thrashing of fellow 23-year-old Andy Murray removed the "one slam wonder" tag that had began to burden him since his 2008 success in Melbourne.

While much was made of Murray's need to win his first major, Niki Pilic, the man who launched Djokovic's career, said Sunday's triumph was an equally important breakthrough for his former charge.

"It was a huge moment for Novak's career," Pilic, who runs the tennis academy in Munich where a 12-year-old Djokovic arrived from troubled Serbia, told Reuters.

"There was a lot of focus on Murray because he has yet to win a grand slam but equally for Novak it was a vital match because there have been some doubts. But not from me.

"When he won his first Australian Open in 2008 everyone expected big things but you have to remember that increased the pressure on him because the fact that Roger Federer and Nadal were in front of him, probably the best ever.

"But Novak has always known exactly what he needs to do and he's kept working at his game and not stood still. His serve is now much better and his forehand really penetrates.

"His movement too, is as good as Nadal's. He is very solid now, and very tough to beat. Murray found it impossible."

Pilic, 71, said Serbia's Davis Cup win, which he was involved with as a consultant, could have been the catalyst for Djokovic to make a bid for the number one ranking.

"That inspired Novak," said Pilic, who has steered Germany, Croatia and Serbia to the team title.

"That was a big pressure he handled in Belgrade before Christmas, not just for himself, but to have the whole country relying on you. It was crucial."


Pilic has seen countless juniors walk through the doors of his academy, but said a young Djokovic stood out.

At the Davis Cup final an old team mate of Djokovic told the story of how, when he was 13, he scolded a bunch of 17-year-olds for being late for the mini-bus taking them to a tournament.

"You're damaging my career," Djokovic said, a comment Pilic believes typifies his determination.

"I remember Novak had so much confidence and was so totally sure about what he wanted to achieve," Pilic added.

"You could see he was very clever by the way he spoke to everyone and the answers he gave. In terms of coachability he was the best I ever saw because he would absorb everything and store it away. He's still a very clever player on court."

Pilic believes Djokovic is now better equipped to challenge for the top ranking than when he made his breakthrough.

"The quality in the men's game is so tough that it's hard as a 19 or 20-year-old," he said. "Novak is now 23 and is mentally and physically much stronger.

"Reaching number one this year will be tough because Nadal has such a big lead in the points but if Nadal has some injuries or loss of form, Novak is ready to step up.

"Murray too, because they have very similar games but Novak is much stronger mentally."

Pilic believes Djokovic may have to wait until the US Open for a realistic shot at a third grand slam.

"Cement is his best surface and he moves better on that than anyone," he said. "The French Open will be tough and grass is maybe not his best surface. So I would expect him to be the one to beat at the US Open."

Read more: Djokovic's second coming never in doubt: Pilic - The Times of India http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/sports/tennis/interviews/Djokovics-second-coming-never-in-doubt-Pilic/articleshow/7406404.cms#ixzz1CjPNrIX3

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