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Novak Djokovic summons the Boris factor

Novak Djokovic smiles during his press conference
by Nicholas McCarvel
Saturday 21 June 2014

With new three-time Wimbledon champion coach Boris Becker, Novak Djokovic is looking to turn the tables on his recent record in major finals.

Djokovic knows the stat well – and is determined to change it.

The top seed at Wimbledon this year arrives at The Championships with a 1-5 record in his last six major finals, including a demoralising loss to rival Rafael Nadal at Roland Garros just two weeks ago.

“I couldn't recover from certain concentration drops that I had in the third set,” Djokovic said of the four-set loss to the Spaniard, who won in Paris for the ninth time. “He deserved to win. He was better in the more important moments.”

It was three years ago, however, that Djokovic was the better one in almost every important moment, winning four out of five Grand Slams in a 13-month swing and emerging the winner in every major final he played in 2011 and early 2012, including the 2011 Wimbledon final over Nadal.

As his career has ebbed and flowed, Djokovic has tried to make necessary changes to up the ante. In 2011 his new diet – a gluten-free one – was the story behind his upward success, ridding him of the physical blips that had become a habit in the early portion of his career.

It was over the Christmas holidays that the Serbian appointed Boris Becker as his new coach, the six-time major champion won three times at Wimbledon and has become Novak’s new weapon, particularly when back at the tournament where Becker was nearly unbeatable for five years.

“I think here [is] where he had most success in his career,” Djokovic said. “So I hope we can together have a great two weeks. It's the first time we're working together in Wimbledon where he has won three times.”

A wrist injury that bothered Djokovic earlier in the spring seemed to pop up again in the last few days, the 27-year-old pulling out of an exhibition engagement at The Boodles. He will open his 2014 Wimbledon campaign on Tuesday against world No.55 Andrey Golubev and is projected to meet defending champion Andy Murray in the semi-finals, a re-match of the 2013 title tilt.

Djokovic is well aware of his struggles in finals over the last couple of years, and says the issue is as much mental as it is physical, something he’s turned to Borg to help him with.

“[Paris was] not the first or the last final that I lost,” Djokovic said in press. “I have to keep on moving. I have to try to improve myself not just on the court, but understand well the mental aspect, what is happening in those finals, why I am not able to win a Grand Slam title in last couple of years.”

He hasn’t been winless altogether, though. In fact, he nabbed a 44th career title in Rome last month and is 9-0 in ATP World Tour finals since the beginning of 2013. But, well, this is Wimbledon.

“You need to balance and try to have some recovery time, some downtime, which can recharge your batteries mentally most of all,” he said.

No.31 seed Vasek Pospisil would be Djokovic’s first notable challenge in the third round here, then Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in the round of 16, a player who he’s 12-5 up against, including eight in a row and a straight-set clinic at Roland Garros. Before Murray it would be Tomas Berdych in the quarter-finals.

“I think it's going to be an open tournament,” Djokovic said of the draw, making note of the steady progression of players like Grigor Dimitrov (winner at Queen’s), Milos Raonic and Kei Nishikori.

It’s the mentality – winning seven consecutive best-of-five matches – that Djokovic now must conquer.

“It's one of the reasons why Boris is on board,” said the six-time major winner. “[He is] somebody who [was] a multiple Grand Slam winner [and] a No. 1 of the world. He can definitely identify himself through my own course of life and experience and career. So we're working on it. It's a process that takes a little bit of time.”

A fortnight’s time, perhaps?

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