Friday, April 16, 2010

Feeling Free?

Todd Martin is gone - does that mean that the real Novak Djokovic is back?

Novak Djokovic, to his credit, has never been one to stubbornly resist change. After all, we are talking about the guy who abandoned his favorite Wilson K-Factor stick for a lucrative new deal with Head after winning his one and only Grand-Slam title.

We are talking about a guy who used to warm down after a match by ridiculing the on court idiosyncrasies of his competition. He now resists the temptation, even as the masses grovel for it.

So it shouldn't have come as a surprise that Djokovic hired Todd Martin last August to become the third wheel in a coaching arrangement that was designed to help the Serb develop strategical components of his game, along with his serve.

Martin, who has spent two and a half years working with Mardy Fish in the past, was anxious to help Djokovic tap a potential that he felt was virtually limitless. Immediately after he was hired he was seen courtside, diligently observing Djokovic play while jotting entries into his little black book. Martin believed that the Serb would benefit from a more aggressive posture that featured more net play and better volleys. As the relationship continued, Martin reportedly suggested that Djokovic tinker with his serving motion in order to reduce stress to a shoulder that had become fatigued in the past.

While it was a sign of willingness to improve - usually a good thing for a player who has reached a temporary plateau - many believed that the relationship was doomed from the start, as Marian Vajda stayed on board as Djokovic's head coach, effectively limiting Martin's influence in the camp.

Eventually, as many expected, the relationship did fail, and Martin was sent packing.

Now that the two have parted ways with nothing but kind words for one another, I can't help but wonder if the exceptionally talented Djokovic will benefit from the fact that the terminated relationship represents a statement of independence more than a failure to improve. And maybe that declaration of independence will help the Serb to become the problem solver (and server) on the court that he once was.

Kudos to Novak for having the courage to try new things. Many a brilliant tennis player has failed to reach his or her potential because of an unwillingness to adjust, and Djokovic, by reaching out to Martin, deserves credit for tirelessly looking to improve.

Even though his experiment did not come to a successful conclusion, Djokovic can now move forward with the knowledge that whatever he thought he needed to change was actually just fine in the first place. He's at a career high No. 2 in the world and he's a threat to win any event on any surface. He's 22 years old with 17 career titles and a Grand-Slam on his resume. There's really not a whole lot to feel bad about here.

By knocking at a lot of different doors, it could be that Djokovic has stumbled upon the key to his success. The capacity to be a champion has always been inside him, he just needed someone to try to change him for him to realize it was there.


  1. I am not sure about Djokovic after his 62 62 loss to Verdasco today at Monte Carlo. He did better than in the March hardcourt season but still came up short. If the match was closer, I wouldn't be concerned. Would you say that this is Martin's influence still lingering or is it still the problems that he was having which made him reach out to Martin? I still think that there is something wrong with his spirit or physical problems (he said he has been having allergies, but I believe that if a player steps on the court, they are saying that they are ready to play.) He doesn't have the swagger he had after winning the AO. I know he had a great fall in 2009 although he didn't defend the Tour Finals, but still something seems amiss. I guess we will see how he does at the next major to make some more remarks.

  2. Sunny - when it comes to Novak I am always wondering if he will ever have that same "attitude/ swagger" that he did in '08. Back then his hunger to win was irrepressible. It felt like he was playing for his family, for his country - and he was so eager to make a serious name for himself.

    I don't know if he can ever go back there mentally after all the success he's had.

    I really thought/ think that the split with Martin will help him feel that surge of independence and pride again. I think it might serve to make him want to prove himself all over again.

    losing to Verdasco was a setback, but a semifinal is nothing to scoff at, and Monte Carlo, when looked at in the scheme of the clay court season, is really only step 1.

    Novak might reach another plateau by the time Roland Garros has finished. Then again, it might be a lot of wishful thinking.

  3. Great article on Novak and his willingness to try new things. I thought Novak's run at the end of 2009 would be a harbinger of things to come this year. So far, it's not been the case although he's had an ok year so far. I still think he deals with a lingering breathing problem, but we'll probably never know the full extent of it. With Nadal making a comeback of sorts and Federer still looking strong in the Slams, it will be interesting to see if Djokovic is content to play "third" fiddle or really go after the crown.


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